The stepchildren of disabled or retired individuals insured through Social Security are eligible for dependents benefits just like biological or adopted children. And in many cases, the stepparent does not need to officially adopt the stepchild for them to be eligible for benefits.
For instance, if you marry someone who already has a biological or adopted child, that child is your "stepchild," and you are the child's "stepparent." If you're collecting Social Security retirement or disability benefits, your stepchild will generally be eligible for dependent benefits based on your Social Security record.
Stepchildren can also be eligible for survivors benefits based on the earnings record of their stepparent. Read on to learn how your stepchild can qualify for Social Security benefits based on your record and how much a child can collect.
A stepchild is eligible for benefits only if the stepparent financially supported the child before becoming disabled or dying—the same rule as for biological and adopted children. And stepchildren must have been receiving half of their support from their stepmother or stepfather to collect benefits based on the stepparent's work record.
There are other eligibility requirements all children must meet to be eligible to collect benefits based on someone else's work record. The child must be unmarried and:
In addition, stepchildren don't qualify for Social Security on the stepparent's record until the stepparent has been married to the natural or adoptive parent for one year.
The way Social Security defines "stepchild" can affect your stepchild's eligibility to collect benefits based on your work record.
For Social Security to consider a child your stepchild who is eligible for benefits based on your record, you must have married the child's natural or adoptive parent after the child's birth or after the child's adoption. If you married your stepchild's biological parent before the child was born, Social Security won't consider the child your stepchild.
Because of this rule, if a couple marries and then one spouse has or adopts a child, the stepparent will probably have to officially adopt the child for that child to be eligible for Social Security benefits based on the stepparent's earnings record. (Ordinarily, the insured stepparent doesn't need to officially adopt a child for the stepchild to be eligible for benefits.)
There's one exception to this rule. If the child is born after the marriage, Social Security will only pay the child benefits based on the stepparent's earnings record if both of the following are true:
If you and the child's biological or adoptive parent get divorced, the stepchild's benefits will end, unless you had officially adopted the child. The same is true if your marriage is annulled.
Your stepchild's dependent benefits could be as much as 50% of your monthly Social Security benefit. So, if you're receiving $2,400 per month in SSDI benefits, your eligible stepchild could get up to $1,200 per month in dependent benefits.
But if other family members, like your spouse or the stepchild's sibling(s), also receive a monthly Social Security benefit based on your record, your stepchild's benefit amount would be less. Social Security adjusts the amount of dependent benefits paid to keep the total amount paid to your family below the maximum family benefit allowed.
Stepchildren can also be eligible for survivors benefits based on the earnings record of their stepparent—but only if the stepparent was:
As with dependent benefits, how long you were married to your stepchild's biological or adoptive parent affects the child's eligibility for survivors benefits after your death. For your stepchild to qualify, you must have been legally married to the child's birth or adoptive parent for at least nine months before your death.
But there are some exceptions to this rule. If the marriage was less than nine months, a child could still qualify for survivors benefits when an insured stepparent dies if any of the following are true:
A surviving stepchild can get up to 75% of what the deceased stepparent's monthly Social Security benefit would have been. But the amount will be lower if other children or the surviving spouse also collect a monthly benefit based on the deceased stepparent's earnings record.
Social Security also provides survivors benefits for dependent parents and stepparents based on their adult child's earnings record. For a dependent stepparent to qualify for survivors benefits, the stepparent can't be eligible for their own, higher Social Security benefits. And all of the following must have been true at the time of the stepchild's death:
Also, the stepparent must have married the stepchild's biological or adoptive parent before the child turned 16. And like other dependent benefits, the amount a dependent stepparent can get depends on whether a surviving spouse or surviving children are also collecting a monthly benefit based on the deceased stepparent's earnings record.
Learn more about Social Security dependent benefits.
Updated June 29, 2023