Are Social Security Dependents Benefits Available for Stepchildren?

Social Security benefits are available for most unmarried dependent stepchildren who are under the age of 18 or have a disability.

The stepchildren of disabled or retired individuals who are insured through Social Security are eligible for dependents benefits just like biological or adopted children. For instance, if a woman gives birth to a child and later marries a new boyfriend (the “stepparent”), if the stepparent is collecting Social Security retirement or disability benefits, the child is eligible for a dependents benefit based on the stepparent’s Social Security record. Stepchildren are also eligible for survivors benefits based on the earnings record of their stepparent, if the stepparent was fully insured for Social Security retirement benefits, insured for disability benefits (SSDI), or currently insured for Social Security.

Rules for children’s benefits. A stepchild is eligible for benefits only if the stepparent financially supported the stepchild before becoming disabled or dying. (This is the same rule for biological and adopted children.) This means that stepchildren must have been receiving one-half of their support from their stepfather or stepmother. (If the stepparent is collecting retirement benefits, the stepparent must have been supporting the child when the child applied for dependents benefits.)

The child must be unmarried and:

Special rules for stepchildren’s benefits. Social Security considers a child to be a stepchild eligible for benefits only if the child’s natural or adoptive parent married the stepparent after the child was born. A child’s whose natural parent married a stepparent before the child was born is not considered a stepchild. So in the situation where a couple marries and then one spouse has or adopts a child, the stepparent will probably have to officially adopt the child for the child to be eligible for Social Security benefits based on the stepparent’s earnings record. (Ordinarily the insured stepparent does not need to officially adopt the child for the stepchild to be eligible for benefits.) There is one exception to this rule: if the child was born after the marriage, but was conceived before the marriage occurred, and the stepparent isn’t the child’s biological parent, Social Security will pay benefits to the stepchild based on the stepparent’s earnings record.

Dependents benefits. To be eligible for dependents benefits, the stepchild needs to have been a stepchild of the stepparent who is insured for Social Security for at least one year before the child can apply for benefits (in other words, the child’s parents must have been legally married for at least a year). The amount of the dependents benefit for a stepchild can be up to 50% of the stepparent’s monthly benefit. However, if other family members, such as the stepchild’s sibling or biological parent, are receiving a monthly Social Security benefit, the amount will be less, because there is a family maximum on benefits.

Survivors benefits. To be eligible for child’s survivors benefits, the stepchild must have been a stepchild of the deceased stepparent for at least nine months before the stepparent’s death. This means that the child’s parents must have been legally married for at least nine months. There are some exceptions to this rule, however: if the death of the stepparent was accidental or the result of active military duty, or if the parents legally adopted the stepchild, the marriage can have lasted fewer than nine months.

The amount of the benefit for a surviving stepchild is 75% of what the deceased stepparent’s monthly Social Security benefit would have been, but will be lower if other children or the surviving spouse collects a monthly benefit based on the deceased stepparent’s earnings record as well.

Benefits for dependent stepparents. If a stepchild dies while supporting an elderly stepparent, and the stepchild was fully insured for Social Security retirement benefits, the stepmother or stepfather will be eligible for parents’ insurance benefits if he or she is unmarried and age 62 or older. Also, the stepparent must have married the stepchild’s biological or adoptive parent before the child turned 16.

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