Social Security Disability Dependent Benefits

If you've been approved for Social Security disability benefits, dependents who rely on your income might also qualify for benefits.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

If you're eligible for Social Security disability benefits, the people who rely on your income (your "dependents") might also qualify for family or dependent benefits from Social Security. Whether a particular family member or relative is eligible for dependent benefits depends on the type of Social Security disability benefits you receive, how that person is related to you, and the person's age.

Types of Social Security Disability Benefits

First, there are two types of Social Security disability benefits available:

  • Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), and
  • Supplemental Insurance Income (SSI).

You can only get SSDI benefits if you've worked enough years to qualify. (Learn more about SSDI work history requirements.) If you're getting SSDI, your children, your spouse, and sometimes even your parents can collect Social Security dependent benefits.

If you have limited assets and income, you might be eligible for SSI. Unlike SSDI, there's no minimum work requirement to qualify for this disability benefit. But your dependents or survivors can't get Social Security dependents benefits based on your SSI. (Learn more about how the SSI program works.)

Who Qualifies for SSDI Dependent Benefits?

If you're disabled and eligible to collect Social Security disability benefits, some of your family members will likely qualify for dependents' benefits (also called auxiliary or family benefits).

When Your Spouse Qualifies for Dependent Benefits

If you're collecting SSDI benefits, your spouse might also be able to get SSDI dependent benefits. To be eligible, your spouse must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Your spouse is 62 or older and not entitled to higher retirement benefits on their own, or
  • Your spouse is caring for your disabled or minor child (under 16 years old), and the child is eligible for dependents benefits.

Note that your spouse might face a penalty for collecting retirement benefits before full retirement age or for working while receiving benefits. Learn more about the rules for SSDI dependent benefits for your spouse.

Sometimes Your Ex-Spouse Can Get Dependent Benefits

If you're divorced now but were married to your ex-spouse for ten years or more, your ex-spouse might be eligible to receive benefits if you're disabled and have enough work history to receive SSDI benefits.

For your ex-spouse to qualify for dependent Social Security disability benefits, you must be eligible for SSDI, and your ex-spouse must be:

  • unmarried (if remarried and that marriage later ended, your ex-spouse will still qualify under this requirement), and
  • at least 62 years old.

If your ex-spouse is entitled to receive retirement benefits based on their own work history, the dependent benefit amount must be more than the retirement benefit they could get.

Whether or not you've remarried doesn't affect your ex-spouse's eligibility to receive benefits. And when your ex-spouse receives dependent benefits based on your SSDI, it won't affect the benefits you or your current spouse get.

Getting SSDI Benefits for Your Minor Child

Children whose parent collects SSDI benefits due to disability are usually eligible to receive benefits. Social Security includes biological children, adopted children, and dependent stepchildren in their definition of children. To be eligible for SSDI dependent benefits, in most cases, your child must be:

  • unmarried, and
  • younger than 18 years old.

Learn more about getting Social Security dependent benefits for children.

When Adult Children Can Qualify for Dependent Benefits

If you're collecting SSDI benefits, your adult children (18 or over) can receive dependent benefits in the following circumstances:

  • Your adult child is disabled, and the disability began before the child turned 22. (Learn more about Social Security benefits for disabled adult children.)
  • Your child is a full-time high school student under the age of 19. (A child enrolled in college isn't considered a full-time student for the purpose of receiving SSDI dependent benefits.) Benefits will usually continue until graduation or two months after your child's 19th birthday, whichever comes first.

How Dependent Grandchildren Can Qualify for Benefits

It's possible for your grandchildren or step-grandchildren to receive dependents benefits if you're collecting disability. For your grandchild to receive dependents benefits based on your SSDI claim, all of the following must be true:

  • Your grandchild's parents must be deceased or disabled.
  • Your grandchild must have begun living with you before turning 18.
  • You must have provided at least half of your grandchild's financial support in the year before you became eligible to receive SSDI benefits.

If you've adopted your grandchild, the above requirements don't apply. Instead, your grandchild would need to meet the requirements found in the "Minor Children" section above, which includes adopted children.

When Older Parents Can Get Dependent Benefits

If you were eligible for SSDI benefits (you were fully insured), your parents could qualify for Social Security survivors benefits if you die, if they were dependent on you financially.

Under Social Security rules, the dependent parents of an insured worker who dies can collect Social Security survivors benefits. But to be eligible, all of the following must be true:

  • Your parent is at least 62 years old.
  • Your parent doesn't remarry after your death.
  • Your parent isn't entitled to their own, higher Social Security benefit.
  • You were providing at least half of your parent's financial support when you died. (Your parent will need to submit evidence of this financial support to Social Security within two years of your death.)

Your other dependent family members might also be eligible for these dependent benefits. Learn more about Social Security survivors benefits.

How Much Social Security Can a Dependent Receive?

Your dependents could be eligible for up to 50% of the disability benefit you receive. For instance, if you're receiving $1,600 each month in SSDI benefits, your eligible spouse or minor child could get up to $800 per month in dependent benefits.

But there's a maximum family benefit (MFB)—a limit on the total amount of benefits you and your family can receive. Social Security won't pay more than 150% of your SSDI benefit amount for the entire family. Social Security uses a formula to determine the exact percentage.

If the total amount that your family would receive is more than the MFB limit, Social Security will reduce the benefits it pays to your dependent family members equally. But Social Security won't change the amount of your own SSDI payments. And any dependent benefits your ex-spouse is getting won't count towards your MFB.

How to Apply for SSDI Dependents Benefits

You or your family members can't apply for Social Security dependent benefits online. Instead, you'll need to call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office to apply for family SSDI benefits. There are several documents you must provide to Social Security for each dependent seeking benefits. That includes the following:

  • the dependent's birth certificate (or other proof of adoption)
  • your marriage certificate or license (for spouse's or ex-spouse's benefits)
  • the divorce decree (for ex-spouses benefits)
  • the dependent's Social Security number (and your SSN as the disabled worker), and
  • the dependent's bank's routing information for direct deposit.

If you or a family member apply for SSDI dependent benefits and Social Security denies the claim, you have the right to appeal. And you might consider hiring a disability lawyer. Working with an attorney greatly improves your chances of winning your appeal.

Can a Dependent Lose SSDI Benefits?

Some family members are eligible for Social Security dependent benefits for as long as you're receiving SSDI benefits. But there are some circumstances under which family members will lose SSDI dependent benefits.

For instance, minor children will eventually age out of the program (see above). And your spouse, ex-spouse, or dependent parent will lose SSDI dependent benefits when they reach full retirement age if their retirement benefit would be as much as or more than their dependent benefits.

There are other times when Social Security will stop SSDI dependent benefits. Any of the following would cause your family member(s) to lose benefits:

  • Your minor child (or disabled adult child) starts working.
  • Your disabled adult child's medical condition improves and Social Security determines that the child is able to start working (even if they haven't started working yet).
  • Your disabled adult child refuses to follow a prescribed medical treatment that could improve their condition (like occupational therapy).
  • Your ex-spouse remarries.
  • If your ex-spouse is younger than 62 and your dependent children in their care turn 16.
  • Your dependent family member is convicted of a crime and goes to prison (for more than 30 days).
  • Your dependent family member moves and doesn't give Social Security their new address.
  • Any other changes to the dependent family member's circumstances that would have made them ineligible under Social Security rules if they were receiving benefits on their own earnings records.

As with all Social Security determinations, if your family member loses dependent benefits, they have the right to appeal the decision.

Updated November 4, 2022

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