Social Security Parent’s Benefits

social security parent's benefits

Parents who were financially dependent on their deceased child may be entitled to a survivor benefit known as Social Security Parent’s benefits. 

It’s one of the least known Social Security benefits, and the number of people receiving it reflects this: As of October 2022 there were only 874 individuals receiving a Social Security Parent’s benefit. For comparison, there are nearly 2 million children receiving a benefit from a deceased parent. 

Some of the low numbers could be due to the fact that it is not a well-publicized benefit. Outside of the SSA website very little is written about this benefit. Today we’ll attempt to clarify the rules and discuss what is required for eligibility and the amount of benefits an eligible parent can receive. 

Who Is Eligible for a Social Security Parent’s Benefits?

To receive Social Security Parent’s Benefits, there are seven eligibility requirements. For eligibility, a parent must meet all seven of these requirements.

1) The first requirement is that you have to be considered the “parent” of the deceased person. This may sound fairly obvious, but when you consider stepchildren and adopted children the rules aren’t always straightforward. 

For purposes of Social Security Parent’s benefits, someone is assumed to be the parent if they were: 

  • the natural parent of the child who died, or 
  • adopted the child who died before that child turned 16,  or 
  • are the stepparent of the deceased child and you married the insured’s parent or adoptive parent before the child became 16 years old

2) The second requirement is that the deceased child must meet the requirement to be “fully insured” by Social Security. This generally means that they had to have worked enough to qualify for their own benefit. 

3) The third requirement is that the surviving parent(s) must be at least 62 years of age. 

4) The fourth requirement is that the parent cannot be receiving a benefit that is larger than the amount they could receive from a Parent’s benefit. 

5) The fifth requirement is that the parent has not married after the death of their child. 

6) The sixth requirement is that the parent was receiving at least one-half of their support from the child at the time he/she died, or at the beginning of any period of disability he/she had that continued up to death.

To meet the “one-half of support” requirement:

  • the deceased child must have been making regular contributions for the parent’s costs of food, shelter, routine medical care, and similar necessities, and 
  • the amount of those contributions equaled or exceeded 50% of the parent’s ordinary living costs, and
  • the parent’s other income (from sources other than the deceased child) that is available for support purposes is one-half or less of the parent’s ordinary living costs.

7) The seventh requirement is that the parent must show proof of dependence within two years of the child’s death. 

The two-year period for filing proof of support can be extended by an unlimited amount if there is “good cause” for the claimant’s failure to do so. You can find a discussion of good cause and conditions permitting an extension of the time for filing proof of support in POMS Section RS 01301.225.

How Much is the Social Security Parent’s Benefit?

If there is only one parent, that parent may receive 82 ½% of the deceased worker’s full retirement or disability benefit. If there are two parents who will receive benefits, each may receive 75%.

Be aware that a Parent’s benefit is subject to the family maximum benefit rules. 

How To Apply for a Parent’s Benefits

To apply for a Parent’s benefit, you’ll need to call the SSA or visit an office

They’ll ask you for certain documents such as:

  • A birth certificate or other proof of birth;
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship (or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States);
  • U.S. military discharge paper(s) if you served before 1968;
  • Tax returns for last year; and
  • A death certificate for the deceased child

You should also be prepared to answer their questions on things such as:

  • Your name and Social Security number;
  • Your deceased child’s name, gender, date of birth, and Social Security number;
  • Your date of birth and place of birth;
  • Your deceased child’s date and place of death;
  • Whether a public or religious record was made of your birth before age 5;
  • Whether you were dependent on the worker for 1/2 of your support at the time of the worker’s death or at the time the worker became disabled. (They WILL require proof of this so be ready to provide bank records or anything else that would prove you received at least one-half support from the deceased child.)
  • Whether you have ever filed for Social Security benefits, Medicare or Supplemental Security Income on your behalf;
  • Whether the deceased child ever filed for Social Security benefits, Medicare or Supplemental Security Income;
  • Depending on when the child died, they may ask you whether he/she was unable to work because of a disabling condition. (If so, they will ask you for the date he/she became unable to work.);
  • Whether you or the child were ever in the active military before 1968 or ever worked for the railroad industry. (If so, they will ask you for the dates of service and whether you or the child ever received or expect to receive a pension from a military or Federal civilian agency.);
  • Whether your spouse ever worked for the railroad industry;
  • Whether you have earned Social Security credits under another country’s Social Security system;
  • Whether you have married since the child’s death;
  • The amount of the child’s earnings in the year of death and the preceding year;
  • Whether the child had earnings in each year since 1978;
  • The amount of your earnings for this year, last year, and next year; 

Depending on the information you provide during the interview, they may also have some follow up questions not shown here. 

To continue learning about Social Security Parent’s benefits, be sure to check out these resources:

SSA page on Parent’s Benefits https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10036.pdf 

POMS section on Parent’s Benefits https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0300209000 

Code of Federal Regulations section on Parent’s Benefits https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/404/404-0370.htm 

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