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Written by: Rachel Brauner, Program Coordinator, OneOp Lifespan Caregiving

The loss of a parent is an unimaginable tragedy for any child, bringing with it not only emotional turmoil but also financial uncertainty. In such difficult times, Social Security survivor benefits can provide much-needed financial support to children. Understanding these benefits can help ease the burden and ensure that children receive the assistance they need.

What Are Social Security Survivor Benefits?

Social Security survivor benefits are monthly payments made to eligible family members of a deceased worker. These benefits are a crucial part of the Social Security program, designed to provide financial stability to families who have lost a breadwinner. The primary goal is to replace a portion of the income that the deceased would have earned, helping the family maintain a sense of financial security.

Who Is Eligible?

Children of deceased workers may be eligible for Social Security survivor benefits if they meet certain criteria. The key requirements include:

  • Age: The child must be unmarried and under the age of 18. Benefits may continue up to age 19 if the child is a full-time primary or secondary school student. Additionally, children who are disabled before the age of 22 and remain disabled may also qualify.
  • Relationship: The child must be the deceased worker’s biological, adopted, or stepchild. In some cases, dependent grandchildren may also qualify.
  • Work History: The deceased parent must have earned enough Social Security credits through their work history. Generally, the number of credits required depends on the worker’s age at the time of death. Younger workers need fewer credits, but no one needs more than 40 credits (10 years of work).

How Much Can Children Receive?

The amount of survivor benefits a child can receive is based on the deceased parent’s lifetime earnings. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a formula to calculate the benefit amount, which is a percentage of the deceased worker’s primary insurance amount (PIA). Typically, eligible children can receive up to 75% of the deceased parent’s PIA.

Applying for Benefits

Applying for Social Security survivor benefits involves several steps:

  1. Gather Necessary Documents: Before applying, ensure you have the necessary documents, including the child’s birth certificate, the deceased parent’s death certificate, and the deceased parent’s Social Security number.
  2. Contact SSA: You can apply for benefits by contacting the SSA either by phone or in person at a local Social Security office. It’s recommended to apply as soon as possible following the death of the parent to avoid delays in receiving benefits.
  3. Complete the Application: You will need to fill out the application form, providing all required information and documentation.
  4. Await Decision: The SSA will review the application and notify you of their decision. If approved, benefits are typically paid starting from the month following the parent’s death.

Understanding the eligibility criteria, benefit amounts, and application process is essential for ensuring that children receive the support they need during such a difficult time. By taking advantage of these benefits, families can help secure a more stable future for their children amidst the uncertainties that follow the loss of a loved one.


Survivor benefits | SSA. (n.d.). Retrieved June 24, 2024, from

Who can get Survivor benefits | SSA. (n.d.). Retrieved June 24, 2024, from


*Image Source: iStockphoto 1160849884; Philip Steury