If You Are Young and Lose a Parent

September 13, 2018 • By

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Last Updated: September 13, 2018

Social Security is here for young people when a parent passes away. We know that the loss of a parent isn’t just emotionally painful; it can be devastating to a family’s finances. In the same way that Social Security helps to lift up the disabled and elderly when they need it, we support families when an income-earning parent dies.

In 2017, we distributed an average of $2.6 billion each month to benefit about 4.2 million children because one or both of their parents are disabled, retired, or deceased. Those dollars help to provide the necessities of life and help make it possible for those children to complete high school.

You might ask, who can get child’s benefits? Your unmarried child can get benefits if they’re:

  • Younger than age 18;
  • 18-19 years old and a full-time student (no higher than grade 12); or
  • 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.

To get benefits, a child must have:

  • A parent who’s disabled or retired and entitled to Social Security benefits; or
  • A parent who died after having worked long enough in a job where they paid Social Security taxes.

Benefits stop when your child reaches age 18 unless your child is a student or disabled.

Within a family, a child can receive up to half of the parent’s full retirement or disability benefit. If a child receives Survivors benefits, he or she can get up to 75 percent of the deceased parent’s basic Social Security benefit.

There is a limit to the amount of money that we can pay to a family. This family maximum is determined as part of every Social Security benefit computation. It can be from 150 to 180 percent of the parent’s full benefit amount. If the total amount payable to all family members exceeds this limit, we reduce each person’s benefit proportionately (except the parent’s) until the total equals the maximum allowable amount.

Children with disabilities may also be eligible for benefits. You can read more about Benefits for Children with Disabilities.

Social Security is securing today and tomorrow, protecting our future and the next generation.

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About the Author

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications


  1. michael t.

    My sister passed when she was in her 30s and left a 14 year old behind …. That was about 12 or so years ago..
    My guestion is where did my sisters SSecurity go..Can my niece ever recieve her mother’s benefits….the money she paid in or does the government just TAKE that money.

    • walker

      If your sister worked and paid into SSecurity, then her daughter is intitle to her SSecurity under the servivors benfits , go into the office. call them frist at 1-800-772-1213 now don’t weight get it start

  2. Jeramy B.

    I was young and lost a parent. Except mine was through divorce. They might have as well been dead. No child support; nothing. It’s sad that nothing is available for those in similar circumstances.

    • Amy

      There is something available for children in those circumstances. The Office of Child Support Enforcement is a division of the Office of Health & Human Services. OCSE partners with federal, state, tribal and local governments and others to promote parental responsibility so that children receive support from both parents. Parents/minor children can have wage garnishments enforced at no cost through state/local family services offices.

  3. Genalr R.

    My ex-brother-in-law just died of a heart attack. He has known for over 15 years of his heart condition, but never applied for S.S.D. or prepared for his death. He had custody of 3 children.
    The oldest son has been diagnosed a long time ago with autism and a few other disabilities. The father has never prepared this boy for a social life or education. The boy use to be full of rage and lash out in severe unhealthy behaviors.
    The father has never gotten the boy (now age 22) a photo I.D., or applied for S.S.I. (which he clearly would benefit from).

    My oldest son (age 32) wants to try to get custody so the boy will not become a part of a state hospital system.
    My fiance and I are supporting this decision.

    I’m confused by all the “political issue ” that stand in the way.

    What’s the very first best move for the 22 year old with a disability?

    • Dusti

      He needs to apply for disability, or somebody close to him needs to get him signed up. If your son is wanting custody etc, start with a state i.d., and file for disability, dr’s appts etc

  4. Rebecca C.

    What if three children are receiving survivor benefits and they move to another state while they are still under 18? Do the benefits remain the same? If the widower remarries, would that impact the children’s survivor benefit from their deceased parent?

    • Rebecca C.

      Does anyone have any insight to this?

      • Amy

        I’m no expert, but social security is a federal benefit and not at all tied to the state of residence. I can’t think of any reason the children’s benefits would change simply by moving across state lines. If a widower remarries, his spouse benefits would change, but the children’s benefits should not be reduced.

  5. Violet H.

    It seems like everyone can get more from social security benefits than a widow whose’s husband worked for more than 75 years was married to the same woman for 64 years raised their family without government help. At death, social security then penalizes his widow. Something is really wrong with social security as it now is..

  6. Karen

    My son received a monthly death benefit when my husband passed, for about 1 year, until he was 18. He took a part time job delivering pizza a few hours per week and earned $2,000. We recently received a letter that we owe the $2,000 for the amount he earned during that time when he received benefits. Is this correct? Doesn’t seem fair.
    Thank you,

    • Ray F.

      Hello Karen, there are limits on how much survivors may earn while they receive benefits. For more information on how wages or earnings can affect Social Security benefits see our “Getting Benefits While Working” web page. Thanks!

  7. Carolyn

    Age? Yes it’s important, but darn it how does one live on$30.00 a Month when all bill are paid. Yes I’m getting help however the help I need is food. I have been diagnoised by specilists for Chronic

    • John J.

      You might want to check with the county public assistance office. Make sure you get food stamps/medicaid if you are eligible

  8. Linda P.

    I think it is wrong to stop paying for children at 18.
    How do you expect students to further their education without other resources? College Funds should be made available for children who want to prepare for a better future.

    • John J.

      That’s the way it was 30 years ago but those benefits were stopped in order to make the program solvent. Once a child turns 18 it is expected that they can get a job and work their way through college which is what happened 2 generations ago.

    • Sandra K.

      I completely agree with you. This is not 30 years ago and in this economy there is no working your way threw college without going into debt. From my understanding is that if you apply 3 months before a child turns 18 benefits can exceed to 23 as long as they are in school/ college. My niece turns 18 before she grads from high school and she can still receive benefits til she’s 2 months after she’s turned 19

      • Ray F.

        To clarify; when a parent gets Social Security retirement benefits or disability benefits, his or her child also may get benefits. Children also can get benefits when a parent dies. To get benefits, the child must be unmarried and:
        – Younger than age 18;
        – A full-time student (no higher than grade 12) 18 to 19 years old; or
        – Have a disability that started before age 22 and is 18 years or older.
        For more information read our publication “Benefits For Children“.

        • Heather S.

          I am SO CONFUSED!! I finally applied for survivor benefits just today..and my husband died almost 2 years ago. I filed as mother caring for child..our son is 8 years old..I’m 51 and do work but make well under the 17,000.00 that would reduce any benefits I’d it’s a basic husband was 36 when he died in 2016..none of us are/were disabled..none of us have ever received benefits..the rep said the amount would be 1,020.00 a month and I belive upon running both myself and our son..she said he was the only one who was coming up as qualified..which is FINE with me..I’d think it’s less hassle that way than to split that same amount between myself and him..we were married and the marriage license confirmed that but we didn’t live together from 2012-2016 due to his incarnation..and he died 3 months after his release..would that make a difference?? Also she said my son’s benefit would stop when he was 15 years old?? Really? I mean that fine but I’ve never read that..ALWAYS 18..sorry to pour my life out but if I GOOGLE anymore to get NO ANSWERS I’m going to lose my mind..grrrr. Thanks for ANY help here..Heather Sposato

          • Ray F.

            Hello Heather. Normally, benefits for children stop when children reach age 18, unless they are disabled. However, if the child is still a full-time student at a secondary (or elementary) school at age 18, Social Security benefits will continue until the child graduates or until two months after the child becomes age 19, whichever is first.
            See “Benefits for Children” for more information. Thanks!

    • Dusti Q.

      I completly agree! My kids are 19 and 18, they both are continuing their education and as a single mom on disability myself how do I help them stay in school after all of the “gov’t help”?

  9. Virgil H.

    Thank you! Good information.

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your support and for using our blog to communicate with us, Virgil!

  10. Daniel C.

    Once again timely info. Thank you

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your comment, Daniel!

      • Sylvia F.

        My husband was murdered 4 years ago. We have 3 minor children. However, my husband didn’t have the required number of quarters. Would our children still be eligible for survivor benefits? I know some people qualify under ssi Payment when they are disabled without enough credits. Would ssi pay survivor benefits to our minor children if my husband didn’t have enough quarters?

        • Ann C.

          Hi, Sylvia. We are very sorry to hear about your loss. In order for your children to be eligible for your husband’s survivors benefits, your husband must have worked long enough to be insured under Social Security. Unfortunately, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is only for the individual not for any dependents or spouses. SSI is a needs based program intended for disabled individuals who have limited income and resources. You may be eligible to receive social services from the state in which you live. These services include Medicaid, free meals, housekeeping help, transportation or help with other problems. You can get information about services in your area from your state or local social services or welfare office. We hope this helps.

        • Bento-perez R.

          Yes apply for benefits for your children your husband would have had to at least worked a year and a half in the last 3 years to qualifyrov

      • Hailey

        I am 18 years old and I just have graduated a month ago. However , I still am a student. I’m going to community college and paying for everything I need to become a nurse out of pocket and I’m unemployed. My father passed away on February 21rst of this year and received benifits. SSI . And my mother and sibling’s gets assistance as well such as food stamps and medicaid

        • LYSS


          • Ann C.

            Hi, Lyss. We are sorry to hear about your loss. Usually benefits stop when children reach age 18 unless they are disabled. However, if the child is still a full-time student at a secondary (or elementary) school at age 18, benefits will continue until the child graduates or until two months after the child becomes age 19, whichever is first. For questions specific to your case, please call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. You will generally have a shorter wait time if you call later in the day. We hope this helps.

    • Heather s.

      I just opened a checking account for my 8 year old sons retroactive check that was sent to was stated as “my name for my sons name” on the check was a check of over 10,000.00 they put the standard hold on it..fine but said they had to call their attorney to see if they could issue a debit card??? Really?? The moneys have to be accounted for and they will be..that’s actually a BETTER way to show purchases made in my opinion..not taking a gambling trip to Vegas with sone not disabled ..these were his funds from my husband..his father’s death 2 years ago..I’m not going to be thrilled I opened this account there if I can’t get a debit card..that’s ridiculous kind of..

      • Ray F.

        We are sorry for any inconvenience, Heather. Unfortunately, and because of security reasons we do not have access to personal records in this blog and cannot provide assistant at this time. One of our representatives should be able to provide you with an explanation.
        Please call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 for assistance. Representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Generally, you will have a shorter wait time if you call later during the day or later in the week. Thanks.

        • Heather

          I understand that of course..I was just wondering if that was a ” standard procedure” to not have access to debit cards for that type of payment.

      • Lois S.

        What you should have done Heather but there was no way of knowing was to keep it in you name get direct deposit from the bank of your choice and disburse as you wish, also the bank will issue you a debit card in your name.

        • Heather

          I’m reading that often states will count it as income even though it’s illegal to do so if my child falls within certain parameters..which he does..this outta be fun..NOT

      • Heathet

        I’m also trying to figure out if my minor childs monthly benefit amount will be countable income that will change/eliminate our RI SNAP benefits and RI medical insurance. Stressed I can’t find a yes or no answer..looking more like no..they’re non taxable income ..they’re in his name with me as his representative..but I’d like to know for sure. Thanks Heather Sposato.

    • Susan w.

      I have a question

      • Ann C.

        Hi, Susan. Through our Blog, we respond to questions and provide general information on our Retirement, Survivors, Disability, Medicare and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. If you have a general question, we encourage you to ask here. But remember, never post personal information on social media. Thanks!

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