Social Security Related Benefits: Your Guide

Social Security may be known for its monthly benefits for retirees, but in some cases it also provides benefits for their dependents. Potential beneficiaries include spouses, dependent parents, children and grandchildren. Depending on their relationship with the retirees, family members may receive 50% to 100% of the benefits of qualified retirees.

Key points

  • The spouse and other dependents of the insured worker may be eligible for social security benefits, either while the worker is alive or after their death.
  • If the marriage lasts for at least 10 years, the former spouse of the retired worker may be entitled to half of the amount received by the retiree.
  • Social security provides for the maximum family benefits, and if the entire family exceeds this limit, the benefits of certain dependents can be reduced.

Who is eligible to be a social security dependant?

For social security purposes, eligible family members can include:

  • spouse
  • Former spouse
  • Dependent children or grandchildren
  • Dependent parents

If an eligible Social Security recipient retires, becomes disabled or dies, family members may be eligible for benefits. The following is how the program works, based on the type of dependency.

Benefits for spouses of retirees

The spouses of retirees who have received social security payments are eligible for spouse benefits. This amount is up to half of the monthly payment of the retired spouse and is also called their primary insurance amount (PIA). To receive this benefit, the spouse receiving spouse benefits must be at least 62 years old or caring for a child under 16 or a child receiving social security disability benefits.

You must reach the normal or “full” retirement age as described by the Department of Social Security in order to receive all half of the PIA of your retired spouse. The age of a person born in 1955 is 66 years and two months, and it increases by two months every year after birth, until a person born in 1960 or later reaches 67 years of age. If you choose to receive benefits before that time, you will be penalized based on a formula similar to the formula used to calculate reduced benefits for early retirement workers.

When you are eligible for spouse benefits, based on your own income records, you may be eligible for more from Social Security than through your spouse. If this is the case, the Social Security Administration will automatically provide you with greater benefits.

If you are still working, your spouse benefits may decrease based on your income. The threshold is quite low; by 2021, annual income will be US$18,960 or US$1,580 per month (it will increase to US$19,560 per year or US$1,630 per month by 2022). If your income exceeds this amount, and you earn $2 for every time you exceed the limit, your benefits will be reduced by $1. In the year you reach full retirement age, for every $3 you earn more than $50,520 ($51,960 in 2022), your benefits will be reduced by $1 until the month when you reach full retirement age. After that, these penalties no longer apply.

So, for example, in 2021, if you are 64 years old and your other income is $25,000, your social security benefits will be reduced by $3,020 that year.

Married couples should coordinate how and when they start receiving benefits. You can use the social security calculator to calculate these numbers yourself and see how it works.

Welfare for surviving spouse

Based on the income records of the deceased spouse, the widow or widower can receive survivor benefits. To receive these benefits, the surviving spouse must be at least 60 years old, and if they have a disability, they must be at least 50 years old. (The disability must begin before the worker’s death or within seven years.)

Young widows or widowers are also eligible for survivor benefits if they are caring for a deceased worker’s child under the age of 16 or disabled and receive dependant benefits based on the income records of their deceased parents.

Survivors who reach the normal retirement age can receive 100% of the benefits of the deceased spouse. For survivors who have reached the age of 60, the benefit is 71.5% to 99.6% of the deceased spouse’s benefit.

Survivors have some additional options. For example, a 60-year-old spouse can now apply for survivor benefits, and then switch to retirement benefits based on their work experience at the age of 62 (or later), if this will result in a higher monthly payment.

Social Security will also pay a one-time payment of US$255 upon the death of the spouse, provided that the spouse lived in the same residence at the time of the death of the spouse.

Benefits for divorced spouses

If you divorce a retired worker, you are eligible for half of the PIA of your former spouse, provided that you have been married for at least 10 years.

The rules are similar to those for spouse benefits described above, with one notable exception: you can even start receiving benefits before your ex-spouse starts to receive benefits. However, you must be at least 62 years old, and if you have not yet reached the normal retirement age, the divorce must have been completed for at least two years.

Divorced spouses who have more than one marriage and last at least 10 years will not receive multiple benefit checks or one for each marriage. However, the Social Security Administration will automatically select the former marriage that yields the greatest benefit to the former spouse.

Benefits for children and grandchildren

As a survivor of a deceased worker or a dependent of a living parent receiving social security pension or disability benefits, children are eligible for benefits. The child needs to be one of the following:

  • unmarried
  • Under 18 years old (or 19 years old if they are full-time students in elementary or middle school)
  • 18 years of age or older and disabled due to a disability that began before the age of 22

Benefits paid to children will not reduce the retirement benefits of surviving parents. The value of the benefits that children can get, plus the benefits of parents, can help parents decide whether to receive their benefits earlier may be more beneficial.

Dependent children can receive up to half of the benefits of their parents receiving retirement or disability benefits. If the parents are deceased, the dependent children can receive up to 75% of the worker’s benefits, calculated as the percentage of the worker’s benefits if they continue to work until retirement. If you are taking care of your children and receiving benefits, their benefits may stop at a different time from yours.

If grandchildren become dependents of their grandparents due to the death of their parents or other reasons, they can receive benefits based on the income records of either of their grandparents. However, great-grandchildren are not eligible for dependent benefits.

Welfare for disabled children

Children with disabilities can be eligible for social security benefits, but the requirements and application process can be arduous. The Social Security Administration stated that the child’s physical or mental condition must severely restrict their activities and is expected to last for more than a year or cause the child’s death.

The family must also have few other financial options to provide care. Social Security considers the family’s income, additional resources, and other factors when making a decision.

If the child and their family are eligible, the child can receive up to half of the parent’s full retirement or disability benefits. If the worker dies, the disabled child can receive 75% of the worker’s welfare. If children 18 years or older have a disability no later than 22 years old, they are also eligible.

For families in this situation, it is worth noting that there are other government programs, such as the Medicaid program, that provide provisions to help disabled children and adults.

Benefits for dependent parents

Due to financial conditions or disability, some parents are legally dependent on their children. The dependent parents of a deceased worker aged 62 years or older can receive 82.5% of worker benefits for one parent or 75% for two parents.

Family benefits are the highest

The welfare of dependants depends on the maximum monthly pension and social security payments paid to the survivors of the whole family. This total is based on the worker’s own monthly salary. The total expenditure to the family varies, but the ancillary benefits are usually between 150% and 180% of the worker’s payment.

The former spouse’s benefits are not included in your family’s maximum benefit, so they will not affect that maximum benefit.

The Social Security Administration uses complex formulas to calculate the maximum value of family benefits. The families of disabled workers are subject to different formulas, which usually set the maximum amount between 100% and 150% of the worker’s wages.


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