How Much Social Security Benefits Is My Child Entitled to Because His Father Died?

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Social Security pays monthly survivor benefits to qualifying relatives when a worker dies. The worker must qualify for Social Security benefits with sufficient work history. A relative must qualify by relationship and age. According to the Social Security Administration, about 3.8 million children receive Social Security benefits each month as a result of disability, retirement or death of a parent. A child’s benefit depends on the work history of the deceased parent.

Deceased Worker Eligibility

A deceased worker must have paid into the Social Security system to accumulate benefits prior to death. A deceased worker never needs more than 10 years or 40 credits or quarters of payment of Social Security taxes, and young workers need less. Six credits or a year and a half of work history in the three years immediately prior to death also qualifies the worker for Social Security survivor benefits for the family.

Child Eligibility

The surviving child of a deceased worker must qualify by proof of relationship to the deceased worker. A birth certificate also proves the child’s age. A child under age 18 or 19, if still in high school, is entitled to survivor benefits if the child is unmarried. A surviving child loses benefits upon marriage or at age 18, unless disabled. A child disabled prior to age 22 may qualify for adult child benefits based on the work history of the deceased parent.

Benefit Calculations

Social Security bases benefit amounts on the primary insurance amount of the deceased worker. Social Security calculates the primary insurance amount on the past work history and income of the worker. If the worker had a job with low salary or intermittent work, the benefit amount will be low. Computers index income from previous years to present value to calculate an average monthly income figure for the worker. Appropriate formulas apply to translate this figure to the primary insurance amount. The primary insurance amount is the amount the worker would receive in Social Security retirement benefits at full retirement age. Full retirement age is 66 for workers born from 1943 to 1954 and 67 for workers born after 1960.

Child Benefits

A surviving child receives 75 percent of the primary insurance amount of the deceased worker. A worker’s Social Security statement provides the primary insurance figure, or Social Security can provide the figure once you establish qualification for benefits. A spouse or ex-spouse caring for a child of the deceased under age 16 can also receive Social Security benefits based on the deceased worker’s work history if not remarried. The spouse caring for the minor receives 75 percent as well. If several family members qualify for benefits based on the work history of the deceased worker, Social Security reduces all benefits to stay within the maximum benefits allowed. The maximum is from 150 to 180 percent of the worker's primary insurance amount.