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Social Security Mailbox

Managing a Child's Social Security Benefits

Do teenage dependents qualify for payments?

Q. My mother passed away in 2005 and left behind a 10-year-old son (my brother). He lived with his father for two years and has lived with me for the last three years. However, his father still receives my brother's Social Security benefit and gives little to no assistance to the child. How do I take care of such an issue?

A. Thank you for your letter. When an individual — in this case a child — is incapable of managing his own Social Security benefits, that task is generally given over to a relative who is called a representative payee. Based on the information in your letter, it appears that the boy's father is his representative payee.

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), representative payees are required to follow strict rules when it comes to handling the benefits that belong to another person. Thus, SSA said, the father must use the boy's Social Security benefits for the boy's needs. These could include payment for food, shelter, clothes, medical care and personal comfort items for your brother.

Indeed, the representative payee must tell Social Security of any events that could change the amount of the benefits or affect your brother's right to receive them. Also, the payee should report any change in your brother's address.

Social Security officials say that if these benefits are not being used for your brother, you should tell SSA right away. They will investigate the allegations and make a decision on whether misuse has occurred. If they find misuse, SSA may designate a new representative payee for him. SSA will then take action to recover any misused money.

You can contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.

You can find more information on the Representative Payment Program on the Social Security website.

Q. I am getting ready to apply for my retirement benefits. I have teenage children who are still in high school. Can they get benefits on my work record?

A. When you qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, your unmarried children may also qualify for benefits. An eligible child can be your biological child, adopted child or stepchild. A dependent grandchild also may qualify.

To receive benefits, the child must be:

  • Younger than age 18; or
  • Between 18 and 19 years and in school full-time but no higher than grade 12; or
  • Age 18 or older and severely disabled (the disability must have started before age 22).

Each eligible child may receive a monthly payment up to one-half of your benefit amount. However, there is a limit on the total amount that can be paid to you and your family — sometimes called the family maximum. The limit varies but is generally equal to about 150 to 180 percent of your benefit.

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query.

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