The need for this benefit has grown more acute with the emergence of COVID-19, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says accounted for 11 percent of U.S. deaths in 2020. While the coronavirus struck hardest at adults beyond parenting age, an estimated 43,000 U.S. children lost parents to the pandemic in its first year, more than a quarter of them younger than 10, according to research published online by the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Children may qualify for Social Security survivors benefits if they are unmarried and:
- under 18;
- 18, or in some cases 19, and still attending high school full time;
- or disabled, and the disability occurred before the child turned 22.
In some circumstances, stepchildren, grandchildren and step-grandchildren may also qualify for survivors benefits. The payment amount is 75 percent of the late parent’s (or grandparent’s) primary insurance amount, which is the full benefit the deceased was entitled to based on his or her earnings history.
A surviving parent or other person applying for benefits on behalf of a bereaved child will need to provide proof of the child's relationship to the deceased, such as a birth certificate or adoption record, and answer questions about their living circumstances. You'll find details about the information and documentation required on the Social Security Administration's Form SSA-4.
You cannot apply for survivors benefits online. Call Social Security at 800-772-1213 to ask about or launch the application process.
Keep in mind
- In almost all circumstances, children must be unmarried to collect survivors benefits. Some narrow exceptions exist for disabled adults who receive “child” benefits based on a late parent’s record.
- The payment amount for a child beneficiary is subject to the family maximum, the upper limit of what a wage earner’s children, spouse and parents can collectively receive in family or survivor benefits. The maximum generally falls between 150 percent and 180 percent of the late worker’s primary insurance amount, but it can go as high as 188 percent.
Updated April 8, 2021