Social Security gives tens of millions of retired Americans benefits that they use to make ends meet in their later years, and most people also know that spouses can also claim benefits on a worker's record. Many Americans, however, now find themselves in the awkward financial position of having to support their parents financially. For its part, Social Security recognizes the role that a child can play in helping parents with money troubles, and in order to ensure that a dependent parent can continue to receive financial support even after a working or retired child dies, Social Security pays benefits to parents of deceased children under certain circumstances. Below, you'll find more details on this surprising benefit for parents and whether you can qualify for it.
How parents can get Social Security based on their child's work history
Parental benefits aren't all that common, because the circumstances under which a parent can be eligible to receive them are fairly limited. Nevertheless, with trends toward greater financial reliance on children, the prospects for parental Social Security benefits to expand in the future are fairly high.
The key element of parental Social Security benefits is that the deceased child must have been contributing at least 50% of the financial support for the parent's expenses. Specifically, the child must have made regular contributions toward the parent's ordinary living costs that amounted to at least half of the total costs, and the parent's income from other sources must have been less than half of those living costs.
There are other requirements you need to meet in order to claim dependent parent benefits based on a deceased child's work history. The parent needs to be at least age 62, and if the parent was unmarried at the time of death, then remarriage will generally take away the right to receive Social Security benefits based on the deceased child's work record.
Social Security also looks at any benefits parents would be able to take based on their own work record and compares them to the parental benefit amount. If the regular benefit is higher, then that's what Social Security will pay, and the parent won't get anything extra from the deceased child's work record.
How much can parents get from Social Security?
The monthly benefit payable to parents under Social Security depends on whether one or both parents are entitled to receive payments. If just one parent is eligible, then the amount of the payment is based on 82.5% of the deceased child's primary insurance amount. If both parents can receive benefits, then each one receives 75% of the child's primary insurance amount. Note that in determining how much a parent receives, it doesn't matter whether or when the child started taking Social Security benefits prior to death.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the family maximum for Social Security can affect how much a parent receives in benefits based on the deceased child's work record. If the deceased child had other survivors who are eligible for Social Security benefits, such as a spouse or minor children, then the total amount of benefits paid under that work record is subject to a family maximum that typically falls between 150% and 180% of the worker's primary insurance amount. If the total would be above that maximum amount, then each recipient's benefit gets reduced proportionately. Nevertheless, any benefit that the parent receives often comes as an unexpected bonus, as few expect Social Security to pick up the slack when a child who has provided financial support passes away.
Social Security is a complicated program, and many people never realize all the obscure benefits that are available in certain cases. Relatively few people take advantage of Social Security benefits for dependent parents, but for those who are providing financial assistance for their mother or father, knowing that those benefits might be able to help their parent if they aren't there to give support takes some of the burden off their shoulders.