Social Security Parent's Benefits for the Dependent Parents of a Deceased Child

You might qualify for Social Security parent's benefits if your deceased child provided at least half your financial support.

By , J.D. · University of Baltimore School of Law
Updated by Bethany K. Laurence, Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

When a worker dies, the deceased person's dependents are often eligible for survivor benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). That can include the older parents of a deceased worker if they were receiving at least half their financial support from their child.

Social Security will pays parent's death benefits to dependent parents of deceased children who were "insured" for Social Security benefits at the time of death. To be insured, a worker must have worked enough to be eligible for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Social Security retirement benefits—whether or not the deceased child was collecting these benefits at the time of death.

In this article, we'll explain the parental benefits Social Security offers for dependent parents of a deceased child and what you need to do to collect survivor benefits as the parent of a deceased worker.

Who Qualifies for Social Security Parent's Benefits?

Unlike minor children and spouses, parents can't collect Social Security dependent benefits during their child's lifetime, even if they're financially dependent on their child. But they can collect survivor benefits after their child's death, in some situations.

To qualify for parent's benefits, your child must have been providing at least half your financial support when the child died (or when the child became eligible for disability), and you:

  • are 62 years old or older
  • haven't married since your insured child's death
  • aren't eligible for your own retirement benefits that are more than the Social Security parent death benefits, and
  • have a qualifying relationship with your insured child (see below).

Social Security must see proof that you meet all these eligibility requirements.

Which Parental Relationships Qualify for Parent Death Benefits?

To be eligible for Social Security death benefits as a dependent parent, the deceased worker must be one of the following:

  • your biological child (and you'd be considered the deceased worker's parent under the laws of the state where your child had a permanent home at the time of death)
  • your adopted child, and the adoption happened before the child turned 16, or
  • your stepchild, and you married the child's parent or adoptive parent before the child turned 16.

If you're not sure whether you meet the eligibility requirements for parent death benefits, a Social Security lawyer can help you figure it out. (Learn more about how an experienced attorney can help with your Social Security case.)

Did Your Child Provide One-Half Support to Their Parent?

To be eligible for parental death benefits, you must show proof to Social Security that your deceased child had been providing at least half of your financial support. Your child must have been financially supporting you in this way until either:

  • your child died, or
  • your child's disability made it impossible to work and continue to support you (and your child remained disabled until death).

Your child provided one-half of your support if they made regular contributions to your "ordinary living costs" (food, shelter, medical needs, and other necessities). The contributions must have added up to half of your necessary living expenses for at least a year before they died. If you had other income that was available to you during that time period that added up to more than half of your living expenses, you won't qualify for parents benefits, even if you didn't actually use that income for your living expenses. (20 C.F.R 404.366.) In a situation where a parent who suffered from dementia, or otherwise needed supervision, was living with their child before their death, Social Security may presume that the parent was dependent on the child if there is evidence of the living arrangement.

Time Limit for Giving Social Security Proof of Parental Support

Generally, you must give Social Security proof of the support your deceased child provided within two years of the date your child died. You shouldn't have much trouble meeting this time limit because, without your child's continued support, you'll probably need to apply for parental death benefits before two years pass. Plus, you can submit the necessary documentation with your application, simplifying the process.

But the time limit gets a bit trickier if your child was supporting you and then stopped after becoming disabled and going on SSDI. In that case, you must provide Social Security with proof of the support within two years of the date your child filed for disability benefits—even though you weren't yet eligible for parent's Social Security benefits and even if it took more than two years for your child to get disability. (Learn more about why it takes so long to win a disability claim.)

Exceptions to Parental Death Benefit Time Limit

There are two exceptions to the two-year filing requirement. (20 C.F.R 404.370(f).) You can still qualify for Social Security parent's benefits after the two-year time limit if:

  • you have "good cause" for filing late, or
  • you're on active duty in the United States armed forces.

Good cause. Social Security will find "good cause" and allow you to submit proof that your deceased child was supporting you (after the two-year deadline) if any of the following circumstances apply to you:

  • you were mentally or physically incapacitated or had a long-term sickness
  • you couldn't speak English
  • Social Security gave you wrong or incomplete information
  • you encountered difficulty gathering the evidence (like official records) due to reasons beyond your control
  • the circumstances show you couldn't reasonably be expected to know there was a two-year time limit, or
  • other factors beyond your control prevented you from meeting the deadline.

Active-duty service members. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) of 2003 provides an extended filing time for members of the US armed forces on active duty (including Reservists and members of the National Guard).

When Will My Social Security Parent Benefits Begin and End?

As the dependent parent of a deceased worker, you're eligible for Social Security survivor benefits beginning with the first month covered by your application. That assumes all the requirements for Social Security parent's benefits are satisfied at that point. But you can lose your parental death benefits if any of the following happens:

  • you become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits on your own earnings record that are the same as or more than the parent benefit amount, or
  • you get married (except for "protected" marriages).

Social Security will consider your marriage "protected" if you marry someone who's entitled to one of the following:

  • spousal Social Security benefits
  • widow or widower's Social Security benefits
  • parent's Social Security benefits, or
  • disabled child's Social Security benefits.

If your marriage is considered protected, remarrying won't affect your parental benefits.

How Much Will My Social Security Parent's Benefit Be?

Social Security will calculate your survivor benefit based on your deceased child's earnings and how much your child received or would have received in SSDI or retirement benefits. You'll receive a percentage of your child's benefit amount as follows:

  • 82.5% if you're the only parent entitled to benefits, or
  • 75% if there's more than one parent entitled to benefits.

For example, if your child was entitled to SSDI or Social Security retirement benefits of $2,800 per month, and you were the only surviving parent, you'd be entitled to $2,310 per month (82.5%). If both your deceased child's parents are entitled to parental death benefits, you'd each be entitled to $2,100 per month (75%).

But Social Security would reduce your benefit amount in some circumstances. Survivor benefits are limited to the family maximum benefit (FMB) amount. Social Security will pay up to 150% of the deceased person's benefit amount, split among all eligible surviving dependents. So, if others, like your deceased child's spouse or children, are entitled to survivor benefits, you'd receive less.

Also, if an overpayment was made on your child's earnings record, your monthly parental death benefit might be reduced. And having additional earnings from work can affect your benefit amount.

To give you an idea of how much your benefits might be, over the past year, the average parent's benefit was $1,550.

When Aren't Some Dependent Parents Eligible for Survivor Benefits?

Parents who didn't rely on their child for at least half of their living expenses won't qualify for the parent's benefit. And there are a couple of unusual circumstances that make a parent ineligible for survivor benefits, including the following:

  • A parent found guilty (in a court of law) of intentionally causing the death of an insured person can't receive benefits based on that insured person's earnings records.
  • If you've waived your right to benefits or been granted a Social Security tax exemption for religious reasons, you can't get parental benefits or any type of survivors benefits based on someone else's earnings record.

How Can I Find Out if I Qualify for the Parent's Benefit?

If you have questions about whether you qualify for dependent parent's benefits, contact Social Security.

You can call Social Security toll-free at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778 for those with hearing impairments). You can reach Social Security by phone from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (local time), Monday through Friday.

You can also speak with a Social Security representative at your local SSA field office. You can find your local Social Security office by entering your zip code into the SSA's online field office locator. Contact your local office for an appointment to ensure you get the help you need.

If you're instead interested in whether you can collect your parent's Social Security benefits when they die, see our article on children's survivor benefits.

Updated April 19, 2024

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