A woman in our neighborhood recently lost her husband. He was in his late 40s. She is now a widow, also in her 40s, with two young children. She says she thinks that Social Security will pay her $1,000 per month per child. Is this true?
Maybe. If her late husband was covered by Social Security and her children are younger than 18, they’re eligible for survivor benefits based on his earnings. The amount they’ll receive depends on the benefit their father would have been entitled to collect at his full retirement age.
Children can collect a survivor benefit based on a deceased parent’s work record until they turn 18 (or 19 for children still in high school). Each child is entitled to 75 percent of the parent’s Primary Insurance Amount, known as PIA — the monthly benefit the parent would have collected at his or her full retirement age — subject to a family maximum. That maximum, which is determined by a mathematical formula, generally is 150 percent to 180 percent of the parent’s PIA.
A widow or widower of any age who cares for a child younger than 16 may also qualify for a survivor benefit, subject to the same family maximum, and to an annual earnings limit. In other words, the surviving parent may earn too much to qualify for it. (But the children are entitled to their benefits regardless of their surviving parent’s earnings.)
Let’s assume this widow earns too much to qualify for a surviving parent’s benefit. If her late husband’s PIA is $1,334, each child is entitled to $1,000.50 a month. In this example, both children could receive their full benefit amounts without exceeding their family maximum, which is $2,001 a month.
THE BOTTOM LINE Surviving minor children are entitled to Social Security based on their deceased parent’s earnings.
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