Social Security Benefits That May Surprise You

Published In Blog

November 11th, 2018

Nearly 62.7 million Americans currently receive benefits from Social Security, the federal government program that provides some income for former workers, their dependents, and many disabled people. As many have complained, the rules for how and when to claim benefits can be a bit daunting. But behind that confusion can be a delightful surprise for many people who actually qualify to receive under old rules and a couple new ones they didn’t know existed. Most of the surprises and under-tapped benefits are earmarked for those who qualify as “dependents” of retired, disabled, or deceased workers.

Background on Benefits

First, a bit of explanation of a few of the terms and ground rules.

The meaning of “full retirement age,” as defined by the Social Security Administration, comes into the equation when computing the amount of benefits any person may receive. And that definition is not as straightforward as you might have hoped. For people born in or before 1937, it is 65 years old; for those born after 1937, it gradually increases over the years to 67 — the age at which those born in 1960 and after are able to “fully retire.”

Benefits for married and former spouses apply to opposite sex and same sex couples.

Also, an individual can only claim benefits as a “dependent” if not receiving Social Security retirement benefits based on his or her own earnings record if one exists, which is generally a higher amount.

Benefits for Dependents of Retired Workers

Spouses, former spouses, and children of retired workers may all be entitled to Social Security income if they qualify under the agency’s rather picky requirements.

Spouses

  • Must have been married for at least 12 months, and
  • must be either 62 years old or older or caring for a biological or adopted child who is under 16 or disabled.

Amount a spouse may receive: One-half of the spouse’s full retirement amount for those who start receiving the benefits at their own full retirement age.

For more on claiming benefits as the spouse of a retired worker, go to Benefits Planner: Retirement.

Former Spouses

  • Must have been married to the retired worker for at least 10 years, and
  • must not have remarried — although if the remarriage ends by divorce, annulment, or death they may be able to claim the benefit again.

It is possible to receive benefits based on an ex-spouse’s work record even if he or she remarries. The Social Security Administration does not keep records of its beneficiaries’ marriages and divorces. However, marrying many times is not the way to riches: An individual may only collect on one former spouse’s work record.

Amount an ex-spouse may receive: One-half of the ex-spouse’s full retirement amount for those who start receiving the benefits at their own full retirement age.

For more on claiming benefits as the ex-spouse of a retired worker, go to Benefits Planner: Retirement.

Children

  • Must be unmarried and under age 18 or under age 19 if still in high school, or
  • may be 18 or older and disabled from a condition that started before age 22.

This benefit may be a huge help for grandparents who adopt and care for a grandchild; if the child is relatively young, it usually makes sense to file for these benefits as early as possible rather than waiting to claim benefits at full retirement age..

Amount a child may receive: Generally, one-half the amount of the parent’s full retirement amount — though the amount may be limited by Maximum Family Benefit Rules, which cap the total amount a family may receive at 150% to 180% of full retirement benefits.

For more on children claiming benefits based on the records of retired workers, go to Benefits Planner: Retirement.

Benefits for Dependents of Disabled Workers

Spouses, former spouses, and children of disabled workers may also be entitled to Social Security income if they qualify under rules that are very similar to the rules for claiming under a retiree.

Spouses

  • Must have been married for at least 12 months, and
  • must be either 62 years old or older or caring for a biological or adopted child who is under 16 or disabled.

Former Spouses

  • Must have been married to the retired worker for at least 10 years, and
  • must not have remarried — though if the remarriage ends by divorce, annulment, or death they may be able to reinstate the benefit.

Amount a spouse or ex-spouse may receive: One-half of the spouse’s or ex-spouse’s full retirement amount for those who start receiving those benefits at their own full retirement age.

Spouses and former spouses are entitled to claim this income benefit even if the worker is receiving some disability benefits.

Children

  • Must be unmarried and under age 18 or under age 19 if still in high school, or
  • may be 18 or older and disabled from a condition that started before age 22; special rules apply to disabled adults who are claiming on a parent’s work record, still identified by Social Security rules as “disabled adult children,” no matter their ages.

Amount a child may receive: Generally, one-half the amount of the parent’s full retirement amount — though the amount may be limited by Maximum Family Benefit Rules, which cap the total amount a family may receive at 150 to 180% of full retirement benefits.

For more on claiming benefits as a spouse, former spouse, or child of a disabled worker, go to Benefits Planner: Disability.

Benefits for Dependents of Deceased Workers

Spouses, former spouses, children, and the parents of children of workers who have died may be entitled to Social Security income on the deceased worker’s record. The rules for qualifying are very different than for claiming from a retired or disabled retiree.

Spouses and Former Spouses

  • Must have been married for at least 9 month s —though there are exceptions for accidental deaths and for those killed in the line of duty, and
  • must be over age 60, or over age 50 with a disability that started before or within 7 years of the worker’s death.

Amount a spouse or ex-spouse may receive:

  • 100% of the deceased worker’s benefit if the widow or widower reaches the full retirement age before applying for the benefit
  • 5-99% of the deceased worker’s benefit if the widow or widower is between age 60 and full retirement age, or
  • 5% if age 50-59 and disabled.

If the deceased worker took early retirement and was receiving a reduced benefit, the amount due the survivor will be based on the reduced benefit.

Mother and Fathers

  • Must be the widow or widower of a deceased worker,
  • not currently married, and
  • caring for the child of a deceased worker who is under 16 or qualifies as an “adult disabled child.”

Amount the mother or father may receive: Generally, 75% of the amount of the deceased parent’s full retirement amount.

Children

  • Must be unmarried, and
  • must be under age 18 or under age 19 if still in high school, or 18 or older and disabled from a condition that started before age 22; special rules apply to disabled adults who are claiming on a parent’s work record, so still identified as “disabled adult children,” no matter their ages.

Amount a child may receive: Generally, 75% of the amount of the parent’s full retirement amount — though the amount may be limited by Maximum Family Benefit Rules, which cap the total amount a family may receive at 150% to 180% of full retirement benefits.

For more on claiming benefits as a spouse, former spouse, mother or father of a deceased worker’s child, or child of a deceased worker, go to Benefits Planner: Survivors.

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