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Social Security Benefits for Dependent Parents

A reader writes in, asking:

“My mother is financially dependent upon my wife and I. I recently heard something about the possibility that she could receive a Social Security parent’s benefit based on my retirement benefit. I had never heard of this before. Can you explain how it works and how it should factor into my own Social Security decision?”

Parents’ benefits don’t get much coverage, because they’re not very common. And, for reasons we’ll discuss momentarily, the possibility of your parent receiving a parent’s benefit should not affect the decision of when you claim your own Social Security benefit.

In short, a parent’s benefit is a survivor benefit for a parent who was financially dependent upon their now-deceased child.

How to Qualify for a Parent’s Benefit

In order for a parent to be able to claim a benefit on the work record of their child (including a stepchild and adoptive child in some cases):

  • The child must be deceased and have had sufficient Social Security work credits to be considered “fully insured,”
  • The parent must be at least age 62,
  • The parent must not have gotten married since their child died (though it’s OK if the parent was married at the time of death and is still married),
  • The parent must not be entitled to a retirement benefit that is greater than or equal to their benefit as a parent, and
  • The deceased child must have been contributing at least 50% of the parent’s support.**

How This Affects Social Security Planning

The fact that your parent is financially dependent upon you (and may therefore someday receive a benefit based on your work record if he/she outlives you) should not play any role in your own Social Security claiming decision, for two reasons.

First, the age at which you claim your own retirement benefit doesn’t affect the time at which your parent can start receiving a parent’s benefit. (It is your date of death that determines that.)

Second, the age at which you claim your retirement benefit doesn’t affect the amount of your parent’s benefit based on your work record. The amount of a parent’s benefit is 82.5% of the deceased person’s primary insurance amount if there is one eligible parent. If there are two eligible parents, each parent’s benefit as a parent is 75% of the deceased person’s primary insurance amount. (If the parent is already receiving a different Social Security benefit — such as their own retirement benefit — then the total amount they will receive is the greater of the two benefits.)

**To meet the “contributing 50% of support” requirement:

  • The deceased child must have been making regular contributions for the parent’s ordinary living costs, and those contributions equaled or exceeded 50% of the parent’s ordinary living costs, and
  • The parent’s income (from sources other than the child) that is available for support purposes is 50% or less of the parent’s ordinary living costs.

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Social Security cover Social Security Made Simple: Social Security Retirement Benefits and Related Planning Topics Explained in 100 Pages or Less
Topics Covered in the Book:
  • How retirement benefits, spousal benefits, and widow(er) benefits are calculated,
  • How to decide the best age to claim your benefit,
  • How Social Security benefits are taxed and how that affects tax planning,
  • Click here to see the full list.

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"An excellent review of various facts and decision-making components associated with the Social Security benefits. The book provides a lot of very useful information within small space."
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