Social Security Matters: Ask Rusty – About survivor benefits for minor children

Published 11:25 am Sunday, March 13, 2022

By AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor, Association of Mature American Citizens

Dear Rusty: My nephew died suddenly at 50 years of age and left 2 children, ages 17 and 14. He was divorced, but they were married for more than 10 years and his ex-wife works as a nurse. My nephew worked for more than 10 years during his lifetime. I want to know if the children are eligible for survivor benefits and the amount of benefits they will receive, and if their mother’s income will affect their eligibility.

Also, will my nephew’s ex-wife be eligible for survivor’s benefit as she is taking care of a child younger than 16 years old? She did not remarry. Will her income affect her survivor’s benefit? Signed: Helpful Relative

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Dear Helpful Relative: Our condolences on your nephew’s sudden and untimely passing. From what you’ve shared in your email, your nephew’s minor children are eligible for Social Security benefits based on his earnings record (assuming he worked in a job where he paid SS FICA taxes on his earnings). However, because they are divorced, his ex-wife is not eligible for early “child-in-care” spousal benefits. Child-in-care spousal benefits are not available to divorced spouses under age 62.

Your nephew’s minor children are eligible for benefits and their mother’s income won’t affect their survivor benefit from their father. Both minor children currently qualify for a survivor benefit from their father and the benefit for each could be as much as 75% of the benefit their father had earned up to the month he died. They will remain eligible for this benefit until they reach 18 years of age (or 19 if still in high school). It’s possible that Social Security’s “Family Maximum” may slightly reduce each child’s survivor benefit to a bit less than 75%, but any such reduction for the 14 year old will disappear when the 17 year old turns 18 and becomes ineligible for child survivor benefits).

The children’s mother should contact Social Security as soon as possible (at her local SS office or at the national service center number – 1-800-772-1213) to apply for survivor benefits for her children. She may need to provide their father’s death certificate (although SS may have already received that from the funeral director) as well as the children’s birth certificates.

If your nephew’s ex-wife doesn’t remarry before age 60, at that time she will become eligible to collect a survivor benefit from her deceased ex-husband. But claimed at age 60 that survivor benefit will be reduced by 28.5% from what it would be if she waits until her full retirement age (FRA) to claim it (a survivor benefit reaches maximum at the survivor’s FRA but is reduced if claimed earlier). If she claims her survivor benefit prior to reaching her FRA and she is working, Social Security will impose an earnings limit which, if exceeded, could result in the loss of some of her survivor benefits. Earnings limits for future years aren’t yet known, but the 2022 earnings limit is $19,560. The earnings limit will no longer affect her Social Security benefits after she reaches her full retirement age.