Social Security benefits are not inheritable for adult children. An adult whose parents receive Social Security benefits cannot "inherit" those benefits directly when their parent dies. However, there are other programs through which they can receive assistance.
If the deceased parent was retired and receiving retirement benefits, those payments stop after death. Usually, the funeral home informs the Social Security Administration (SSA) of the individual’s death, stopping the payments automatically. If the SSA makes any benefit payments after the individual’s death, those checks must be returned.
Other Benefits for Survivors
Although the parent’s retirement benefits cease, there are other forms of benefits for family member survivors, including adult children. The most important of these is Social Security survivor benefits. The goal of the program is to partially replace income that is lost due to old age, the death of a spouse or qualifying ex-spouse, or disability.
- When a parent dies, their Social Security benefits cease. They cannot be inherited.
- Adult children with disabilities can receive Social Security benefits after their parents die.
- The amount of the monthly benefit payment is based on the parent's contributions in the form of SSA taxes (OASDI).
Eligibility for Survivor Benefits
Adult children are eligible to receive survivor benefits if:
- They are between the ages of 18 and 19 and a full-time high school student.
- They are 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22 and never earned over substantial gainful activity (SGA).
- The disabled adult child is unmarried or married to a disabled spouse.
- Their deceased parent worked for long enough at a job at which they paid Social Security taxes.
The disabled adult child’s disability must be approved according to SSA medical criteria.
Like an individual’s SSA retirement benefit, the amount of the payment the adult child receives is tied to their parents’ SSA tax contributions and their parents’ age when they took retirement. An adult child with a disability receives 75% of the deceased parent’s benefit.
To ensure that their disabled adult child receives that benefit, parents can take steps while they're still alive to smooth the process by having basic documents prepared ahead of time.
- The surviving disabled adult child must be documented as the parent’s child with a birth certificate or adoption papers.
- The deceased parent and surviving child must have Social Security numbers.
- If the parent is already on Social Security retirement or disability benefits themselves, they can have their disabled adult child added onto their account as an auxiliary while they are still living.
Auxiliary Disabled Adult Child Benefit
If you are the parent of a child you believe meets the criteria for a disabled adult child benefit and you are on Social Security retirement or disability, you can get them added as an auxiliary to your record before you pass. This increases their benefit amount while you are still living and will significantly streamline the process for them to convert to a survivor benefit after your passing.
How to Enroll for SSI Benefits
Another step that parents of a disabled adult child may be able to take to ensure their child receives benefits is to get them into the Social Security benefits system while the parents are alive. They may be eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on the disabled child’s behalf. SSI is a monthly payment designed to help needy families, including families raising a child with a disability.
SSI payments are made until the child is 18. After age 18, the disabled child becomes eligible for SSDI benefits as a disabled adult child. Upon the death of the parent, they become eligible for the survivor’s benefit described above.
If the parent is already on Social Security retirement or disability benefits themselves, they can have their disabled adult child added onto their account as an auxiliary while they are still living. This is by far the most streamlined process for receiving Social Security benefits.
Can Adult Children Inherit Social Security Retirement Benefits?
No. SSA retirement benefit payments cease upon the death of the beneficiary.
When Can an Adult Child Begin Receiving SSDI Benefits?
If the adult child is disabled with a disability that began before the age of 22, that individual will be eligible for benefits after their parent or guardian dies. They must be unmarried, age 18 or older, have a qualified disability that started before age 22, have never worked over SGA, and meet the definition of disability for adults.
How Much Will an Adult Child Receive?
After the parent dies, the benefit to disabled adult children will be based on the amount the parent paid into the SSA while they were alive and working. You can estimate this amount by looking at your My Social Security account on SSA.gov. Your survivor would be eligible for 75% of the primary insurance amount (PIA) on your account. Your PIA adjusts any year there is a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) or you have wages, so check back every year.
What Is the Lump-Sum Death Payment?
The lump-sum death payment (LSDP) is a one-time payment of $255 frequently mentioned in advertisements as "the burial benefit for all Americans." This is not entirely accurate. The LSDP is available only to people who could have been considered dependents at the time of the individual's passing. Spouses, children under the age of 18, or disabled adult children can qualify for the LSDP, but non-disabled adult children cannot.
The Bottom Line
Although adult children cannot inherit a parent's or guardian's retirement benefits when the parent dies, they may be eligible for benefits if they are disabled.