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Unlocking Opportunities: Social Security Survivor Benefits After Turning 18

Last updated: October 10, 2023

Turning 18 is a significant milestone in a young person's life, symbolizing the transition into adulthood. For individuals who have experienced the loss of a parent or guardian, this age also brings about important changes in terms of Social Security survivor benefits. 

In this blog post, we will delve into the topic of Social Security survivor benefits after turning 18, providing valuable information on eligibility, application requirements, the continuation of benefits, and options available if you're no longer eligible. 

Let's explore how these benefits can support you during this critical phase of life.

What are Social Security Survivor Benefits?

Social Security survivor benefits are monthly payments provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to eligible family members of a deceased worker. These benefits aim to provide financial assistance to individuals who have lost a parent or guardian, ensuring their well-being and financial stability.

In 2021, the SSA paid an average of $2.8 billion in benefits to 4 million children whose parents (either one or both) were deceased, disabled, or retired. The benefits were used to help the children complete school and pay for necessities to live a better life. 

To activate survivor benefits, the deceased parent must have earned enough Social Security Retirement benefits. That means contributing at least a year and a half in the three years leading to their death. The more the parent earns and contributes to Social Security, the more benefits the survivors can get. 

Who can get these benefits?

Children eligible for Social Security survivor benefits include biological children, adopted children, and dependent stepchildren. They have to meet the following criteria:

  • Has a retired or disabled parent entitled to Social Security benefits

  • Has a parent who died after working in a job where they paid Social Security taxes

  • Must be unmarried and younger than 18

  • If between the age of 18 and 19, must be a full-time elementary or high school (grade 12 and below) student

  • If aged 18 and older, must have a disability that began before age 22

Children with disabilities whose parents have little income or resources may also receive SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits. In this case, income status will be a main qualification apart from disability. 

It’s crucial to note that any type of Social Security child benefit will end once the child marries, even if the child is under 19 and is still in school. 

What do you need to apply for survivor benefits?

To apply for survivor benefits, certain documents and information are required. This includes:

  • The child's birth certificate or proof of birth or proof of adoption 

  • The parent and child’s Social Security numbers

  • Proof of parent’s death

  • Proof of medical evidence of a disability (if claiming disability benefits)

It's important to gather these documents before starting the application process to ensure a smooth and efficient submission. The Social Security representative will also help secure these documents and ensure they are complete and correct. 

As soon as possible, notify the SSA of the death of the parent, grandparent, or stepparent. The funeral home can also help in this aspect. 

Do benefits continue after age 18?

In general, benefits stop after a child reaches 18. However, there are two exceptions. If the child is a student and if the child has a disability. 

If a child is a student

If the child is still in elementary or secondary school once he turns 18, he can continue receiving benefits until he graduates or reach the age of 19, whichever comes first. Three month’s before the child’s 18th birthday, you’ll receive a notice that the benefits will end. 

If the child meets the exception criteria, such as being a Grade 12 student or below, you should get a statement of attendance from a school official and present it as proof to keep the benefits. 

If a child has a disability

For children with disabilities, the age of 18 does not necessarily signify the end of Social Security survivor benefits. If a child has a disability that began before the age of 22 and meets the SSA's criteria for disability, they may be eligible to receive benefits as an adult. This ensures continued support for individuals with disabilities as they navigate adulthood.

How much can a family get?

The amount of Social Security survivor benefits a family can receive varies depending on factors such as the deceased parent's earnings and the number of eligible family members. The survivor benefit is typically 75% of the deceased parent’s basic Social Security benefit. However, the maximum payment can range from 150% to 180% of the parent’s full benefit amount.

In general, family benefits are limited to a maximum amount, often referred to as the family maximum. This ensures that the total benefit amount distributed to the family does not exceed a certain threshold.

Options if You're No Longer Eligible for Survivor Benefits

If you're no longer eligible for Social Security survivor benefits after turning 18, options are still available to support your financial needs. You can explore other forms of government assistance, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which provides financial aid to disabled adults and children with limited income and resources. 

Additionally, you can seek employment opportunities, scholarships, or financial aid to help cover expenses and support your transition into adulthood.


Turning 18 is a significant milestone, bringing changes and new opportunities for young adults. Understanding the intricacies of Social Security survivor benefits after 18 is crucial for smoothly navigating the transition into adulthood and helping make it through school.

By knowing the eligibility requirements, application process, and available options, individuals can make informed decisions and leverage the support provided by these benefits. Whether continuing education, pursuing employment, or exploring alternative assistance programs, there are avenues to secure financial stability and build a successful future after turning 18.

Learn about SSI benefits for surviving spouses in our blog.

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Victor Traylor
An expert to the field of Social Justice, Victor formed Disability Help to connect ideas and expertise from the US with rising global cultural leadership, building networks, fostering collaboration, long-term results, mutual benefit, and more extensive international perception.
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