Family members who were financially dependent on a disabled worker who is eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits are often eligible to receive family benefits. These Social Security benefits are called dependents' or auxiliary benefits and are available to family members of disabled workers collecting SSDI (Social Security disability insurance). (Note that family benefits don’t apply to disabled people who collect SSI (Supplemental Security Income.) Eligible family members can include husbands, wives, children, and even dependent parents and ex-spouses in some cases (more on this below).
Amount of Family Benefits
Each family member might be eligible for a monthly Social Security benefit of 50%-100% of the monthly disability benefit paid out to the disabled worker. The amount each family member is eligible for depends on whether the family member is a minor child, a disabled adult child, a retirement-aged spouse, or a young parent taking care of minor or disabled children.
There is a limit to the amount of benefits that can be paid out to family members. The total amount that may be paid out to the family depends on the benefit amount being paid out to the disabled worker and the number of family members requesting benefits based on the worker’s qualifying earnings. In general, the largest dependent benefit payout amount for an individual would be no more than 50%-80% of the worker’s disability benefit amount.
Effect on Disabled Worker’s Benefit
The SSDI benefits of the disabled person (the “claimant”) are never reduced when a family member applies for auxiliary benefits. This means that a divorced parent who is responsible for paying child support has no reason to object to a child applying for Social Security’s child’s benefit.
Effect of Divorced Spouse’s Benefit on Other Family Members’ Benefits
Benefits paid to a divorced spouse or a surviving divorced spouse based on disability or age won't be counted toward the maximum family benefit. However, benefits paid to a divorced spouse who is eligible for benefits based on taking care of the disabled worker’s minor or disabled children do count toward the maximum family benefit. This means that benefits paid to a divorced spouse who is not disabled and under age 60 will count toward the maximum family benefit (because the divorced spouse must be receiving a mother's or father's benefit).
Calculating the Maximum Family Benefit
The maximum family benefit is different in each case, but the total for the whole family, including the disabled person’s monthly benefit, is typically 150% to 180% of the disabled person’s disability benefit amount.
There are three rules from the Social Security Administration (SSA) that govern the amount of the maximum family benefit (MFB):
- The MFB can be no higher than 85% of the disabled family member’s average indexed monthly earnings (AIME, which is the average of their earnings over many years), which you can find out from the SSA.
- The MFB cannot fall below the disabled family member’s primary insurance amount (PIA, their SSDI monthly benefit amount).
- The MFB cannot exceed 150% of the disabled family member’s PIA.
These rules may seem complicated and contradictory – if so, here’s a simpler way to think about it: The maximum family benefit is the smaller of 85% of the disabled family member’s AIME or 150% of the disabled family member’s PIA.
How the Maximum Family Benefit Works
If the sum of Social Security benefits payable to all of the family members would go over the maximum family benefit if each person in the family were paid their full benefit, each person’s benefit is reduced proportionately (except the disabled family member’s benefit), until the sum of all family members’ benefits equals the family maximum.
Family Members Eligible for Social Security Benefits
The following family members may be eligible for benefits:
- A spouse who is caring for a child of the disabled worker who is under age sixteen, or for a disabled child any age, will be eligible for benefits at any age.
- A spouse is eligible for benefits based on the other spouse’s earnings record if he or she is at least 62 years old or older.
- An ex-spouse may be entitled to benefits on the former spouse’s earnings record if the marriage lasted at least ten years prior to the divorce, the applicant is at least 62 years old and unmarried and not eligible for a higher payment based on his own earnings record.
- A biological child or adopted child or stepchild of a disabled worker may be eligible for benefits based on the parent’s earnings record if unmarried and under age 18 (or age 19 if a full-time student no higher than grade twelve in a high school, or any age if disabled).
- A parent who is 62 years old or older, unmarried, and financially dependent on the disabled worker, if the worker has passed away.
For more information on eligibility, see our article How to Get Disability Benefits for Your Dependents.