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Grandparents raising grandchildren – Who knew Social Security might be there to help!

Tuesday, 12 July 2016 10: 00
Written by Joni B. Bailey
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grandparents raising grandchildren social security

In my experience as a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability representative, many people do not realize that if they are retired or disabled and raising a grandchild or step-grandchild they might be eligible for as much as one half of their Social Security benefit amount in dependent child benefits.


The Social Security Act and Regulations allow grandchildren (and step-grandchildren) to qualify for benefits under the earnings record of a grandparent if certain conditions are met.

In 2012, according to a report prepared by the United States Census Bureau:

  • more than 10% of the 65 million grandparents in the United States lived with at least one grandchild,
  • 7 million of these grandparents were primarily responsible for raising their grandchildren,
  • more than 1/3 of the grandparents raising their grandchildren had been caring for their grandchildren for 5 years or more, and
  • between 1970 and 2012, the number of children living in grandparent-maintained households doubled from 3% to 6%.

Grandparents frequently provide security and stability for children when neither parent can provide a good home due to: job loss, lack of affordable housing, death, drug addiction, imprisonment, divorce, physical or mental disability, and even military deployment.

Many people do not realize that in certain situations Social Security Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance benefits are available for grandparent-maintained households. 

This guide, written by a Southern Illinois Social Security attorney, can help grandparents determine whether or not they qualify for extra Social Security income because they are raising a grandchild who is a minor.

1.  Are you receiving retirement or disability insurance benefits or have you filed a Social Security Disability Insurance claim?

If “Yes,” go to the next step.

If “No,” this benefit is probably not available to your household.

2.  Have you earned enough during your working years to be eligible for a dependent child benefit?

If “Yes,” go to the next step.

If “No,” this benefit is probably not available to your household.

If you do not know, you can call the Social Security office and ask or you can set up a my SSA account. See this earlier blog article.

3.  Were the child’s parents both deceased or disabled before the month you became entitled to receive Social Security Retirement (RIB) or Disability Insurance benefits (DIB) or the alleged onset date of a disability that later resulted in DIB benefits?

If “Yes” go to the next question.

If “No” your grandchild  does not qualify now, but might qualify for dependent child benefits at the time of your death.

4.  Did the child begin living with you before the age of 18?

If “Yes” go to the next question.

If “No” your grandchild does not qualify as a dependent.

5.  Did you provide at least one half of the child’s support for the entire year before the month you became entitled to retirement or disability insurance benefits or the date your alleged disability began?

If “Yes” go to the next question.

If “No,” but the child was born during that period, and you provided at least one half of the child’s support for substantially all of the period from the date of birth to the applicable month, go to the next question.

If “No” your grandchild does not qualify as a dependent.

6.  What if the child’s parents die or become disabled AFTER I start receiving Social Security Retirement or Disability benefits?

Survivor benefits might be payable to the child if the child's parents are deceased or disabled at the time of your death.

7.  What if I started raising my grandchild AFTER I started receiving Social Security Retirement or Disability benefits?

The other way a grandchild can qualify as a “dependent” and qualify for dependent child benefits is to be adopted by the grandparent.

In March 2016 new regulations made it possible to adopt a child after your Social Security Retirement or Disability benefits begin and qualify that child as a dependent.  Before March 23, 2016, the adoption had to happen before Social Security Retirement or Disability benefits began.

8.  If my grandchild’s sole living parent has not been determined to be disabled, yet, should I wait to file for my retirement benefits?

If you are raising a grandchild who has only one living parent, and that parent has applied for disability benefits, my advice as a Southern Illinois Disability attorney is that you might want to consider delaying your application for retirement benefits.  Keep in mind that you could receive an additional 50% of your monthly retirement benefits while your grandchild is dependent if you wait until after the parent has been found to be disabled to start your Social Security retirement benefits. 

If the child’s parent is not able to work due to physical or mental impairments but has not been found to be disabled, you could urge him or her to file a Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income claim.  This would help you start to satisfy the eligibility requirements for the grandchild you are raising.  An approval of the child’s parent’s Social Security Disability Insurance claim could result in dependent benefits for your household and allow you to provide a more comfortable life for both you and your grandchild. 

Joni Beth Bailey is a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability Attorney.


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