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How Can Grandparents and Great-Grandparents Help Their Families?

Published on: Nov 01 2022

More and more grandparents and great-grand- parents are the primary caregivers and source of support for their grandchildren and great-grand- children.

The latest data indicate that 8% of grandparents, or 7.7 million, have grandchildren living with them. There are many reasons grandparents assume full responsibility for grand- children. The grandchild’s parents might have died. The parent might be coping with substance abuse or mental illness or be incarcerated.

Some parents are unemployed or have such limited financial resources that the grandparents agree to take the children. Grandparents should know the financial resources that might be available. There are two potential sources of income from Social Security. Social Security might pay supple- mental benefits when a grandparent is the primary caregiver of a grandchild.

The grandparent must provide at least 50% of the grandchild’s sup- port and have done so for at least one year. This applies to a biological grandchild, step-grandchild, or ad- opted grandchild. In addition, the parents of the grandchild must be deceased or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits, or the grandparents must have legally adopted the grandchild.

The Social Security rules say that if a grandparent already was receiv- ing Social Security benefits at the time he or she started caring for the grandchild, then the grandparent must legally adopt the grandchild to qualify for the additional benefits. The grandchild must be unmar- ried, under age 18 or 18-19 years old and a full-time student no higher than grade 12. Or the child can be 18 years or older and disabled from a disability that started before age 22.

Once you’re eligible to receive ad- ditional Social Security benefits be- cause you’re a grandchild’s caregiver, the amount you receive will depend on the child’s age, the amount of your Social Security benefits, and sometimes other factors. The supplemental benefits are up to 50% of your full retirement benefit. But there’s a maximum family ben- efit.

The rule is complicated, but in general the total amount your family can receive based on your earnings record is 150% to 180% of your full retirement benefit. If one or both of the grandchild’s parents are deceased, the child might be eligible for survivor’s benefits based on the parent’s earnings history.

Social Security reports that 98 of every 100 children could qualify for survivor’s benefits after a working parent dies. The child must be unmarried and under age 18 (or up to age 19 if still a full-time student in a grade no higher than 12). Or the child can be older than 18 if he or she has a disability that began before age 22.

The child must have been a dependent of the parent at the time the parent passed away. The parent must have qualified for a retirement benefit by working and contributing to Social Security long enough to qualify for 10 credits (which generally means working for the equivalent of 10 quarter years). In addition, the parent must have been working at the time of death.

When the child qualifies for survi- vor’s benefits under a parent’s work history, the child will receive bene- fits equal to 75% of the parent’s full retirement benefit. The benefits described here generally must be applied for in person at a Social Security Adminis- tration Office or over the telephone, not online. To apply, you’ll need the child’s birth certificate or other proof of the child’s birth or adoption. The Social Security numbers of the child, parent, and grandparent also will be needed. If the parent passed away and you’re applying for the child’s survivor’s benefits, you’ll probably need the parent’s death certificate. Other documents might be needed.

A 2018 law created the feder- al Advisory Council to Support Grandparents Raising Grandchil- dren. The council’s role primarily is informational, reporting resources to support and educate families in which grandparents are the primary caregivers for grandchildren. You might want to review its reports. They’re part of www.acl.gov. You also might want to review the resources listed at www.grandfamilies.org.

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