Social Security is part of the retirement plan of almost every American worker. If your elderly parent was in the workforce (even part time for very low wages) for at least 10 years, they are likely eligible for some Social Security retirement benefits. And if either spouse in a married couple worked for wages, or was self-employed and paid taxes, then both of them are likely eligible for some type of Social Security benefits.

Overview: Eligibility for Social Security Benefits

There are a number of ways that elders can be eligible for Social Security benefits. Here are the criteria to determine whether or not your elderly parent can receive Social Security:

  • An elderly person who worked for at least 10 years
  • If that person is married, then the spouse is eligible for dependents benefits once the spouse turns age 62.
  • If your elderly parent was in the workforce, but became disabled before he/she reached full retirement age, then he/she might eligible for disability benefits. If they are eligible, then that person's spouse is eligible for dependent benefits at 65 or possibly as early as age 62.
  • If both spouses worked for at least 10 years, then each is eligible for their own Social Security retirement benefits, as well as dependents benefits from their spouse's Social Security.
  • If a person is eligible for more than one Social Security benefit, he/she cannot collect both. That person collects the higher of the two.
  • If a spouse who is eligible for retirement or disability benefits dies, then the surviving spouse is probably eligible for survivor benefits starting as early as age 60.

How Much Will Your Parent get from Social Security?

The benefit payment is based on how much your parent earned during their working career. Higher lifetime earnings result in higher benefits. If there were some years when they did not work or had low earnings, the benefit amount may be lower than if they had worked steadily. The amount is also is affected by the age at which your parent retired. Those who retire at age 62 (the earliest possible retirement age) the benefit will be lower than if they waiting longer to retire.

Benefits for Family Members

If your elderly parent is getting Social Security retirement benefits, some members might also be able to receive benefits. Those who can include:

  • Spouses who are age 62 or older
  • Spouses who are younger than 62, if they are taking care of a child who is under age 16 or disabled
  • Children up to age 18, or up to 19 if they are full-time students who have not yet graduated from high school
  • Disabled children, even if they are age 18 or older

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Spousal Benefits

A spouse who has not worked or who has low earnings can be entitled to as much as one-half of the retired worker's full benefit. If one spouse is eligible for both his/her own retirement benefits and for benefits as a spouse, Social Security pays the spouse's own retirement benefits first. If that person's benefits as a spouse are higher than their own retirement benefits, they will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse benefit.

If your parent has reached your full retirement age, and is eligible for a spouse's or ex-spouse's benefit and their own retirement benefit, they may choose to receive only spouse's benefits and continue accruing delayed retirement credits on their own Social Security record. They may then file for benefits at a later date and receive a higher monthly benefit based on the effect of delayed retirement credits.

Retirement Benefits for Widows and Widowers

Widows and widowers can begin receiving Social Security benefits at age 60, or at age 50 if they are disabled. And they can take a reduced benefit on one record and later switch to a full benefit. For example, a woman could take a reduced widow's benefit at 60 or 62 and then switch to her full (100 percent) retirement benefit when she reaches full retirement age. The rules vary depending on the situation, so talk to a Social Security representative about the options.

Divorced Spouses

Divorced spouse can get benefits on your Social Security record if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. The divorced spouse must be 62 or older and unmarried.

Estimate Your Benefits

To estimate the social security benefits you are entitled to, visit the Online Retirement Estimator.