Children With Disabilities & Social Security

Feb 29, 2008
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A recent Wall Street Journal article addressed the issue of Social Security benefits for children with disabilities. These children may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or they may be eligible Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) based on a parent’s work record.
For SSI, a child under the age of 18 years may be eligible if the child has impairments that meet Social Security’s definition of disability for children, but the family’s income may preclude the child from receiving this benefit. Once the child turns age 18, the family income is no longer a factor, because the benefit is based on the child’s own income and resources. The child must meet Social Security’s adult disability definition, meaning that the child must be unable to do “substantial work,” or must be unable to earn more than $940 per month.
A child with a disability may also be eligible for SSDI based on a parent’s work record. The parent must be receiving retirement or disability benefits or have died in order for the child to receive this benefit. The child has to meet the Social Security definition of disability for adults, and the disability must have begun prior to the child becoming age 22. Generally, the child would receive one-half of the worker’s retirement or disability benefit amount. The actual amount depends on three factors: the worker’s earnings record, the time of the worker’s retirement benefit claim, and the number of dependents. For example, if the parent starts to collect Social Security retirement benefits prior to the parent’s full retirement age, then the monthly benefit amount is permanently reduced.
If the family includes more than one dependent (for example, spouse and two children with disabilities), then the benefits paid to all dependents would be combined into a “family benefit amount.” The family could get as much as 180% of the worker’s benefits, but the exact amount is calculated by a complex formula. Although the worker’s benefit would not be reduced, the dependents’ benefits could be reduced proportionately if the total family amount exceeds the limit. The maximum benefit amount does not apply when each spouse is collecting benefits based on his or her own work record. Families should consult with their local Social Security office for information specific to their situation. There are also several publications on the Social Security website (www.ssa.gov) that may be helpful, including “Benefits for Children” (Publication No. 05-10085), “Benefits for Children With Disabilities” (Publication No. 05-10026), “Supplemental Security Income” (Publication No. 05-11000), and “Disability Benefits” (Publication NO. 05-10029).
The attorneys at Oast & Hook can assist parents of children with disabilities with their estate, financial, insurance, and special needs planning.

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