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Social Security Benefits for Disabled Adult Children

April 5, 2015

“Ellen” struggles with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder and her parents worry about her future. (Ellen is a real person and gave us permission to tell her story here, but to protect her privacy we are not using her real name.)

At 24 years old, Ellen has had multiple hospitalizations for suicide attempts since she was a teenager. She takes medications and sees a psychiatrist and a therapist on a regular basis.

She wants to work, but the severe symptoms of her illnesses cause employment problems. As a consequence she has worked at several jobs, but has never earned much money. Not married, Ellen lives with her parents and her personal life is chaotic. Her parents worry about what will happen to Ellen when they are not there to care for her and they especially worry about her medical needs.

When Ellen’s father retired and applied for Social Security retirement benefits, he indicated that he had a child (Ellen) who had become disabled before she was 22 years old. Ellen applied for benefits as a Disabled Adult Child (DAC) on her father’s earnings record. Ellen’s lawyer gathered medical and school records, obtained doctors’ reports about her condition and her limitations, and presented her testimony to an Administrative Law Judge at a hearing. The judge awarded her DAC benefits, because Ellen was able to prove she is disabled, her disability began before the afew of 22, she had not been able to work successfully, and she was unmarried. Her parents were relieved to have a more secure future in place for their daughter with a modest monthly check and Medicare benefits. Ellen hopes she will be able to work when her illnesses are under control.

Ellen’s story touches on just one category of Social Security disability benefits for children. There are three specific categories where children may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Let’s take a look at all three categories and the qualification requirements.

Adults Disabled Since Childhood

To qualify for disability benefits as a disabled adult child, you must be older than 18, unmarried, and have a disabling impairment that began prior to you reaching age 22. Your impairment must have continued uninterrupted and has made it impossible for you to work at any job. You must have a parent who is receiving Social Security benefits (due to retirement or disability), or a deceased parent who was entitled to receive one of these benefits before they died; and you cannot be married. You must apply for Disabled Adult Children (DAC) benefits on your parent’s account. Ellen fits these qualifications.

Social Security Auxiliary Benefits

Many disabled workers who apply for Social Security Disability benefits believe that they are the only ones eligible to receive benefits from SSA. This is not necessarily the case. In some cases, a disabled worker’s family members, such as their dependent children — whether disabled or not — may be able to receive benefits, as well.

The benefits that are paid to family members are referred to as auxiliary benefits. If a prent, adoptive parent, or stepparent, is receiving Social Security retirement or SSDI benefits (or if a parent is deceased and was entitled to one of these benefits before they died), the child may be eligible to receive auxiliary benefits. Family members of those who receive SSI are not eligible for auxiliary benefits from the Social Secuirty Administration. To qualify for auxiliary benefits, a child must be unmarried and under the age of 18. However, a full-time student enrolled at an elementary or secondary schhol can continue to receive benefits either until graduation or until two months after turning 19, whichever comes first.

Under auxiliary benefits a child is eligible for up to 50% of the parent’s monthly benefit, subject to a family maximum.

Low-income disabled children

Disabled children whose families have low income may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To qualify in this category, the child must be under the age of 18 or under the age of 22, if he or she is a student regularly attending school (as determined by Social Security) and unmarried.

The child must be bild or disabled. This disability, according to Social Security requirements, must result in “marked and severe functional limitations or can be expected to result in death and has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” A child may be eligible for SSI disability benefite beginning as early as the date of birth up to age 18; there is no minimum age requirement.

These are just the high points regarding SSI benefits for disabled children. There is a lot more involved.

As you can see, qualifying for SSA children’s benefits can be a complex process with many rules and limitations. We’re here to help you untangle the complexities and guide you through the process. Call us at Nash Disability Law for a free evaluation of your situation.