Although the typical Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipient has worked for a fairly long time before the onset of his disabling condition, an adult who became disabled before turning 22 can also qualify for SSDI if she has a parent who meets certain qualifications.
SSDI is a federal program primarily designed to aid people who have become disabled after having worked for a certain amount of time. Unlike Supplemental Security Income (SSI), SSDI is not a needs-based program, which means that there are no income and asset restrictions. Instead, a beneficiary typically has to have paid into the Social Security system for at least 10 years prior to his disability. An SSDI benefit depends on the beneficiary's income before he became disabled, the size of his family, and the amount he paid into the Social Security system. Finally, SSDI recipients can receive Medicare two years after qualifying for SSDI.
Most people who have a serious disability before turning 22 are not able to assemble the necessary work record to qualify for SSDI on their own. But people in this situation may instead be able to qualify for SSDI on their parents' work record, in certain situations.
First, the "adult disabled child" (the Social Security Administration's (SSA) term for a person with a disability that manifested itself before age 22) must be completely disabled according to the SSA's adult disability standards. Second, the disability must have occurred before the potential beneficiary turned 22. Third, the potential beneficiary's parent must have paid into the Social Security system for the required number of quarters. Finally, and most importantly, the potential beneficiary's parent must be either dead, permanently disabled, or receiving Social Security retirement benefits.
If an adult disabled child and her parent meets all of these qualifications, then the "child" should be able to receive a substantial benefit, often greater than an SSI award. On top of the monetary gain, the child does not have to worry about her own unearned income or assets, since SSDI does not take these into account. However, if a child earns enough income through employment, the SSA may determine that she is no longer disabled and cancel her SSDI benefits. The parent's own retirement benefits are not affected by their child's receipt of SSDI, and the child can still qualify for SSI benefits if her SSDI payments, which count as unearned income for SSI purposes, do not disqualify her.
Parents who have not begun to receive their own Social Security income but who think that their child may qualify for SSDI in the future may want to have their child screened by the Social Security system for his disability before he reaches age 22. If this is not possible, it pays to have the child's physician clearly document all of the information surrounding the child's disability from as early an age as possible. This way, when the parent does retire, the child has a long record showing the presence of the disabling condition before he turned 22, making the SSDI application easier.
A qualified special needs planner can explain the rules for applying for SSDI and can give your family guidance if you think your child may qualify in the future.
To read more about SSDI for an adult child with disabilities on the SSA Web site, click here.Article Last Modified: 01/24/2015
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