Qualifying for Disability Benefits Through Parent Work Record

Young woman with cerebral palsy happily petting a horse outdoors.Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal program primarily designed to aid people who have become disabled after having worked for a certain amount of time. Although the typical SSDI recipient has worked for a fairly long time before the onset of their disability, an adult who became disabled before turning 22 can also qualify for SSDI if they have a parent who meets certain qualifications.

An SSDI benefit depends on the beneficiary’s income before they became disabled, the size of their family, and the amount they have paid into the Social Security system. A beneficiary typically must have paid into the Social Security system for at least 10 years prior to their disability. Most people who have a serious disability before turning 22, however, are not able to assemble the necessary work record to qualify for SSDI on their own.

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In certain situations, they may instead be able to qualify for SSDI on their parents’ work record. This is possible under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Disabled Adult Child (DAC) program.

Disabled Adult Child Program

To qualify for the DAC program, the following conditions must be met:

  • The adult child who is disabled must have a qualifying disability that meets the SSA’s strict adult disability standards.
  • This person must be age 18 or older, and may be an adopted child, or, in some cases, a stepchild, grandchild, or stepgrandchild. They also must be legally single, not married.
  • Their disability must have occurred before they turned 22.
  • The potential beneficiary’s parent must have paid into the Social Security system long enough to have become fully insured for retirement benefits.
  • Finally, the potential beneficiary’s parent must be either deceased, permanently disabled, or currently receiving Social Security retirement benefits.

If an adult disabled child and their parent meet all of these qualifications, then the adult child should be able to receive a substantial benefit, often greater than a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) award. On top of the monetary gain, the disabled adult child does not have to worry about their own unearned income or assets, since SSDI does not take these into account.

However, if the adult child with the disability earns income through employment, the SSA may determine that they are no longer disabled and cancel their SSDI benefits. Earnings must be no more than $1,350 per month ($2,260 if the disability is blindness).

The parent’s own retirement benefits are not affected by their child’s receipt of SSDI. In addition, the disabled adult child can still qualify for SSI benefits if their SSDI payments, which count as unearned income for SSI purposes, do not disqualify them.

Plan Ahead for Your Child

Parents of a child with disabilities who think that their child may one day qualify for SSDI might consider having their child screened by the Social Security system for their disability well their child reaches age 22, and well before the parents themselves start receiving their own Social Security benefits.

In any event, it is a good idea to have the child’s physician keep detailed records of the child’s disability from as early an age as possible. This way, when the parents retire and start receiving Social Security, the child will have a thorough documentation of the disabling condition up to age 22, making the SSDI application easier.

Your special needs planner can explain the rules for applying for SSDI and can give your family guidance if you think your child may qualify.

For an overview of applying for SSDI, visit the SSA website.


Last Modified: 11/01/2022
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