If you are approved for Social Security disability benefits and you have a dependent eligible child, your child may also be eligible for benefits based on your earnings record.
Social Security disability (referred to as SSDI, or sometimes just SSD) is a federal program that provides cash payments to people who meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of disabled. To be eligible for SSDI, you must have worked long enough while paying Social Security taxes to the SSA.
Are My Children Eligible for Benefits?
Dependent benefits are available only to eligible children. An eligible child can be your biological child (by birth), your adopted child (legal or equitable) child, or your stepchild. Your grandchild may also be eligible in some circumstances. There are also additional requirements that must be met.
- The child must be unmarried, and
- The child must be either:
- under the age of 18
- 18 to 19 years old and a full-time student (12th grade and under), or
- 18 years or older with a disability that began before the child turned 22.
If your eligible child is under the age of 18 (or is 19 and a full-time student), he or she doesn’t need to be disabled to get benefits.
Are My Adult Children Eligible for Benefits?
If your child is 18 or older and not a student, your child can get what Social Security calls adult child benefits. The following criteria must be met for adult child benefits.
- Your child’s disability must have begun before the age of 22, and
- Your child must meet the SSA’s adult definition of disabled.
To be disabled under the SSA’s guidelines, your adult child’s condition must prevent him from doing a substantial about of work for at least 12 months (or be expected to result in his death), just like any other adult.
What if my child worked before becoming disabled?
Even if your child became disabled before turning 22, he or she may have worked enough to get SSDI on her own work history. In this case, your child could get disability benefits without applying as your dependent. However, your child may be entitled to higher benefits based on your earnings record. Call the SSA at the number above to ask which benefit would be higher -- the disability benefits based on your child's earnings record or the dependents benefits based on your earnings record.
Does it matter that my eligible child never worked?
No. This is because this benefit is based on your earnings record only.
Will my child's benefits stop if she gets married?
If your child has been getting benefits based on a disability she has had since she was a child, she will usually become ineligible once she gets married. However, if your child is married to someone who is also eligible for disability benefits, she can keep the benefits that are based on your earnings record.
If my child commits a felony, is he ineligible for benefits?
While being in jail will prevent someone from collecting benefits, committing a felony doesn't affect eligibility, with one exception. A child who is otherwise eligible for benefits is ineligible if that child, either as a juvenile or an adult, was found by a court of law to have intentionally caused the death of the parent on whose earnings record the benefits were based.
To learn more, see Nolo's article on disability benefits for adult children.
Children's Benefit Amounts
The most your child can receive (whether under 18 or over 18 and disabled) is 50% of your monthly disability payment. If there are other family members collecting payment as well, however, the amount will be lowered. There is a family cap on the monthly benefits amount that is generally 150% to 180% of your payment amount, including your payment.
Your child can start collecting benefits based on your work history when you begin to collect Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or when you die.
Applying for Child’s Benefits
To apply for benefits for your child, you must call the SSA or go into your local field office. You can find your field office on the SSA’s website by entering your zip code into the field locator. You will need proof that your child is eligible (birth certificate or adoption papers plus her Social Security number).
If your child is an eligible disabled adult, you can begin the process online by completing an Adult Disability Report. It will speed up the process if you do this as soon as your adult child becomes eligible. Once the report is completed, call the SSA to finish your child's application.
Even if your child is already getting SSI, he or she may be eligible for benefits based on your earnings records. Call the SSA to see if this option is available. Their phone number is 800-772-1213.