If you have an adult child who is severely disabled, your child may be eligible for disability benefits through either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The type of benefit available to your adult child depends on several factors, such as how old she was when she became disabled, whether she worked prior to her disability, and whether she has an income or other financial resources.
SSDI is a benefit available to people who have paid taxes to the Social Security Administration (SSA), much like Social Security retirement. Even if your adult child never worked, he may be eligible for Social Security “child” benefits based on your Social Security earnings record (or the other parent’s earnings record) if your child:
In addition to these requirements, you must be able to prove that your child’s medical condition prevents him from performing what Social Security calls "substantial gainful activity" (SGA). For 2021, SGA is defined as earning $1,310 a month from work. To determine whether an adult child can work, the SSA uses the same disability guidelines for an adult who was disabled before the age of 22 as it does for a person who didn’t become disabled until adulthood.
If your child is in a “protected” marriage, she may still be able to get benefits based on your record. Protected marriages include those between two people who are eligible for Social Security disability benefits.
If your child was disabled before the age of 22 and all the other requirements are met, it doesn’t matter if he has never had a job. But if your disabled adult child worked enough, he or she could be eligible for SSDI benefits on his or her own record. But unless your adult child worked for a number of years, your child may be able to get a higher benefit amount based on your earnings record (as long as the other requirements are met). Make sure you discuss this with the SSA.
Your child can receive up to 50% of the parent’s benefit amount, depending on whether there are other family members getting benefits based on the parent’s work record.
SSI is a means-tested benefit for disabled people who have limited income and resources. Your adult disabled child may be eligible for SSI if she meets the SSA’s definition of disabled, meets the income and asset limit, and can’t get benefits on your Social Security record.
Income. In addition to being found disabled, your adult child’s countable income can’t be more than the “federal benefit rate” (FBR). For 2021, the FBR is $794 for a single person. Countable income is money that can be used to pay for food and shelter. Countable income may also be “in-kind” rather than monetary; in this case, the value of food or shelter your adult child receives can be counted toward his or her monthly income.
There are also some sources of money that the SSA won’t consider when determining your child’s countable income, for example:
Resources. To be eligible for SSI, your child’s resources (things he owns) cannot exceed $2,000. Resources are things like cash, land, stocks and bonds, or anything he can use to pay for his food and shelter. The value of the house your child lives in, however, won’t be counted against him as a resource.
The most your child can get in SSI is the federal benefit rate (FBR), plus some states provide an additional supplement to SSI recipients. The FBR for 2021 is $794. For children who have income, their benefit amount will be the difference between their countable income and the FBR. Here is an example.
Jill is a 35-year-old woman who suffered a stroke that left her severely disabled when she was 21. She lives with her parents who also provide for her food. Jill's parents also pay for her medical bills that are not covered by insurance. Even though Jill isn’t getting cash payments from her parents, the SSA considers the value of the food and shelter they give her as “in-kind” income. The SSA’s rule is that in-kind income will reduce the maximum benefit amount that a person is entitled to by 1/3 if the person is living with someone else and not contributing financially towards food and shelter. Jill has no other income (the money that is paid towards her medical bills isn't counted). Her federal monthly benefit amount is $537 ($794 - $257.) Since Jill lives in the state of Washington, which provides a $46 state supplement to SSI recipients who live in someone else’s household, Jill’s total SSI payment is $583 ($537 plus $46).
If your adult child is eligible for SSDI based on his own record, he or she can begin the application online at the SSA’s website.
If your adult child is eligible for Social Security child benefits or SSI, you will need to make an appointment with your local field office to apply. To find your local office, visit the SSA’s office locator page and enter your zip code. You can also call the SSA at 800-772-1213.
Updated January 13, 2021