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Keeping Disability Benefits after a Disabled Child Becomes an Adult

  • Published: 2010-03-12 (Revised/Updated 2013-06-16) : Author: Jeffrey A. Rabin & Assoc
  • Synopsis: Disabled children who meet certain federal guidelines are eligible for Supplemental Security Income or SSI.

Quote: "The Social Security Administration (SSA) keeps a list of medical conditions and findings that automatically qualify someone as disabled."

Main Document

Many parents may believe that their disabled children will be able to continue receiving Social Security disability or SSI payments once they have reached 18 years old.

However, this is not necessarily true. The federal government uses a different standard to determine disability status for children than it does for adults. Once disabled children turn 18, they will lose their benefits if they do not meet the adult disability standards.

Qualifying Children for SSI

Disabled children who meet certain federal guidelines are eligible for Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. Disabled children receiving monthly SSI payments also are eligible for Medicaid coverage, which can be a necessity for families who cannot meet the increased financial needs of caring for a disabled child.

In order for a disabled child to be eligible for SSI, the child must have a qualifying disability and meet the income and assets requirements. A child is considered disabled if:

The child is not working and earning more than the regulatory definition of work (i.e. $1000 gross/month in 2010)

The child has a physical or mental condition, or combination of the two, which results in "marked and severe functional limitations"

The condition must have been present for at least 12 months, is expected to last for at least 12 months or is expected to result in death

Since most children do not have any income or assets, the parents' income and assets may be considered in determining whether the child meets the financial requirements for disability. If the child lives at home or if the child returns home from school from time-to-time and is considered "under the control" of the parents, then the parents' income may preclude the receipt of benefits.

Changing Disability Requirements Once a Child Turns 18

SSI payments will end once a child reaches his or her 18th birthday unless the child qualifies as an adult for disability benefits. The good news is that once a child reaches 18, his or her parents' income is no longer used as a basis to determine the child's financial eligibility for SSI benefits. The child's own income and savings are the only basis for meeting the financial eligibility requirements. Thus, if a child was previously denied benefits because his or her family's income, the child can reapply for benefits on their 18th birthday as an adult.

The definition of disability changes once a child becomes an adult. As a result, a person who qualified as a child for SSI will not necessarily qualify for disability benefits as an adult.

As an adult, disability status largely depends on whether or not the adult has a medically determinable impairment that makes it impossible for the adult to work for at least 12 months.

If the adult does not have a job, then his or her condition must be so severe that it prevents him or her from working. The Social Security Administration (SSA) keeps a list of medical conditions and findings that automatically qualify someone as disabled. If the adult's condition is not on this list, then the SSA will consider whether their condition and symptoms are equivalent to one of those on the list. If so, then the SSA will approve the application for benefits.

But if the adult's condition is not on the list and is not an equivalent of a condition on the list, then the chronic symptoms from the medical problems must be so severe that they preclude the adult's ability to perform the type of work he or she did previously. If this is true, then the adult's condition also must be so severe as to prevent him or her from doing any other type of work. Only if the SSA agrees that the adult cannot perform the work he or she previously did or any other type of work available in the national economy, will it then grant the request for benefits.

What Parents Can Do to Help Their Children

- Set-up a review. As a child approaches his or her 18th birthday, the parents should contact their state's Disability Determination Services to set-up a review of the child's disability. Generally, the review period will begin on the child's 18th birthday. The review is necessary to determine if the child's disability is eligible for adult disability benefits.

- Work with your physician. If a disabled child has not been regularly seeing a specialist, therapist or other medical professional for his or her condition, then the parents should resume regular appointments as soon as possible. The review board will ask for the treating physician's assessment of the child's disability - an assessment the doctor will not be able to accurately give if he or she has not seen the child in years. This assessment can be a critical factor in your child receiving adult benefits, particularly if the child does not have a condition listed on the SSA's list of automatically qualifying disabilities.

Work with an Experienced Attorney

If you have questions about maintaining your child's Social Security disability benefits once they reach adulthood, contact an attorney experienced in handling Social Security Disability and SSI cases. If you do not take timely action to protect your child's rights to benefits, he or she may lose them upon their 18th birthday. For more information, contact an experienced SSD attorney today.

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