When a Disabled Child Receives Parental Benefits in Adulthood

Can a person disabled in childhood be covered by his or her parent’s Social Security in adulthood?

There is often discussion of the benefits of individuals who become disabled and are then entitled to SSDI benefits, and also of benefits due to the family members who depend on their income. We rarely hear, however, about individuals who were disabled as children and are therefore eligible to receive their parents’ benefits during their own adulthoods.

Circumstances under which Children Receive Social Security Benefits

When a parent becomes disabled, his or her child may also qualify for benefits on the parent’s record of employment. This applies not only to a parent’s biological child, but to an adopted child, a stepchild, or a dependent grandchild. The child receives up to one-half of the parent’s full disability benefit, but in order to receive benefits in this situation the child must be:

  • Under the age of 18 or
  • 18-19 years of age and a full-time student (no higher than grade 12) or
  • 18 or older and have a disability that started before the age of 22

When it is the child, not the parent who is disabled, however, the rules change. For a child with a disability to receive benefits on his or her parent’s work record after the age of 18, the child must:

  • Have a disability that began before the child turned 22 and
  • Must meet the definition of disability for adults

Assuming the adult child meets these requirements, he or she starts receiving the parent’s benefits when the parent retires or becomes disabled. Although the offspring is now an adult, the Social Security Administration refers to this as a “child’s benefit” because it is calculated based on the parent’s Social Security earnings record.

An example of such a situation would be if a father begins collecting Social Security retirement benefits at 62 and has a 29-year-old daughter who has had disabling bipolar disorder since childhood. In this case, once the father begins receiving Social Security benefits, his daughter will start collecting a disabled “child’s benefit” on her father’s earning record. Since the benefits stem from the father’s work record, the daughter need never have worked to receive the disability benefits.

Special Circumstances

Interestingly, if the adult child has already been receiving disability on her own, she should still check because she may receive higher benefits on her father’s earnings record than she otherwise would. She may, in fact, not only be able to receive higher benefits, but also entitled to Medicare (even though she is a young adult).

Certain Restrictions Apply

There are certain restrictions to adult child SSDI benefits. When an adult child is receiving disability through the parent’s Social Security, he or she must not earn money over an amount determined annually by the SSA. This year, the maximum amount that can be earned is $1130 per month. Also, if the adult child marries, except if he or she marries another disabled person, the individual will lose the disability benefits. Lastly, it should be remembered that if the parent of the disabled child never worked, no benefits would be payable to the adult child, regardless of that person’s disability.

Clearly, SSDI benefits are variable and complex all over the country. If you live in California and are a disabled adult, especially if you have been disabled since childhood, you should consult with an experienced, highly knowledgeable attorney who specializes in Social Security Disability law. This will not only ensure the best outcome, but will help you preserve your peace of mind when dealing with intimidating government bureaucracy.

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