Adult Child Disabilities and Social Security

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 What is Social Security?

“Social Security” is the commonly used term for the federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program and is administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Social security uses public funds to provide a degree of economic security for the public as a whole once they have retired or if they become disabled.

Social security benefits are typically thought of (and indeed are used as) retirement benefits. However, social security can also refer to a government program that provides financial support for disabled people. Such government assistance is referred to as Social Security Disability Insurance.

Throughout their working life, a person will pay a certain percentage of their income to the government through social security taxes. Once they retire or become disabled, the government sends monthly payments based on how much they previously paid in social security taxes while working. This is known as “work credits,” and they must have a certain number of work credits to get certain benefits. Children may qualify for social security disability payments, and of course, the requirement that they have work credits does not apply.

What are Adult Child Disabilities from Social Security?

“Adult Child Disabilities” refers to Social Security disability payments made to someone who received disability benefits as a child and is now an adult. Do those benefits continue, or are they terminated once the person reaches age 18?

In general, child disability benefits cease when a child reaches the age of 18. However, they may continue indefinitely through adulthood if the person (1) is still physically or mentally disabled and (2) is living with a parent who is receiving social security benefits. The benefit paid is based on a parent’s Social Security earnings. The term for an adult who receives disability benefits based on their parent’s work history and social security benefits is an “adult child.”

To receive disability benefits as an adult child, an individual must meet the following requirements:

  • The individual must have a disability that began before turning 22 years of age
  • The individual must be unmarried
  • The individual must be a child of an individual who receives Social Security retirement, disability, or survivor benefits.

What Criteria Does the Social Security Administration Use?

If an adult child is applying for benefits for the first time or has child benefits renewed, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will use adult disability criteria to review the application. The adult child must have:

  • A qualifying physical or mental impairment or illness
  • The impairment prevents them from working
  • The impairment will last at least a year, or death is an expected result of the condition.

How Does the Social Security Administration Determine If an Adult Child Is Disabled?

For an individual to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, they must meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability. The SSA follows a five-step sequential disability analysis to determine if an individual is disabled. The steps are:

  1. Is the individual working? If they are currently working, that suggests that they do not have an impairment or illness that prevents them from working.
  2. Does the individual have a “severe” impairment?
  3. Does the individual have an impairment that is on the government’s list of impairments that are automatically considered “severe”?
  4. Can the individual perform past relevant work? “Past relevant work” includes any present work.
  5. Can the individual perform other work?

Step One: If the applicant performs substantial gainful activity (SGA), they cannot receive Social Security disability benefits. A person earning more than a certain monthly amount (net of impairment-related work expenses) is considered to be engaging in SGA. Every year, SGA thresholds are set by the SSA. For 2023, the monthly figure is $1,470 (it is higher for blind people). Not all work is considered SGA – some work is excluded – and a lawyer will be able to analyze an applicant’s work situation better and provide advice on whether their work may not be SGA.

Step Two: A “severe” medical impairment is a condition that significantly limits an individual’s mental or physical ability to perform basic work activities. The condition must have existed or is expected to exist for at least one year or will result in the individual’s death. All types of impairments or illnesses must be supported with substantial medical evidence.

Step Three: If the applicant has a severe impairment, the SSA will analyze whether or not it meets their “Listing of Impairments.” This list describes several illnesses and impairments and sets forth specific symptoms and detailed medical criteria for determining if the individual has the claimed impairment. If an applicant meets the criteria for an impairment on the list, their application for benefits will be approved. Most applicants do not have an impairment or illness on the listing, so they will proceed to the next steps of the evaluation, which focus on their ability to work.

Step Four: The next step in analyzing whether an applicant is eligible based on their inability to work is an analysis of what kind of work they do. This is their past relevant work (PRW). PRW includes work an individual has performed within the past 15 years. To complete this analysis, the SSA assigns the applicant a set of “functional limitations.” These are known as residual functional capacity (RFC). If the individual’s PRW can be performed within these restrictions, their disability claim will be denied.

Step Five: If the applicant can no longer perform the kind of work they normally do, the SSA will analyze whether or not they are capable of performing any other full-time work. If the applicant is capable of performing other work that is available in the national economy, their disability claim will likely be denied. However, there are different criteria for individuals over 50, so it is important to seek the assistance of an attorney to determine if you qualify.

What Happens After Being Approved for Benefits?

Once an applicant’s Social Security benefits are approved, their case will be periodically reviewed. The frequency of reviews will depend on the seriousness of the medical condition.

What if My Application is Denied?

Only 35% of initial applications for benefits are granted. Most applications are submitted without a lawyer’s help. In that case, the denial is because the application was completed incorrectly or they did not submit sufficient medical evidence proving their disability. One of the most important benefits of hiring a lawyer is ensuring the claim is properly submitted.

If a claim is denied, that decision can be appealed. This is a complicated process, and it helps greatly to have an attorney’s assistance.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help with Adult Child Disability Benefits?

You should consider consulting with a Social Security disability lawyer when filing for adult child Social Security disability insurance benefits. An experienced disability lawyer can help frame your application to receive a positive result and will be careful to make sure that all of the documentation SSA could want is submitted with that petition.

A lawyer can review your case and assist you with any aspect of your application, even if it has already begun. Having a lawyer on your case may be the difference between a denial and an approval of benefits.


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