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The Truth About Family Benefits for Social Security Disability

November 6th, 2017 Social Security Disability

In 2016 in the United States, nearly 9 million disabled workers received benefits under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD) program. Of these, approximately 1.2 million were part of families whose other members received SSD benefits on account of the disabled worker.

If you are a recently disabled worker, you may not have realized that SSD can provide disability benefits not only for yourself, but also for your family. To obtain those benefits, it is important that you consult a Social Security disability attorney with Nolan Caddell Reynolds, who can help guide you through the process.

Background: What are SSD Benefits?

The SSA is a federal agency that manages several aspects of our nation’s social safety net. It is perhaps most famous for the retirement benefits it provides retired American workers. But as important for many Americans are its two disability programs, which provide regular payments to workers who cannot work because of a disability. Those programs are:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD) and
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

One of the biggest practical differences between these two programs is that SSD benefits are available based on a worker’s work history—that is, how much the worker has paid into the system in the past. In contrast, SSI benefits are available based on an individual’s financial need.

Another important difference is the availability of benefits for a disabled individual’s family members. SSD provides family benefits, but SSI does not.

Who Qualifies as “Family” for SSD Benefits?

The definition of “family” used for SSD purposes is narrower than the ordinary definition of that term. Which members of your family qualify for SSD benefits when you are disabled depends on their relationship to you and whether they meet certain additional criteria. The following are eligible for family benefits if they meet the criteria listed below:

  • Your spouse: Your husband or wife is eligible for SSD family benefits when he or she meets any one of the following three criteria:
    • At least 62 years old;
    • Cares for your child who is younger than 16 years old; or
    • Cares for your child of any age who is disabled and receiving Social Security benefits.
  • Your ex-spouse: An ex-husband or ex-wife qualifies for family benefits if he or she meets all of the following requirements:
    • Married to you for at least 10 years;
    • At least 62 years old;
    • Currently not married to anyone else; and
    • Does not separately qualify for an equal or higher benefit.
  • Your children: Your child (including a biological child, adopted child, or dependent stepchild) can receive family benefits from SSD on your account if he or she is unmarried and any of the following:
    • Younger than 18 years old;
    • A full-time student (in 12th grade or lower) between the ages of 18 and 19; or
    • Older than 18 years old with a disability that began before he or she turned 22.
  • Your dependent grandchildren: If you provide at least half of your minor grandchild’s financial support, he or she can qualify for your SSD family benefits if his or her parent is disabled or deceased.

What Benefits are Available for My Family?

The benefits available to your family members under SSD are limited in two ways. First, an individual limit caps the amount that each family member can receive. Second, a family maximum limits the total amount of benefits for all eligible family members.

The individual limit means that each family member can only receive an amount up to 50% of your own disability benefit.

The family maximum varies depending on a number of factors, including the amount of your own benefit and the number of family members who qualify for SSD benefits. Typically, the family maximum—including your own benefits—is between 150% and 180% of your benefits.

If the sum of your benefits and your family’s benefits exceeds the family maximum, then your family’s benefits will be reduced proportionately to bring the total within the family maximum. However, your benefits would not be reduced in that case.

Special Rule for Ex-Spouses: Normally, in calculating the family maximum, any family benefits payable to your ex-spouse will be excluded. In other words, your current family’s benefits will not be reduced on account of your ex-spouse’s receipt of SSD family benefits.

Do My Family’s Benefits Reduce My Own?

Fortunately, no. Your SSD benefits are not reduced when your family members apply for family benefits on your account.

What Do I Need to Apply for SSD Family Benefits?

To apply for SSD family benefits for your family members, you will need their names, dates of birth, proof of age, and Social Security numbers. For a spouse, you will need to provide proof of marriage, such as a marriage certificate. You will also need to submit dates of any prior marriages so the SSA can determine if an ex-spouse is entitled to family benefits.

Hire a Social Security Disability Attorney When Applying for SSD Benefits

If you’re a disabled worker who is interested in applying for SSD benefits, contact a Social Security Disability attorney from Nolan Caddell Reynolds today. Our firm helps workers like you from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and beyond navigate the complex rules of SSD so that they and their families can obtain the SSD benefits to which they are entitled.

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