If you become unable to work due to an illness or injury and are approved for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, many problems are solved – but some additional questions may also arise. Along with “how is disability calculated?,” one of those biggest questions is “how do my benefits affect my family?” The answer is both simple and complex: your dependents may become eligible for additional monetary benefits (referred to as “child’s benefits” or “dependent benefits”). Over the course of the next several months, we will be publishing a series of posts discussing dependent benefits, including who qualifies for dependent benefits, what a dependent benefit is, how to file for these benefits, and why it is important to receive them. Up first, we will address a key question:
Who qualifies as a dependent?
Generally speaking, the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers the following to be eligible dependents:
- Children under the age of 18;
- Children 18 or 19 (up to age 19 years, 2 months) and still in high school;
- Children that became disabled prior to the age of 22;
- Spouses over the age of 62 and not working.
It is important to remember that a dependent can be eligible for monetary benefits that encompass the past, present, or future – or all three – and one dependent’s eligibility does not negate another’s. There is one exception to this, however, as there is a maximum allowable amount to be paid on each record that can reduce benefits payable to a dependent. This maximum is typically 150% of the claimant’s full monthly benefit.
How does this impact my SSDI application?
The SSDI process can be a lengthy one and, unfortunately, many claimants must wait two years or more to begin receiving their benefits. By the time a claimant is awarded, their child may have already graduated from high school, despite being under the age of 18 when the claimant first fell ill. In this instance, the child could still qualify as a dependent only to receive back pay for the time when their parent was unable to work/had a pending SSDI claim. If a claimant has a dependent they think may be eligible for dependent benefits, it is important for them to let the SSA know at the beginning of the process!
When you are first completing the application for SSDI benefits, Social Security requests the names of any potential dependent children you may have on the first part of your application (this is the “SSA 16” or, “Application for Disability Insurance Benefits”). It is imperative that you list any children who may be eligible for benefits from when your disability first began, even if they do not appear to be eligible when you first start your application. This action is referred to as “protective filing,” and it will allow any of your children who do become eligible down the line once you are awarded to receive benefits for the same time frame as yourself. If you are unsure if your child will be eligible, it is best to list the child and let Social Security determine their eligibility later. Social Security provides all claimants with space to list up to ten dependent children and, if necessary you should use all spaces and list additional dependents in the comments section. It is always better to protect a child from the beginning, as you be unable to go back and fix any errors once the claim is processed.
Social Security can award dependent benefits to step-children and grandchildren alike, and so a claimant should be sure to include them on their application if the child(ren) are dependent upon the claimant. Social Security will review their regulations, determine the dependency of the child(ren), and make a decision as to whether they would qualify or not. Every situation is different and unique to each individual claimant, therefore making it important for a claimant to discuss the potential dependency eligibility with SSA even if they themselves do not think they would qualify.
We hope this first post in the dependent benefits series has been a helpful one. Be on the lookout over the coming months for additional posts on this complex but crucial topic!
Nothing in this post is intended as advice or a suggestion to elect or not elect to claim benefits of any kind, including Social Security benefits, nor is it intended as financial advice in any way. The decision to claim benefits is a personal one that is contingent upon each individual’s unique circumstances.