One of the most important aspects of Social Security disability benefits is payments to qualified family members. It is also one of the important distinctions between SSI and Social Security disability: only workers who have paid taxes into the system are eligible for full family coverage.
A family member may be eligible for a monthly benefit that is up to 50 percent of the worker’s disability payment. There’s a limit to the total amount of money that can be paid to a family on one Social Security record. The limit, known as the family maximum, is between 150 and 180 percent of the primary worker’s disability benefit. This is true whether or not the spouse actually depended on the worker for support. Family benefits are not paid to SSI applicants, although a disabled spouse or child may be independently eligible.
• Benefits are payable to a spouse of any age who cares for a worker’s child under age 16, or to a spouse who is disabled and receiving Social Security benefits. The spouse would receive benefits until the child reaches age 16. At that time, the child’s benefits continue, but the spouse’s benefits stop. These are often called “mothers’ benefits” although they are certainly paid to fathers in the same situation.
• An eligible child can be a biological child, adopted child or stepchild. A dependent grandchild may also qualify. There are complicated rules for children of common law marriages and illegitimate children, eligibility here may depend on state law. For example, North Carolina does not recognize common law marriage but may recognize one that took place in another state.
• Benefits are payable to a spouse age 62 or older, unless that person is already collecting a higher benefit under retirement or disability programs. If a spouse is eligible for retirement benefits on his or her own record, the amount that is higher amount will be paid, or there may be a combination of benefits. There may be an impact if a spouse receives some pensions.
• An ex-spouse over 62 may qualify if the marriage lasted over 10 years, and there is not eligibility on another record. This has no effect on the amount of benefits the worker’s current family receives.
• The Social Security program also pays benefits to adults who have a disability that began before age 22. These adults are paid regular disability on a parent’s Social Security earnings record. A child may have drawn SSI benefits until the time a parent retired, became disabled or died. This benefit comes into play after one of these events, and is important – it can take a disabled adult out of the vast asset restrictions of the SSI program.
• Children can qualify separately as disabled for SSI if they meet Social Security’s definition of disability, and if their family’s income and assets fall within the eligibility limits.
If you have any questions about these benefits, or about any point of Social Security law, please call us for a free consultation. We have seen cases where the application for family benefits is not automatically entered when a worker applies for benefits, and this can reduce the back benefit payments paid to families. Let us help you get all the benefits you deserve.