Social Security Benefits for Disabled Adult Children

There are several options for "Disabled Adult Children" to win disability benefits from Social Security. Learn about them here.

Benefits for children are provided by both the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. These include dependents of a parent on SSDI, deceased, retired and SSI for low income children with disability. The frequently overlooked area is that of disabled children who are now adults.

Parents of disabled children may not have used any government programs as the child was growing up. Most such parents plan to make permanent arrangements for the disabled child to ensure he/she is cared for when the parents are no longer available. This can result in major disappointment when they discover deadlines have been missed and the SSI program is not and probably never will be available to their disabled adult child.

Who is a Disabled Adult Child?

The situation of the disabled child changes at age 18. The child is now an adult. The parent or guardian has a new set of options and of duties to accomplish on behalf of the disabled and now adult-child. Social Security refers to Disabled Adult Children as "DAC's".

Applying for SSI Benefits

A child who while under 18 was not eligible for benefits because of the parents’ income and assets should now apply for SSI. The standard for disability is now that for any other adult. The actual definition of disability used by Social Security is an inability "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months" (42 U.S.C. §423 (d)(1)(A)). For more on this definition, see Medical Eligibility for SSDI or SSI.

The 18 year old DAC who meets this definition probably has little or no personal assets or income so will have no trouble qualifying for SSI on his or her own record and receiving SSI benefits for years as long as he or she meets the standard asset and income requirements of the Title XVI SSI program.

Applying for SSDI Benefits

Any DAC may eventually become eligible for Title II SSDI benefits. This is a real advantage as income and asset issues are no longer a problem. The SSA usually will catch this status change on its own, but it behooves the parent or guardian to be alert for the opportunity and apply.

The DAC is able to apply for SSDI benefits as a dependent when his parent retires, becomes disabled, or dies if he or she has been receiving SSI since before age 22. This should be done as SSDI benefits are significantly less complex to work with than SSI benefits.

Who is Considered a Dependent?

Biological (natural) children and children adopted before age 18 are automatically considered dependents. Other relationships may give the DAC dependent status at least as to eligibility for benefits under Title II (SSDI). These may include other adoption scenarios such as adoption after the beneficiary became eligible for retirement or disability, certain step-children, grandchildren and even step-grandchildren. The rules are all found in (20C.F.R. §404.335-365). You can “Google” and study them for yourself.

The time period between age 18 and 22 is extremely important. Actually until one month before the 22nd birthday. This is important because SSA acts one month in advance; thus the DAC’s actual birthday is considered OVER 22. The DAC is no longer entitled to any benefits! Other issues are also tied to the “between age 18 and 22” rules.

An older individual who has never applied for benefits, but has been disabled, from any time before age 22 is eligible to apply. Proof of disability, as defined by SSA will almost always result in benefits. The inability to prove disability before age 22 will on the other hand, mean NO benefits.

An adult-child over 18 and under 22, but with a history of working sometimes and then sometimes not being able to work may well qualify for SSI. The SSA rules which cover this problem are found at (20 C.F.R. §404.1572-1576). It may be worth your time to look these up through “Google”, but the application is very complex. I suggest you contact a knowledgeable attorney and discuss your dependent’s personal situation.

The adult disabled since childhood often has the same interests and drives of many other adults. Marriage, divorce, drug use, multiple attempts to hold down a job therefore occur. SSA understands this and the rules provide for these eventualities. Marriage (20 C.F.R. §404.350-404.351) terminates SSI benefits. Only a single DAC can receive benefits. A divorce is not enough; the marriage has to be annulled or voided.

In Summary

We have considered adult children under both SSI entitlement and under SSDI entitlement which may have been confusing so let’s in summary compare the two SSA programs available for adult children. These programs need to be considered as part of your overall estate planning rather than as your only plan. Definition-Both SSI (Title XVI) and SSDI (Title II) use the standard SSA definition for disability as stated above.


SSI benefits are available to DAC’s with low income and few assets, so most over age 18 will qualify. SSDI benefits require that the adult child be a dependent of a fully insured relative. There is no income or asset requirement.

Continuing Eligibility

Both programs require a child beneficiary to file an application between age 18-22 or the adult child will lose the benefits. This loss may be temporary or permanent. Marriage-A DAC on SSI: marriage while receiving benefits cancels the benefits. A DAC on SSDI: marriage while receiving benefits has no effect. Relative’s loss of benefits-A DAC on SSI: no effect on dependent who is 100%on his own record. A DAC on SSDI: dependent also lose benefits, but may qualify for SSI.

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