Social Security Disability Benefits for a Disabled Adult Child

Disabled adults who don't have enough work credits can sometimes use their parents work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits.

If you are a disabled adult child or if you have a disabled adult child, the child may be eligible for Social Security disability payments. It is important to understand what the qualification requirements are and how to apply for these benefits so you can ensure that your child or loved one gets the benefits needed for proper care.

When a Child Becomes Disabled Before Age 22

A disabled child or young adult whose income is low enough to qualify for SSI (Supplemental Security Income) can apply for SSI (see our article, Social Security Disability and SSI for Children,

for more information), but Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits can be higher.

Fortunately, SSDI is sometimes available for a disabled child of a worker who has paid Social Security taxes into the Social Security system, even if the child hasn’t has a job and paid into Social Security. The child can be any age, as long as the disability occurred before age 22. This is often called SSDI for "adults disabled since childhood," even though the disability sometimes doesn’t start until adulthood (between age 18 and 22).

Beneficiaries under this program are often called "adult disabled children" because they collect Social Security disability benefits based on their parent’s work record. A disabled adult child can collect SSDI only if a parent, adoptive parent, or stepparent is receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits (SSDI) – or had earned enough Social Security credits before dying to be entitled to one of these benefits. In some cases, a grandchild or step grandchild can be eligible for these benefits as well (if there is no living parent and the grandparent or step grandparent is collecting retirement or disability benefits or was entitled to collect them before dying).

The disabled adult "child" must meet the adult definition of disability. This is called a "child’s benefit" because it is using the parent’s earning record, not because the person needs to be young. In fact, when a parent doesn’t begin collecting Social Security benefits until late in life, the disabled adult "child" is a young adult or sometimes even middle-aged adult before becoming eligible for benefits.

Eligibility Requirements for a Disabled Adult Child

There are several eligibility requirements for a disabled adult child to collect benefits:

  • The person must be 18 years or older.
  • The person must be unmarried (although when two disabled adult children get married, benefits can sometimes continue).
  • The person must fit into the Social Security Administration's (SSA’s) adult definition of disabled (and the impairment needs to have lasted 12 months, be expected to last for 12 months, or be expected to be fatal).
  • The person’s disability must have started before he or she reached the age of 22.
  • The person must not have substantial income, called "substantial gainful activity," or SGA. The amount the Social Security Administration considers substantial income changes every year, but the maximum amount a non-blind disabled person can make in 2016 is $1,130 per month. 

Filing for Disability Benefits

A disabled adult child seeking SSDI benefits under a parent’s work record cannot file for benefits online. However, it will save time if you start the process by filling out the Adult Disability Report before you contact the SSA (to see the form, go to SocialSecurity.gov/applyfordisability). Next, contact the SSA at (800)772-1213 for an appointment at your local SSA office.

When you apply for SSDI, your paperwork will be forwarded to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) in the state where you reside. That is the agency that will make the decision on the disability. A claims examiner and medical consultant will together decide if the disabled adult child has a disability that matches or is equivalent to one on the SSA's official Listing of Impairments, or if not, if the disability prevents the adult child from doing work. To determine if the disabled adult child can perform a job, the DDS will look at his or her skill and educational level, including any vocational training the adult child may have received in school. A child who has received vocational training may not be eligible for benefits if they have a skill that could provide them with substantial gainful employment and they can perform a job that uses that skill. It is important in these cases to keep accurate school and medical records involving any evaluation of the adult child’s skills by teachers and other professionals. 

It will take several months to process your application. The good news is that benefits may be paid retroactively up to five months before the application was filed.

When an Adult Child Becomes Disabled After Age 22

An adult child who becomes disabled after age 22 must either have low enough income and assets to qualify for SSI or must rely on his or her own earnings record to collect SSDI.

While a young adult does have to have some work history to be eligible for SSDI, young adults require fewer "credits" to qualify for SSDI benefits. (A credit represents three months of work where the person earned at least $1,160; a person can earn four credits in one year.) Most people need 20 credits made within the last 10 years to be eligible for SSDI, but a young adult who is younger than 24 need only have earned six credits in the three years before the disability started. Young adults aged 24 to 31 need to have worked half the time since they turned 21. For instance, a young adult who becomes disabled at 25 needs to have two years’ worth of credits, or eight credits, earned in the last four years. If you or someone you know was disabled after age 22 and you have questions about SSDI eligibility, call the SSA.

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