Can I Get Spousal SS Benefits for Taking Care of My Adult Disabled Child?

 In Social Security, Special Needs Planning

Question:

My 31-year-old disabled son lives with my husband and me in Florida. He (son) receives SSI. If Dad retires at 62, when I will be 56, will I be eligible for a spousal benefit for taking care of my son even though I’m not 62? The Social Security Administration said no, but I see otherwise.  This is frustrating and stressful to find answers.

Social-Security-retirement-child-benefits-Wellesley-MA

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

Response:

Ordinarily, someone with a spouse receiving Social Security retirement benefits would have to wait till age 62 to begin collecting a Social Security spousal benefit.  But you are correct that even if you are under 62, you might be able to collect if you and your husband have a disabled adult child living with you who receives a Child Disability Benefit (CDB).  The question is whether you meet the specific requirements for benefits in this situation.

According to Social Security regulations, to collect spousal benefits before you are 62 based on the presence in the home of an adult child, the child must be receiving a CDB and must be considered to be “in your care” which is defined as needing your help in providing certain “personal services” which are detailed in the regulations. In addition, a spouse receiving benefits is limited by the same Retirement Earnings Test applicable to the retirees under age 66 so that the benefit payable may be reduced or even eliminated depending on the amount of the spouse’s earned income.

You say in your question that your son receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI), but this is not the same as CDB, which requires that the claimant not only meet the SSI requirement that they were disabled at the time they apply, but also that they have been continuously disabled since age 22, and be unmarried.

If, in fact, your son meets these criteria, he should be awarded CDB when your husband files for his early retirement benefit. One of the questions on the retirement application will be whether the applicant has any adult disabled children.  Sometimes applicants fail to indicate that they have a disabled adult child, or even if they do, the SSA staff fail to develop that “lead” and assist the child in filing for benefits.

But even if your son becomes entitled to CDB and you provide him with the required “personal services” mentioned above, which will make you eligible for a spousal benefit, don’t get too excited yet. Most articles I have seen about receiving spousal Social Security benefits when there is an eligible Disabled Adult Child (DAC) in the household do not point out that the value to the household of the spousal benefit is often limited. That’s because the total amount of benefits that can be paid to members of a family based on a retiree’s earnings record will be capped by a family maximum. This maximum varies based on the retiree’s past earnings, but is often only 150% of the benefits being paid to the primary benefit recipient—your husband in this case. In other words, your benefit as your son’s caretaker would, at most, be half of your husband’s benefit.

Since the child receives a benefit equal to 50% of the retiree’s benefit, depending on the retiree’s past earnings, the combination of retiree and child’s benefit being paid may already be at or close to the applicable family maximum.  In this case, if a spouse begins to collect a spousal benefit, it will just reduce the benefits being paid to the disabled child, not increasing the total SS benefits paid to the family.  This is a complicated area which I hope to discuss further is a future post.

Related Articles:

Social Security Childhood Disability Benefit May Be Available to Granddaughter

Little-Known Social Security Benefit for Parents of Disabled Children

Social Security Disability Income answers

Mark Bronstein

This response is provided by Mark Bronstein, Esq., who has been representing individuals in disability related matters since 1980. In addition to Social Security disability and retirement claims, he handles claims under private and group disability insurance plans, and also consults with individuals who have chronic or progressive illnesses and are “still working but worried.” In addition to representing individuals, he regularly consults with other attorneys on complex cases, and provides training and support to legal, chronic illness, and provider organizations. He is based in Newton, Massachusetts and can be reached at mark@bronsteinlaw.com or 617-244-5551.

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