A Parent's Situation Can Shift Child's SSI to SSDI Benefits

Mother and adult son with Down syndrome sitting on bench in garden.

Because of their disability, a person receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may not have worked long enough (or at all) to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits on their own work record. Therefore, once they meet the government’s strict physical or mental disability requirements and fall under SSI’s income and asset caps, the SSI recipient might assume that they will never obtain SSDI benefits in the future.

However, this is not always the case. In fact, many SSI recipients who became disabled prior to turning 22 years old may begin to receive SSDI benefits when one of their parents retires, becomes disabled, or passes away.

Can a Grown Child Collect Parents’ Social Security?

SSI recipients (and anyone else, for that matter) may qualify for Childhood Disability Benefits (CBD, formerly known as the Disabled Adult Child (DAC) Program) if they became disabled prior to turning 22 and if one of their parents paid into the Social Security program for the required number of quarters.

Keep in mind that the Social Security Administration's (SSA) definition of "disabilty" is when someone (a) has a disability that (b) prevents them from engaging in Substantial Gainful Activity (ie, earning more than $1,550/mo (2024) from work). SSA is is looking to when the disability started preventing the work; it is always easier to prove that if you apply for SSI prior to the individual turning 22.

If the parent retires or becomes disabled, the child will receive 50 percent of the parent’s Social Security benefit. If the parent dies, the payment increases to 75 percent of the parent’s benefit. These payments trigger when the parent applies for Social Security, or someone informs the SSA of the parent’s death and about the child with disabilities. Once informed, the SSA will begin making SSDI payments directly to the disabled adult child.

What to Watch Out For

If an SSI recipient suddenly begins receiving an SSDI payment, keep in mind that SSDI is considered Unearned Income for SSI purposes. If the SSDI from the parent's work record is greater than the SSI amount, the SSDI payment will cause SSI to go to $0. Fortunately, SSI recipients in this situation do not lose access to Medicaid due to the Pickle Amendment (named after Texas Senator J.J. Pickle, the bill's sponsor) which allows most former SSI recipients to keep their Medicaid if the only reason they lost it was due to an SSDI payment.

After the individual with SSI benefits receives two years of SSDI payments, they will also begin to receive Medicare benefits.. As a result, although they might not receive their SSI cash award, they will have a larger SSDI payment and gain access to more insurance options – a win for the SSI recipient. 

There is one other situation where an SSI recipient could acquire SSDI in the future. That is when they work for enough quarters while receiving SSI to eventually qualify for SSDI on their own work record. Although this situation is extremely rare, it does happen, so SSI recipients who are working limited hours should track their employment history carefully to find out when they are eligible for SSDI instead.

Your special needs planner can help you and your family navigate these complicated transitions. As always, you should consult your planner in advance of retirement or any other major life change to determine the effect of your actions on your loved one with disabilities.

Contact us

Questions? Contact us at Belvedere Wealth Partners

Belvedere Wealth Partners
Michael Beloff, CFP®, ChSNC®
Phone: (203) 918-4069