What Happens to Disability Benefits When My Child Turns 18?

Many disability beneficiaries are children and teenagers — about 4.4 million, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). But what happens when your disabled child reaches age 18? Does Supplemental Security Income go away, or continue? Do you need to reapply? Our disability lawyers explore the SSI rules and regulations that take effect when a beneficiary turns 18.


Do Disability Benefits Go Away at Age 18?

Age 18 is a milestone in life, opening up all sorts of new responsibilities and opportunities. Many things change when a teenager finally turns 18, and disability benefits are no exception.

By SSA policies, childhood benefits are meant for claimants under the age of 18 — even as young as toddlers and infants. In other words, when a beneficiary reaches this crucial threshold, childhood SSI comes to an end. If you need SSI to continue, your child will have to undergo an age-18 redetermination, unless he or she is a full-time elementary school student.

Children Turning 18 Who Received SSI Benefits

On average, about one out of every three children receiving SSI lose their benefits when they reach the age of 18. When your child turns 18, the SSA turns to a different test to determine SSI benefits eligibility. Your child will now have to qualify for SSI as an independent adult.

When a beneficiary is younger than 18, they are considered disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that results in marked and severe functional limitations. This condition must have lasted 12 months, is expected to last more than 12 months, or the condition will likely result in the death of the child. Because your child is not an adult, their ability to earn an income does not factor into determining eligibility. However, there is still an income limitation. This income requirement extends to family members, meaning a child could be denied SSI because of the income of their family members.

However, when your child turns 18, the threshold employed by the SSA to determine impairment changes. Now your child’s disability must result in the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA). If a person can earn a certain amount of money a month, minus some impairment-related expenses, they are considered to be engaging in SGA. The SSA sets a different amount based on the disability, with a higher amount for the blind. In 2020, the amount for a non-blind individual is $1,260, while the amount permitted for a blind person is $2,110. In 2021, the amounts will increase to $1,310 for a non-blind person and $2,190 for a blind individual.

However, while the impairment threshold becomes higher, the financial requirement for SSI benefits becomes less stringent when your child turns 18. As stated above, the SSA would consider all income from the family when determining if a child is eligible to receive SSI benefits. Once your child turns 18, the SSA will only consider the individual’s personal income and resources. As your child was most likely not working before their birthday, they should have no problems meeting the financial requirement. It is not uncommon for a child who failed to qualify for SSI because of their parent’s income to do so once they turn 18.

Continuing Benefits for Students

If a childhood disability claimant is a full-time student, benefits continue as normal, rendering an age-18 redetermination unnecessary. In order to meet this requirement, the claimant must be enrolled full-time at a secondary or elementary school. If he or she is younger than 19 and is still attending secondary school, the SSA must receive notification in the form of a completed statement of attendance, which must be approved by a school official. At that point, SSI will continue until the student either graduates or reaches age 19 — whichever happens first.

However, if your child does not fall into this category, then he or she must go through the age-18 redetermination process.

Age-18 Redetermination

To quote the SSA, “Youth who initially become eligible for Supplemental Security Income under the definition of disability for children must have their eligibility redetermined upon attaining age 18, using the definition of disability for adults.”

There are two major difference between childhood and adult disability determinations:

  • Medical differences. Developing children and teenagers often do not exhibit or respond to illness the same way as their adult counterparts, hence the need for pediatricians, children’s hospitals, and so forth. For this reason, the SSA maintains a separate Listing of Impairments for adults (Part A) and children (Part B). While there is some overlap, the specific criteria tend to be significantly different between these two Listings. Furthermore, the Childhood Listing contains several conditions which are not on the Adult Listing, such as growth impairment.
  • Definition differences. Obviously, children are not expected to be employed. For this reason, the SSA’s definition of what constitutes disability for children is different than it is for adults. Whereas impairment in adults means the claimant cannot work, impairment in children means the claimant has “marked and severe functional limitations.” Under § 416.926a, “functional limitations” are divided into six categories: learning and thinking, task completion, social interaction, self-care, moving around and manipulating objects, and overall health and well-being.

The process is generally broken down into five steps:

  1. Your local social security office, or field office, will send you a notification letter.
  2. You and your child go to the field office for an eligibility interview.
  3. The claimant’s technical and medical information is reviewed by the Bureau of Disability Determination. The claimant’s future potential to independently earn income is also considered.
  4. In some cases, the claimant may be told to make a doctor’s appointment to ensure that medical information is updated and current.
  5. You will receive a letter informing you of the SSA’s decision.

Children Receiving SSDI Benefits Through Their Parents

In some cases, a child is eligible to receive SSDI benefits through a qualified parent, adoptive parent, or step-parent. Under certain circumstances, a child could obtain these benefits through a grandparent. If the adult qualifies for and is receiving SSDI benefits or was entitled to benefits before their death, their child could receive benefits based on the Social Security record of their parent. These types of SSDI benefits are known as dependent or auxiliary benefits. Typically, these benefits terminate when your child turns 18.

If your child is under the age of 18, they are entitled to up to 50% of your monthly benefits, subject to a maximum per family. However, these benefits are only available until your child is 18 or in high school. If they are in high school when they turn 18, the benefits will continue until their 19th birthday. Additionally, if your child marries, their benefits will stop.

SSDI For Your Disabled Adult Child

If your child is disabled, they could qualify for a category of benefits known as “adult child” benefits. These benefits are an extension of the SSDI benefits mentioned above. However, the extension is only for disabled children.

If your child is disabled before turning 18 or becomes disabled before reaching the age of 22, the benefits they received through your SSDI could continue for as long as your child is disabled. This means that as long as the parent, step-parent, or adoptive parent is eligible for, and receiving, SSDI or Social Security retirement benefits, their disabled child is eligible for dependent benefits. If the parent should die, if they were eligible at the time of their death, their child’s benefits continue. In some cases, if the parents are deceased, a disabled child could receive these benefits through their grandparents.

To qualify, your adult child must meet the SSA’s definition of an adult disability. As stated above, SSA has a different definition of child and adult disability. To qualify for SSDI auxiliary benefits under their parent’s earning record, a young adult must experience a disability that completely impairs their ability to perform any substantial gainful activity. This impairment could be either physical or mental in nature. Additionally, the impairment must be expected to result in the death of the adult child or last for a period of at least 12 continuous months.

Other qualifications include the following.

  • Your child must be over the age of 18
  • Your child must be unmarried. However, if two disabled adult children get married, it might be possible for the benefits to continue.
  • The disability must have started before the age of 22.
  • The disability must fit into the SSA’s adult definition of disability and impairment. The disability must have lasted at least 12 months, be expected to last 12 months, or is a fatal condition.
  • Your child must not be able to engage in substantial gainful activity.

These benefits are also known as a “child’s benefit” because it is based on the parent’s income and payment record. It is not necessarily based on the age of the child. In fact, in some cases, a disabled adult child could start receiving SSDI auxiliary benefits when well after they have passed their 18th or 22nd birthday. If you, a parent of a disabled child, start collecting your Social Security benefits at your retirement age, your disabled child would become eligible for their dependent benefits if they met all other requirements.

Section 301 Eligibility

If your claim is denied, you can appeal the decision. Fortunately, the SSA states, “The majority of redeterminations result in initial continuances,” which means you have a good chance of being approved.

However, if your child is denied, you should know that he or she may be eligible for continuing payments under Section 301. To be considered eligible for Section 301 benefits, the claimant must meet all of the following criteria:

  • He or she must be participating in either employment services, support services, or VR (Vocational Rehabilitation) services.
  • He or she must have started the program before the month his or her disability ended.
  • He or she must participate in the program for two months.
  • The SSA must determine that completing the program will decrease the likelihood of the claimant returning to disability (or blindness) benefits.

Section 301 payments will continue until the claimant either completes or stops participating in the program or until the SSA determines that continuing participation is no longer decreasing the likelihood that he or she will return to disability.

Call Our Social Security Disability Benefits Attorney to Discuss Your Child’s Benefits

Social Security benefits are often necessary to afford everyday expenses. When your child has received SSI benefits or SSDI benefits through you, losing them could result in financial hardship. If your teenager is about to turn 18 and you’re concerned about continuing SSI, an experienced social security attorney can help. Likewise, if your disabled child has been receiving dependent benefits through your SSDI, our office can advise you on what steps are necessary for the benefits to continue. For a free and confidential case evaluation, call Young, Marr & Associates at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania today.