Social Security Planning for Children with Disabilities

If you and your family are supporting a child living with a disability, here are two Social Security benefit programs we think you should know about: Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance.

In this article, we will explore eligibility for an unmarried, disabled child, as well as Social Security filing considerations to maximize family benefits.

How Social Security defines “disability”

The Social Security Administration has two definitions of disability, depending on age.

For children, “Under title XVI, a child under age 18 will be considered disabled if he or she has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that causes marked and severe functional limitations, and that can be expected to cause death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”1

For adults 18 and older, “The law defines disability as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”2

The SGA amount for 2024 is $1,550 per month, or $2,590 per month for statutorily blind individuals.3

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI is a needs-based program that provides monthly payments to adults and children with disabilities or blindness, or who are aged 65 and older with limited financial resources. For 2024, assets should total less than $2,000 for a single adult ($3,000 for a couple).4

Parental resources may be deemed available for children under age 18 when applying for SSI. However, beginning at age 18, disabled adult children may apply based on their own income and assets. For 2024, the maximum federal SSI benefit is $943 per month for individuals. Payments will be reduced based on counted income, which includes unearned income, earned income and in-kind support such as food and housing provided by parents.5

Many states provide supplements to SSI, and in most states, individuals who are eligible for SSI will qualify for Medicaid.6

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI is a social insurance program based on premiums paid via Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes and a worker’s income history. Unlike SSI, SSDI is not a needs-based benefit. 

Disabled children whose disability started before age 22 may collect disability benefits on a parent’s record when their parent begins collecting retirement benefits or disability benefits or if the parent passes away. Children may also transition from SSI to SSDI under these circumstances, and SSDI benefits may be higher than those available from SSI. The disabled child’s benefit is 50% of the worker’s retirement benefit at full retirement age (i.e., Primary Insurance Amount, or PIA) or 75% of the PIA if the worker is deceased.7

A relatively unique filing option for married couples is spousal child-in-care benefits. Spousal benefits are generally not available until age 62 unless your qualifying spouse is caring for a child who is under the age of 16 or disabled and entitled to benefits. Spousal child-in-care benefits are 50% of the worker’s PIA and are not reduced when collecting prior to full retirement age. In addition, spousal child-in-care benefits are an exception to deemed filing rules, which means they don’t impact filing for full spousal benefits at full retirement age or coordinating with your own retirement benefit through age 70.8 This lends itself to coordinated filing strategies between spouses to maximize family benefits, particularly if both spouses are eligible to claim benefits on their own work records.              

If a child and spouse, or other family members, are collecting benefits on the same worker’s record, family benefits are generally maximized at 150% –180% of the worker’s PIA. In this case, benefits will be reduced subject to the family’s maximum benefit amount.9

For healthcare, Medicare benefits begin after two years of receiving disability benefits.10

Asset and income exclusions are available

Many exclusions to income and assets are available when applying for SSI and calculating SGA for SSDI. Among others, the following exclusions are available:

  • Impairment-related work expenses can be deducted to reduce earnings.11
  • SSDI provides employment supports to help disabled individuals be able to work.12
  • Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account balances below $100,000 are excluded from SSI assets and can be used to cover qualified disability expenses tax-free.13
  • Special needs trusts may be utilized to supplement a disabled beneficiary’s lifestyle without impacting eligibility for public benefits, including SSI and Medicaid.14

Given the complexity of coordinating public benefits and private resources, it’s best to call for assistance from your Corient Wealth Advisor and a special needs attorney to evaluate eligibility for public benefits and coordinate Social Security benefits, asset titling and estate planning based on your family’s unique circumstances and requirements.




Melissa Weisz

Melissa Weisz

Associate Partner, Wealth Advisor

Melissa is an Associate Partner, Wealth Advisor in our Morristown, NJ, office. She holds the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification as well as Chartered Financial Analyst® and Chartered Special Needs Consultant® designations. With over 15 years of experience in the financial industry, she is responsible for advising clients in the areas of financial planning and investment management.

As a Chartered Special Needs Consultant® designee, Melissa understands the financial needs and unique planning challenges of families that care for individuals with disabilities. She works with these families to help address their concerns, hopes and goals by developing a strategy that meets the needs of their loved ones.

Melissa is a featured speaker and has been quoted in financial news media, including Bloomberg, Wealth Management Magazine and Yahoo Finance.

Melissa graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, with honors. She currently serves as treasurer for the Learning Disabilities Association of New Jersey and is also a mentor in Rutgers Business School’s TeamUP program. She is a member of the CFA Institute, Financial Planning Association and CFA Society New York. Prior to joining the firm, Melissa served as vice president and advisory services analyst at an independent Registered Investment Adviser in Parsippany, NJ.