September 24, 2015

What happens to my child’s SSI benefits at age eighteen?

When a child turns eighteen, he or she becomes an adult under Social Security’s rules.  Therefore, if you are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for your child, you should be prepared for Social Security to re-evaluate your child’s medical condition once he or she turns eighteen.

The Social Security Administration uses different criteria for children and adults when determining disability.  First, Social Security has a separate Listing of Impairments for children and for adults.  While many of the listings are substantially similar, the specific criteria for many of the listed impairments are different for adults than for children.

Additionally, Social Security evaluates functional limitations quite differently between adults and children.  For adults, Social Security determines the claimant’s “residual functional capacity;” that is, how much he or she is physically and mentally able to do in a work-like setting.  The evaluators determine how much the claimant can lift; how long he or she can sit, stand, and walk; and whether he or she has any difficulties dealing with the mental demands of work.  After determining a claimant’s residual functional capacity, Social Security determines whether a person with those abilities can work full time.  If not, the claimant is disabled.

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For children, on the other hand, functional limitations are assessed by whether the child has “marked” or “extreme” limitations in certain domains of functioning including acquiring and using information, attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating with others, moving about and manipulating objects, caring for himself, and health and physical well-being.  If a child is markedly impaired in two of those areas of functioning compared to other children his or her age, the child is disabled.

Because the requirements change when a child becomes an adult, Social Security re-evaluates the child’s medical condition during the year prior to his or her eighteenth birthday.  If Social Security determines that the child’s disability is severe enough to meet the adult disability rules, the child’s benefits continue to be paid.  However, if Social Security finds that the child does not meet the adult disability rules, they will likely initiate a cessation of benefits.  In that case, if you want your child to continue to receive benefits, you must promptly appeal Social Security’s determination.  If you do not meet the deadlines for appealing, your child’s benefits will be discontinued, and your child will likely have to file a new SSI application as an adult.

The financial rules for SSI are different for adults and children, as well.  A child who meets the medical rules for disability will nonetheless be denied SSI benefits if his or her parents earn too much money or have resources over Social Security’s financial limits.  However, once the child turns eighteen, Social Security no longer considers his or her parents’ income and resources in determining whether he or she meets its financial guidelines.  Therefore, the child may become eligible for benefits, even if he or she is still living at home, once he or she turns eighteen.

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