Early Eligibility For Social Security: A Potential Benefit For Spouses Who Care For Children With Disabilities

Parents who care for children with disabilities almost invariably incur additional financial challenges than others. They often pay for additional medical bills while their children are growing up. Upon attaining the age of 18, many children with disabilities are eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. Although these benefits are helpful, SSI payments often do not meet the financial needs for these children and their parents continue to supplement their living and medical expenses throughout their adult years.

One little known provision to assist these families comes in the form of early Social Security benefits for the spouses of retirees. Specifically, if a child has manifested a disability before attaining the age of 22, both of his or her parents may be eligible for Social Security benefits – even if one has not reached retirement age. The Social Security Administration provides that when one parent begins receiving social security benefits, his or her spouse may be able to receive their own social security benefits even if they have not attained retirement age if that spouse is providing care for that disabled child at home.

Here’s an example: John and Jane have been married for 30 years. They have a daughter, Molly, who is 25 years old who was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome at birth. After a long career in the construction industry, John retires at the age of 66 and begins receiving his Social Security benefits. Jane, who has been caring for Molly at home for the past four years, had worked beforehand for a number of years for the local school district. She is currently 58.

Because Jane is not yet 62, she is not yet eligible for Social Security. However, because she is caring for Molly at home, she can receive this benefit. Care is recognized by the Social Security Administration in two situations. For a child with mental disabilities, it is defined as exercising control and responsibility over the child. For a child with physical disabilities, it is defined as performing services for the child.

There is a catch to this provision however. The amount of Social Security benefits received by a family has a cap and there can be a reduction in any SSI payment received by the child. However, in many instances, the additional payment received by the spouse will offset this reduction.

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