Availability of Family Benefits Under the Social Security Disability Insurance Program

As we approach Father’s day this year, I thought it would be a good time to discuss the various benefits available to family members of individuals found disabled and entitled to benefits under the disability insurance program.  The term of art used by the Social Security Administration for this family benefit is called “auxiliary” benefits which are based on the earnings record of the “master” beneficiary: that is to say, based on the earnings record of individual found to be disabled.  

There are two types of Social Security disability benefits payable to individuals who become disabled under Social Security’s rules: one is called Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (otherwise known as Title II benefits, DIB benefits or what are deemed to be benefits under the Social Security Disability, Retirement and Survivors program) and which benefits are payable to a disabled individual who has contributed sufficiently through their Social Security taxed earnings (that is to say, have earned sufficient “quarters of coverage” to be insured under the program).  Under the Social Security disability insurance program, assuming an individual has paid sufficient Social Security taxes through their Social Security disability taxed earnings, a family benefit payment is likely available to certain, defined family members which we will explain further in this article.  The other program, called the Supplemental Security Income program (otherwise known as Title XVI benefits or SSI) is payable to the disabled individual alone and is a benefit based solely on their individual financial need: the purpose of the program is to ensure that no disabled individual is left in poverty as a result of their disabling condition.  And so, given the focus remains on addressing the individual and whether they will be left in poverty circumstances as a result of their disabling condition, the benefit is designed to address only the disabled individual’s needs and not any family members.  Thus, for this program, there are no benefits payable to family members.

Potential eligible beneficiaries under the Social Security Disability Insurance program include a spouse who is taking care of a child under the age of 16.  Likewise, a spouse who reaches the age of early retirement, that is to say, age 62, may be entitled to collect under their spouse’s earnings record.  Such a benefit would be a permanently reduced benefit as it is being received prior to reaching full retirement age.   Assuming a spouse in this circumstance is deemed entitled to a benefit under their own record, they would receive a benefit first under their own record, with the difference in their record amount and their spouse’s record amount being made up to the extent such a family benefit is otherwise available to to them.

Benefits are likewise payable to a divorced spouse assuming 1) the marriage lasted at least 10 years, 2) the divorced spouse has not remarried, 3) the divorced spouse has reached the age of 62 and one’s former spouse is not entitled to a higher benefit under their own record.

A benefit is also available to one’s children who are under the age of 18 (up until the age of 19 years and 2 months, they remain enrolled in elementary following their reaching the age of 18).  Eligible children can include not only one’s biological children, but also stepchildren, adopted children and dependent grandchildren.

Finally, a benefit is available to one’s child assuming the child became disabled under Social Security’s rules prior to reaching the age of 22 and remains unmarried.  Benefits are payable in this circumstance assuming the insured is receiving disability benefits, is deceased or is receiving retirement benefits.

Eligible family members are eligible to receive up to a maximum amount of what would amount to 50% on top of the insured individual’s benefit amount, with the total family benefit (including the insured’s benefit) limited to what would be between 150 and 180% of of individual benefit rate.  Given this limitation, if there are multiple eligible family members, the benefits will be reduced for each beneficiary such that the combined amount for eligible beneficiaries will not exceed what is called the “family maximum.”

Contacting a Social Security disability attorney who specializes in Social Security disability can assist with advising you as to what additional benefits you might be entitled to receive for your eligible family members.  Should you or a loved one require the advice and assistance of a Social Security disability lawyer for your disability claim, contact the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at 1-800-773-8622 for your free consultation.