Your Guide to Social Security Disability Family Benefits
September 22, 2023 · 6 min read
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If you receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), your spouse or children may also qualify to get benefits. Not all families qualify, but the Social Security Administration (SSA) allows some family members to get monthly checks and free health insurance based on your work history. Here are the specific requirements and how your family can start getting benefits if they qualify.
What are Social Security disability family benefits?
Family benefits allow certain spouses, children, and other dependents of SSDI recipients to receive their own monthly benefit payments from the SSA.
Adding a family member onto an existing SSDI recipient’s benefits is also easier than having someone go through the whole application on their own. Instead of submitting a new application, you can add a family member to your SSDI benefits by calling the SSA. But you should be prepared to provide each family member’s Social Security number (SSN) and birth certificate (plus any relevant marriage licenses).
How much are family benefits worth?
In most cases, eligible family members can each receive a benefit worth up to 50% of your monthly benefits, with a maximum total benefit worth between 150% and 180% of your monthly disability check. The maximum amount for your family depends on how big your benefit is and how many people get benefits on your record.
Example of family benefit calculations
As an example, let’s say you receive a monthly SSDI check for $1,300. If your spouse starts receiving records on your account, they can qualify for a benefit worth up to 50% of your records, or $650 per month.
If you also want your child to get benefits on your record, you’ll need to consider the maximum amount, which is likely 150% of your check, or $1,950 total. That means your child can’t get a full $650 benefit. Instead, the maximum benefit amount for your family is split among your spouse and child: $1,950 max benefit minus your $1,300 benefit = $650 to split among all eligible family members. So your spouse and child would each receive a benefit of $325 per month ($650/2).
The most common situation where a spouse can qualify for SSDI benefits on your record if they’re at least 62 and don’t qualify for a higher Social Security benefit through their own record. If your spouse also qualifies for their own Social Security retirement benefits, they’ll receive that money first. In cases where their benefit is less than what they’d get on your record, they’ll also get an SSDI spousal benefit to bring their total payments up to their maximum spouse benefit amount.
A spouse who is younger than 62 can also qualify for spousal benefits if they are the primary caregiver for a child who is under age 16 or who was disabled before age 22 and is entitled to benefits.
Again, here are the two sets of criteria for a spouse to qualify for SSDI spouse benefits:
Your spouse is aged 62 or older, AND
Your spouse is not eligible for an equal or higher benefit on their own Social Security record.
Your spouse is any age and takes care of your child who is either under age 16 or was disabled before age 22 and is entitled to benefits themselves.
If you believe that you or your spouse qualifies, you’ll need to call your local SSA office to begin benefit payments. At the moment, you can’t apply online for family benefits. Be prepared to give the SSA your Social Security number and a marriage certificate.
How to get SSDI benefits as a divorced spouse
If you’re divorced, your ex-spouse might be able to get SSDI benefits on your record even if you have since remarried. There are four qualifications for your divorced spouse to qualify:
They must have been married to you for at least 10 years.
They must be at least 62 years old.
They must be unmarried.
They must not be eligible for an equal or higher benefit on their own Social Security record, or on someone else’s Social Security record.
To start receiving benefits, you’ll need to call your local SSA office because there is no online application. The SSA is likely to ask for your Social Security number and proof of your marriage and divorce.
How to get SSDI benefits for a child
A minor child can get SSDI benefits through a parent, including your biological child, adopted child, stepchild, or dependent grandchild. (Adult children may also qualify but have separate rules — see the next section for details.)
To qualify for benefits through a parent’s Social Security record, a minor child must:
Be under age 18 or be age 18-19 and a full-time student who has not yet graduated 12th grade (high school).
Since SSDI recipients can only qualify if they’ve paid tax into Social Security for at least 10 years, children can’t qualify on their own. However, children can qualify for SSI benefits on their own if they have a disability or another long-term medical condition that significantly interferes with their ability to handle day-to-day life. The caveat is that SSI is only available for families with low income and very few savings or other assets. For more help, Atticus has a guide for parents applying for SSI for their child.
You can start SSDI payments for your child by calling the SSA. (There is no way to apply online for family benefits.) The SSA will ask for your child’s Social Security number as well as their birth certificate.
How to get SSDI benefits for an adult child
In most cases, the SSDI benefits paid to children will stop when the child reaches age 18 (or age 19, if they’re still in school). But adult children who are 18 or older and have a disability that started before age 22 can sometimes still get benefits if their parent receives SSDI or Social Security retirement benefits. A disabled adult child with a deceased parent could also qualify for SSDI based on the parent’s Social Security record.
Requirements for a disabled adult child to receive SSDI benefits based on their parent’s Social Security record:
They are your biological child, adopted child, stepchild, grandchild, or step-grandchild.
Children under the age of 18 who are already receiving SSI benefits or disability benefits on their own record may be able to get higher benefits and Medicare by using their parent’s earning record when the child turns 18. For disabled adult children who are already above 18 years of age, the SSA evaluates their disability just like they would for any adult.
Can you get SSI benefits through a spouse?
No, you can’t get SSI benefits through your spouse. In fact, if your spouse receives SSI benefits, it might be more difficult for you to qualify or you may only qualify for a reduced benefit because their benefit could count as monthly income for you.
To be eligible for SSI, your income must be less than about $1,000 per month in 2023. Married couples also need total assets (like savings and property) of less than $3,000. If you’re applying with a disability, you’ll also need to meet the SSA’s definition of disability.
What if you don’t qualify for family benefits?
If you can’t qualify for Social Security disability benefits on a family member’s earning record, you may be able to apply for benefits yourself. SSDI requires a work history of at least 10 years, but SSI is an option if you haven’t worked that much.
Most disability applications are initially denied, but help from a disability lawyer greatly increases your chances. A lawyer is also free unless you win benefits, in which case they take a percentage of your first check and that’s it.
Atticus can help you understand what benefits you qualify for and provide professional help to give you the best chances of winning benefits. To get started, take our two-minute SSDI questionnaire and a team member will reach out to talk about your benefit options and then connect you with a lawyer if you’re interested.
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Frequently asked questions about SSDI family benefits
How do I apply for SSDI family benefits?
There’s no online application for SSDI family benefits, so you can only apply and make changes to your benefits by calling or visiting your local SSA office. Be ready to provide your family member’s SSN, birth certificate (for children), and marriage certificate (for SSDI spouse benefits).
What is the maximum family Social Security benefit?
The maximum family benefit for Social Security retirement or SSDI benefits is between 150% and 180% of your monthly benefit, depending on when you were born. How many people receive benefits on your record will impact how much they each receive.
Can my spouse get SSDI benefits?
Yes, but a spouse can usually only get SSDI spousal benefits if they’re 62 or older and don’t qualify for a bigger benefit on their own record. Younger spouses can also qualify if they care for a child under age 16.
How much are SSDI spouse benefits worth?
The maximum SSDI benefit a spouse can receive on your record is up to 50% of your monthly benefit. Family benefit limits can also reduce how much they get. In 2022, the average amount of benefits for a disabled worker and their spouse was $2,620.89.
Can my adult child receive SSDI family benefits?
An adult child who is 18 or older can only receive disability benefits on your record if they have a disability that began before they reached age 22. Children who are 18 or 19 can qualify without a disability if they’re still in high school. If your child is not eligible to receive SSDI payments, they may still qualify for benefits through Supplemental Security Income.
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Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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