Adult Disabled Child Benefit

Social Security offers special benefits for those who were found to be disabled (meeting Social Security’s definition)  before the age of 22. In certain circumstances the child – which could mean adopted child, stepchild, grandchild or even step grandchild – may be eligible to be paid on a parent’s (grandparent’s) Social Security earnings record. In my experience the easiest way to prove this is applying for SSI when the child turns 18, IF the child has a significant disability limiting his/her ability to work. I will ALWAYS encourage individuals to work if they are able, because it ultimately provides much more freedom (my opinion).

These benefits are paid on the parent’s earnings, so it is not required for your child to have earned any credits. There is a catch – the child cannot have “substantial earnings” – in 2018 this means they cannot be working and earning more than $1,180/mth. As with any program, there are exceptions; but rather than try to explain them please check out Social Security’s pamphlet on “Working While Disabled“. Another caveat – if the individual marries he/she may lose their benefits; again, there are exceptions and the best source is going to be the Social Security Administration.

A frequent question I get is “will my child’s payout affect the amount I receive?” Short answer – no, generally not. However, Social Security does have a family maximum payout, which is usually between 150 – 188% of the worker’s basic Social Security benefit. The formula is complex, and if you’re interested here is a link to a Social Security Bulletin explaining it (Vol 75 No 3). What I would like you to take away is this – in MOST cases there should not be an issue; but if you have any doubts or concerns the Social Security Administration, or an attorney specializing in disability benefits, is your best resource.

Another benefit to someone receiving adult disabled child benefits, if they were previously approved for SSI – they become eligible for Medicare after they’ve received the adult child social security benefit for (2) years. This is another complicated area, and best left to a discussion with a professional – but it’s important to know the option exists. Here is a link to Social Security’s overview of Medicare.

I didn’t do as deep a dive as I normally try to, because there is so much complexity with Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. I do not want anyone to rely solely on something I’ve written to decide if they should apply or not; or what benefits they are eligible for. The options I advocate for are (1) talk to an attorney specializing in disability law and/or (2) contact your local social security administration office.


Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

I’m hoping to bring some clarity to what SSI is, and isn’t, for families with disabilities. It’s not a magic bullet, it doesn’t pay for everything. But for those with little to no other resources, or the ability to earn a sustainable wage, it can be a life line. It’s also NOT money provided by our Social Security taxes – it’s paid by general tax revenues.

In Maryland, and many other states, eligibility for SSI automatically grants Medicaid to the beneficiary. If you’re not sure if you’re state does, Elizabeth Dickey’s article provides a great breakdown (Disability Secrets). The financial benefit is $750/mth (single) and $1,125/mth if individual has a qualified spouse. It’s meant to pay for food and lodging, and there are limits to how much you can earn, and how much you can maintain in assets.

2018’s earning limits = $17,040; and SSI payments will be phased out as you reach this limit. There are programs to enable individuals to work while still collecting SSI. Rather than trying to explain it all here, please follow this link (SSI and Work). My personal bias – if you, or your family member, can work – they should. Paying into the system allows them to start earning credits towards retirement; among many other benefits.

If you have a child who you think will qualify for SSI – apply as soon as possible. Until the child is 18, determination will be made based upon your household’s income and assets. As soon as they turn 18 this changes to the individual’s income and assets; so apply on their 18th birthday. You’re going to need to be able to prove the disability, and the individual’s inability to perform any gainful employment – so keep ALL  your documents. I used Google Drive, as well as keeping hard copies.

I also hired a disability attorney. I met mine through networking, but looking online led me to the American Bar Association’s lawyer finder. I can’t attest to how easy it is to use, and my preference remains getting a referral from someone who has already been through the process successfully. You’re going to want to keep all your original documents; and be patient – the process can take several months.

Next week I’ll take a deeper dive into the additional benefits your child becomes eligible for if they are approved for SSI before the age of 22. I’ll also explore things to consider when planning – but this is a broad sweep. I can’t take into consideration individual’s circumstances. Bottom line, SSI is a critical tool for those who need it – but in my opinion it shouldn’t be viewed as the best, or only, go to.



Trusts Are NOT Plans

All too often I will have someone tell me they have a “plan”, because they’ve gotten the their Special Needs Trust. Setting aside, for the moment, my concerns their Special Needs Trust will work as they want it to, this is NOT a plan for the future.

All too often I will have someone tell me they have a “plan”, because they’ve gotten the their Special Needs Trust. Setting aside, for the moment, my concerns their Special Needs Trust will work as they want it to, this is NOT a plan for the future. It is a tool to be used in the implementation of their plan. A 3rd Party Special Needs Trust, or Supplementary Needs Trust, is an approved vehicle for individuals with disabilities to accumulate money without risking their Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid benefits.

If you have a Trust, you should also be clear on how you are going to fund it – life insurance, investments, etc – taking into account what other resources may be available (SNAP, SSI, etc). This is where working with a Planner helps – they bring an impartial point of view and, provided they are familiar with Special Needs, may be able to introduce you to resources you may not have considered or knew about.

The CFP (Certified Financial Planner) Board has outlined (6) financial planning subject areas; and although not all-inclusive they should give you an idea of what a plan consists of. These areas are (para-phrased, follow link above to get full breakdown): Cash flow/budgeting; risk management (insurance – homeowners, life, etc); employee benefits; investments; income taxes; retirement and estate planning.

Trusts fall into estate planning, and even then this isn’t the only thing to consider when developing an estate plan. This isn’t meant to imply a financial planner will do everything in this list themselves; more than likely they will have a team of experts they work with/refer to. This is how I work, I recognize my limitations and rely on the knowledge of those who have dedicated their careers to a particular field of study – like income tax or estate planning.

There are other types of Trusts, including a 1st Party Self-Settled Special Needs Trust – if you want more information/details about what makes Special Needs Trusts a “safe” place to save money, or if you should have a Trust, or anything in a similar vein – then find a Special Needs Planning Attorney. I am NOT an attorney and this is not an area I will give advice. The two sources I use are the Special Needs Alliance and the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

As I’ve said before – you don’t have to work with a financial planner, or any other professional. There are plenty of resources (good and bad) available if you want to do everything yourself. The value, in my opinion, of working with any professional is two-fold. First, this is what they do all day, every day – they should know it inside and out. Second, they have the benefit of not being emotionally invested, meaning they can provide an objective point of view, even if it’s not what you want to hear. If you’re interested in a Special Needs plan, or you just have questions – schedule a call with me; it won’t cost you anything.


Modern States

I’m deviating a little bit in my monthly non-profit highlight, because although Modern States’ focus isn’t strictly on veterans or those with disabilities; the services they offer can have (in my opinion) a significant impact on those households. Many families have children who are thinking of college, and I don’t think anyone would disagree – college can be expensive! Modern States provides a way to offset some of this expense.

Who They Are 

I came across Modern States while looking up resources for a client planning for (2) children’s college educations. What immediately caught my eye is how they are trying to lower barriers to entry, working towards making a college degree more accessible to those who want one. I copied the blurb below directly from their website, because I think their undiluted message is much more powerful than anything I could come up with.

Modern States Education Alliance is a non-profit dedicated to making a high quality college education free of cost and accessible to any person who seeks one. Its founding principle is that access to affordable education is fundamental to any philosophy that respects all individuals, and fundamental to the American dream.

What They Do 


Modern States offers a path to complete the first year (Freshman) of college for free. They do by providing the funding for online courses taught by college professors. After taking the course students can apply for a CLEP payment voucher from Modern States and take the exam.

I’ve written about CLEPs in the past, I took several when pursuing my undergrad – but I had to teach myself the material. I think having college professors review the material will significantly increase the odds of passing.Additionally – if you’re active duty you don’t need to worry about the cost of the exams, they’re free.

What Else Should I Know

“There are no prerequisites for the 32 courses that will be offered, and all of them are self-paced. Some of the courses stem from a partnership between Modern States and edX, the online education platform created by Harvard and MIT” (source Modern States).

Modern States has a comprehensive list of colleges that’ll accept AP and CLEP for credit, they’ve done the work for you. My recommendation, find a school that’ll accept the credits and offers the major you’re looking for – it’s not a short list, you should be able to find one. Click HERE for the link.


I am not an employee of Modern States and any errors noted are my own.  If I have misrepresented, or misstated anything please provide constructive feedback so I may make the appropriate change(s). All opinions and views are my own.

Too Much House?

As so often is the case, inspiration for this post comes from personal experience. I’m in the market to purchase a home for my son and I, something he can stay in long after I’m gone. I’m shocked, to say the least, at what mortgage companies are willing to offer prospective buyers; it’s easy to see how people can become “house poor”. In the buyers’ defense, “dream homes” are expensive and from what I’ve been hearing many purchasers are looking for “move-in ready” – which further drives up the price.

Why am I concerned? Because we’ve had a very flush economy for the last (9) years, and I’m afraid people have short memories. Recessions, or US Business Cycle Contractions as defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research, happen; they are not freak events – although I cannot predict when the next one will occur I feel absolutely 100% confident we will see another one in the not too distant future.

When it does occur, and people are down-sized or retire early, will they be able to afford the home they’ve bought? This isn’t a mortgage company’s problem, nor should it be. The mortgage company is evaluating a buyer to determine how much the buyer can afford to pay the company each month for the loan they give. It’s not their business to figure out your living expenses; and although they will consider your debt to income they do not project future car or other major purchases.

Here’s a breakdown I think anyone can use. Most experts agree we should be saving 20% of our income for the future. This leaves 80%. If you spend 30% of your income on mortgage payments (let’s include taxes and insurance), and if you don’t consider income tax; this leaves you 50% to spend on a car payment, groceries, cable tv, eating out – you get the picture. So let’s put some numbers to this.

The following calculation is not a perfect representation, it’s meant to provide a rough overview. The median US household income is $57,617 (source US Census Bureau). For simplicity we’ll assume they are married filing joint returns, so in the 22% tax bracket (source Tax Foundation). We’ll also assume they are saving the recommended 20% into a Roth 401(k). So after taxes and Roth contributions their estimated net income is $35,953, or $1,382.80 if paid biweekly (26 pay periods). This is what is available to pay a mortgage, buy groceries, etc.

Some will use the first month’s paycheck to cover their mortgage, and their second month’s paycheck for everything else – which works out to be about 29% of their gross income. This is as high as I would want to see it. Unfortunately, many families are NOT saving 20%, and still using an entire paycheck to pay the mortgage – for my fellow nerds approximately 36% of gross income. This leaves very little wiggle room if something negative (translation life) happens.

This is the drawn out version of why I recommend people rely on no more than 30% of their current (not promised or estimated future) income when accepting a mortgage. If you want more house, use a bigger down payment. The mortgage company will almost certainly approve you for more than this, but YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE IT. You are the master of your financial destiny, don’t let yourself get caught up in the emotion of buying a home. Yes, this is a major decision, and yes this will have a significant impact on your family’s quality of life – but it’s not the ONLY influence. Give yourself enough financial breathing room to enjoy life (without going into further debt).


Mysterious Things People With Autism Do – and Possible Reasons Why

Very insightful!

Guiding Exceptional Parents

people-with-autism-do-why-guiding-exceptional-parents-sarah-waylandThis post was originally published on Parenting ADHD & Autism on October 12th, 2016.

Kids with autism have a unique way of thinking about the world that can be both fascinating and baffling. Often their intentions are misunderstood because they behave in ways that are unexpected.

This chart can help demystify some of those behaviors.  

View original post 923 more words


I may be hypersensitive to this because of my concerns for my son’s benefits, but it feels like a common theme when trying to cut government spending is reducing what is spent on public programs – like SNAP or Medicaid. To add insult to injury, this seems to become a bandwagon, with the most vocal people chiming in about how the majority of people they see using these programs are abusing them.

I’d like to challenge this with one thought – you see what you look for. If you’ve convinced yourself (or allowed yourself to be convinced by media) these programs are only being taken advantage of; then because of a phenomenon known as confirmation bias, this is exactly what you will see.

SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is designed to help people put food on their tables; but the benefit is not large enough (by design) to allow people to live off surf and turf every night. The USDA website provides an overview of what SNAP can purchase, and notably absent are things like alcohol, cigarettes, pet food, soda, candy, etc.

This program also places strict limitations on how long “Able Bodied Adults” (age 18 – 49 w/o dependents or a disability) can receive benefits – 3 months in 3 years, if they don’t meet special work requirements. I’ve included a link to the SNAP eligibility page here; because I think it’s important we form our opinions from verified facts, rather than blindly believing what we’ve been told. And please, take a moment if you catch yourself trying to argue to really explore where this feeling is coming from – is it because you don’t want to be proven wrong, or can you substantiate your belief with facts.

Is there abuse, almost certainly. The unfortunate truth is there will always be those who try to take advantage of a system. But a bigger truth is approximately 41 million Americans struggle to put food on the table (source Feeding America). Poverty is real, it’s not as simple as telling the elderly, those with disabilities or just out of work to “find a job”. Are you hiring?

Don’t be quick to judge next time you see someone using a SNAP debit card, this could be you during the next economic downturn or after a random accident. Take some time to educate yourself on the benefit amount and restrictions by going to the source, not Fox news or CNN. For convenience, here’s a link to the USDA website. And perhaps most important of all, don’t lose sight of the fact these are people, just like you.