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.



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.

Forever GI Bill

Fellow veterans – there have been a LOT of changes lately, offering new, and expanding the reach of old, benefits. Below is a highlight reel of the Forever GI Bill (but don’t let this be the extent of your own research); subsequent posts will expand on other changes. This is a long post (21 bullets), please at least skim to determine if any apply to you. Unless otherwise specified, these changes will take effect 1 August 2018.

Forever GI Bill (aka Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act)

  1. Reserve Duty counts towards Post-9/11 Eligibility – Reservist authorized (ordered to AD) medical care, disability evaluation or health care study on or after 11 Sept 2001 counts as Active Duty towards eligibility.
  2. Purple Heart Recipients – anyone who was awarded a Purple Heart on or after 11 Sept 2001 is eligible for 100% benefit for 36 months.
  3. Yellow Ribbon Extension – Recipients of the Fry Scholarship and Purple Heart will be covered under the Yellow Ribbon Program.
  4. Yellow Ribbon Extension to AD Service Members – AD Servicemembers may use the Yellow Ribbon Program effective 1 August 2022.
  5. Consolidation of Benefit Levels – see chart, effective 1 August 2020.
  6. Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) Eligibility – Reservists who established eligibility under REAP prior to 25 November 2015, and lost it due to the sunset provision, may elect to have that service credited towards the Post-9/11 program.
  7. Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) – Will be calculated based on zip code of campus where student is attending the majority of classes, rather than location of the institute the student is enrolled.
  8. Changes to Licensing & Certification Charges – Entitlement charges will be prorated based on the actual amount of the fee charged for the test.
  9. Assistance for Students Affected by School Closures and Certain Disapprovals – VA is now authorized to restore benefits & provide relief. There is a LOT to this, read here.
  10. Transfer of Benefits Changes – Can now transfer entitlement if the original dependent dies prior to using the entitlement. Dependents can transfer entitlement to other dependents if Servicemember/Veteran dies. Applies to deaths on/after 1 August 2009.
  11. More benefits for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Programs – Another benefit with a LOT to it, read here.
  12. 15-Year Elimination – Time limitation is removed for individuals whose last discharge or release from AD is on/after 1 January 2013. Also applies to children of deceased Servicemembers entitled on/after 1 January 2013 and all Fry spouses.
  13. Reserve Components MHA – VA will prorate MHA for Reservists.
  14. Pilot Programs for Technology Courses – I haven’t seen much detail, just a heads up it’s coming.
  15. Work Study Expansion – Expiration date (30 June 2022) has been removed for certain qualifying work-study activities in which an individual may be paid additional educational assistance allowance.
  16. Changes to Survivors’ & Dependents’ Educational AssistanceDecreased entitlement from 45 months to 36 months. Also increases amount of educational assistance payable under the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program.
  17. Technical Schools and non-Institutions of Higher Learning – Must be accredited; expanded to include area career and technical education schools.
  18. Priority Enrollment – VA improving outreach and transparency about which institutions administer a priority enrollment system.
  19. Informing Schools about Beneficiary Entitlement – VA must make available to educational institutions information about the amount of educational assistance to which a beneficiary is entitled under chapter 30, 32, 33, or 35.
  20. Reserve Component Benefits – Guard and Reserve members with service in the Armed Forces occurring on/after 30 June 2008 may be able to receive Post-9/11 benefits.
  21. GI Bill Monthly Housing Allowance – Individuals who first use Post-9/11 on/after 1 January 2018 will receive monthly housing allowance based on DoD’s reduced basic housing allowance (BAH). Those that began using benefits prior to January 1, 2018 will continue to receive a higher monthly housing rate based in the non-adjusted BAH rate

Independence Through Technology

Technology is really leveling the playing field – and it’s exciting to consider the possibilities. Some of the more obvious (to me) are home delivery of groceries and restaurant meals; ride-share apps; and the large number of apps tablets (iPad, Samsung, etc) provide access to.

But let’s take it a step further – with the advent of “smart homes” individuals can potentially gain almost complete independence; to the point where if they need an aide the aide could be more in the background, making sure everything is moving smoothly. Families could set up a refrigerator with the grocery list, and when items need to be replenished the fridge could automatically order – followed by a delivery from a local grocery store. You could even use an app like Task Rabbit to hire someone to help put the groceries away.

Theoretically, a phone/tablet could be programmed to run anything in your home – just imagine. Concerned about elopement, you could control the locks – reducing the risk, and receiving an immediate alert when/if somebody enters/leaves. You can even get real-time video, eliminating any uncertainty about what is happening.

I don’t remember the last time I stepped foot into a bank; and, depending on the State, an ABLE account could provide the same capability. There are current limits on how much can be contributed and saved; but it’s a start. Money could be deposited into the ABLE account; and, through the use of a debit card, individuals could make online purchases through a retailer (with care being taken to ensure they meet the guidelines of “qualified expenses”).

Of course there are drawbacks – it’s no different than anything else. And, some of the technology may be too expensive; so it’s out of reach – right now. One thing I can say for certain, based upon past experience, is as technology becomes more mainstream costs will come down. You don’t need to be an early adopter; let someone else work the bugs out and you can reap the benefits later. But allow yourself to dream, imagine the possibilities. I feel too often we, as parents, get caught up in the now – head down, pushing forward; and don’t allow ourselves to stop, put our heads above the treeline and look around. See what’s available – even if it’s in the future.

Those things in the future – those are our hopes. Will everything work as advertised, or be the 100% solution. Probably not. But isn’t a 50% – 75% solution still better than where you are now? Don’t just allow yourself to hope, give yourself permission to take some time – even if it’s only once/month – to spend an hour or two exploring the app store; or listen to what others are saying. Often this is where I get clued into tech advances. And then, instead of dismissing it out of hand (I think if we’re honest we all do this more than we’d like); pick one or two things to try. And don’t just try it once, give it time to allow yourself to become comfortable with the technology. Then, if it’s not for you – get rid of it, and try again.


Protect Your Adult Children

There is a movement in place to encourage supported decision making, of which I’m a HUGE fan – despite my having recently petitioning for (and being granted) guardianship of my son. However, I’m concerned not enough is being done to safeguard their well-being – specifically ensuring they have things like a basic estate plan, property and casualty insurance, etc.

Why am I concerned? Because in every study I’ve read, more than 50% of Americans (not Americans with disabilities) do not have an estate plan. Here’s one article from AARP, showing just how rampant this problem is. No, not everyone will need a Special Needs Trust; but everyone (in my professional opinion) should have a basic estate plan – consisting of (at a minimum): a Will, Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) & Health Care Proxy. This covers the big (3) – estate, property and person.

Let them decide who to leave their treasures to (Will). The DPOA doesn’t have to be broad, it can be narrowed to just specific financial decisions (like buying/selling property). And the Health Care Proxy is what will allow you (or whoever the individual chooses) to make health care decisions in the event the individual is unable to (unconscious, unable to speak/write, etc). These are basic requirements I encourage EVERYONE to have in place – with or without a disability.

Last on the list – property and casualty insurance. I think this is most often overlooked, although I cannot prove it. But I don’t know of any agencies requiring the people they serve in a Residential capacity to purchase a Renter’s insurance policy. I doubt families think of it, they often have too much else going on; and frankly it’s not something we as a society talk about.

Just about everyone owns something that is important to them. With technology becoming less expensive and providing those with disabilities so much more freedom; it’s less and less uncommon to see young adults without at least a smart phone or tablet. These cost money, often in excess of $200 or more. When you’re living off just Supplemental Security Income ($735/mth), and limited to $2k in assets; there is not a lot of room in your budget to replace anything if the home you’re living in has a busted pipe or your item(s) are stolen.

Even without these limitations, how many of us can honestly say we can replace high ticket items from savings without a second thought? Renter’s insurance policies are usually not very expensive, especially when weighed against the benefit they provide. Landlords are not required to replace items, nor are organizations providing Residential support – be it an Arc or a Nursing Home.

So if you have a child, or relative, over the age of 18 whom you’re helping ask yourself if they have these basic protections in place. Do you? If the answer to either question is “no”, fix it. Although I’m not a huge fan of online legal advice, if you’re constrained by budget using a website like NOLO or legalzoom may be pretty useful. Buyer beware, these sites may not necessarily have the most current forms as required by law, so at least have whatever you do reviewed by an attorney.