Spousal child-in-care benefits

Q: I recently reached age 62 and start early Social Security in January. I will also receive dependent benefits for our 17-year-old son who is in high school and lives at home. Can my wife receive Social Security on my record now because our son will? She is in her 50’s and working.

A: Based on the information provided, the answer here is no but the question helps showcase a type of spousal benefit that many people are not aware of.

When discussing potential Social Security spousal benefits to either husband or wife, most people think only of a spouse also at least early retirement age of 62. Another variation of spousal benefits is possible to your spouse of any age when a child is receiving Social Security through your work record.

Potential spousal benefits because children are receiving benefits are mentioned in the publication Benefits for Children and in the Retirement Benefits booklet (page 10) which states “However, if your spouse is taking care of a child who is under age 16, or disabled, and gets Social Security benefits on your record, your spouse gets full benefits, regardless of age.”

Since this type of spousal benefit is possible because there is an eligible child under the age of 16 or disabled receiving benefits, the age of the spouse is not a factor for eligibility or amount.

When working full time, many parents who might otherwise be entitled to this type of spousal benefit choose not to file for it. This is because the annual earnings test applies to them and expected earnings could negate any SSA potentially payable. Earnings test amounts for 2016 will be the same as in 2015.

Note that the child receiving benefits must be under age 16 or eligible because of disability. Since the child referred to in the above question is already age 17 with no mention of being disabled, benefits to him would not make his mother eligible for benefits.

When payable, amounts for this benefit are based on the retiree’s full retirement age (FRA) amount, not his or her actual monthly Social Security amount. Child and spouse each receive the same monthly amount of up to one-half of the retiree’s FRA amount. If payable, these spousal benefits are not reduced for age. Estimate your FRA amount with the Retirement Estimator tool in the SSA Retirement Planner or by viewing your SSA Statement through your my Social Security account.

Although this question referred to Social Security retirement benefits, the same type of spousal benefit is available if a worker receives Social Security disability benefits, with an eligible child as above.

If the worker is deceased, Social Security survivors benefits could be payable to a widow or widower of any age if an eligible child younger than age 16 or disabled received benefits.

Another important item is related to this original question. If you receive Social Security benefits for someone else, you are that person’s representative payee and responsible for accounting to Social Security about how benefits are used. As payee, the father in this question is responsible for making any necessary reports concerning his son’s eligibility to Social Security. A booklet about being a representative payee is here.



Changing a child’s representative payee

Q: My ex-wife receives Social Security disability benefits for herself plus benefits for our daughter, for whom she has custody. Within the next few months, I will have custody and our daughter will live with me full-time.

Will Social Security start sending benefits for her to me or will they continue going to my ex-wife? Will the amount change when she is living with me?

A: A person receiving benefits on behalf of someone else is their representative payee. As a general guideline, the parent with legal custody is the preferred payee compared to a parent without custody but exceptions exist based on individual situations.

Changing the representative payee for your daughter, or anyone, is not automatic. You will need to request a change by completing an application to be the new payee for your daughter. This is not an online application so contact your Social Security office to do this. Expect to prove that you have custody and that your daughter is living with you.

A worker’s, in this case your ex-wife, own Social Security amount is based on his or her earnings history over many years. Benefits to a child or other family member do not change how much the worker receives for himself or herself.

Assuming you become your daughter’s representative payee, with her benefits sent in your care, the individual Social Security benefit of your ex-wife will not change although she would no longer receive the amount for your daughter.

The Social Security benefit amount for a child is based on the earnings record of the worker and will be the same wherever the child is living.

Representative payees are responsible for using Social Security benefits on behalf of the eligible person. As representative payee, you will have to report how funds for your daughter are used. Other responsibilities include reporting if your daughter is no longer living with you. Details are in the Guide for Representative Payees.

Should Mom give me the money?

Q: I am 15 and receive Social Security, which goes to my Mom. Should she should give me the money? 

A: When a person younger than age 18 receives Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the payment is almost always sent to an adult on their behalf rather than directly to the child. This adult is called the representative payee and it is his or her responsibility to direct the management of the funds. 

Representative payees are also appointed for adults who are incapable of managing their benefits. Payees are often family members but can be different people or even an organization. 

In the booklet A Guide for Representative Payees, a new payee is instructed in how funds should be used and how funds not immediately needed should be held for the future. Payees are told about required reports to Social Security about the funds. Representative payee instructions go into detail about how funds are to be used.  

Should your Mom give you the money? Not directly but the funds must be used for you. Just handing the benefit money to you could mean that she was not exercising proper control of the funds in your best interest. 

A key representative payee responsibility is to know beneficiary needs so that the Social Security or SSI funds can be best used for the person’s care and well-being, in particular making sure that day-to-day food and shelter needs are met. Having basic needs of food, shelter and clothing met indicate benefits are used for you even if you do not directly handle the money.  

Social Security benefits for children might continue or end at age 18. If they continue past age 18, the child often starts to receive them directly, without having a representative payee. Consider asking your Mom to share or create a budget with you. This would show you how the funds are used while giving you practice in handling money.

Family benefits and SSA disability

Q: If a mother is receiving Social Security disability benefits, should her twelve year old son receive benefits too?

A: If a parent with eligible family members, including children, receives Social Security disability, then family benefits are usually payable but this is not always the case.

The total dollar amount payable to family members is based on the earnings record of the person receiving the Social Security benefits. If the person’s earnings history is very low, there is a possibility that family benefits cannot be paid even if there are otherwise eligible family members. This is not the usual situation but it does exist.

Assuming benefits can be paid on behalf of a child, the Social Security Administration would select a person or organization, called a representative payee, to receive the funds. Generally a family member, preferably a parent with custody, is selected as payee.

Note that disability benefits from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program do not have family benefits. SSI is only for the person having the disability. SSI is an income based program for people over age 65 and disabled adults or children. SSI is administered by the Social Security Administration but very different from SSA benefits.



Who receives benefits for a child? The representative payee.

Q: To receive benefits, must children be living in the same household when a parent receives Social Security disability?

A: No. For Social Security retirement, disability and survivors benefits, the parent-to-child relationship is important in determining if a child is eligible for payment.

This means that otherwise eligible children born in an existing marriage, without marriage, or in an ended marriage can receive Social Security if a parent receives retirement or disability, or survivors benefits if the parent is deceased. Child benefits are payable to eligible adopted or stepchildren. For stepchildren, the parent-to-parent relationship is important because it defines the parent-to-child relationship.

For a minor, or perhaps a disabled child, a separate question is what person receives those Social Security benefits on behalf of the child. Actual custody or other legal responsibility helps determine the person or agency to receive SSA payments on behalf of a child. Usually the custodial parent will be the person selected to receive these if the parents do not live together.

For a commonplace example, assume Parent A is receiving Social Security benefits and has a biological minor child living in another town with Parent B. If all other requirements are met, the child can receive Social Security benefits through the record of Parent A. Since Parent B has custody, those SSA benefits for the child would be paid to Parent B.

Representative payee is the term Social Security uses for a person receiving benefits on behalf of another person. In the above example, Parent B is representative payee for the child. 

Not just for children, representative payees are appointed to provide financial management for the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments of people who are incapable of managing their own payments.

To become a representative payee, a person or agency must file an application and then provide ongoing accounting of how funds are used. Payees are appointed only for Social Security and SSI purposes and are completely different from guardianship or power of attorney. FAQ’s for representative payees are here.

Note that the Treasury Department does not recognize power of attorney for the purposes of negotiating federal payments, including Social Security or SSI checks.


SSI changes for disabled child at age 18

Q: My son will be 18 in a few months. He is disabled since birth, lives in a group home, and currently receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  I am the Representative Payee for his SSI benefits. Very recently, my wife and I were granted guardianship over him. For SSI, is there anything that I need to do prior to him becoming 18?  

A: Even though administered by the Social Security Administration, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a very different program from Social Security. The SSI program pays benefits to disabled adults and disabled children who have limited income and resources. SSI benefits also are payable to people 65 and older without disabilities who meet the financial limits. People who have worked long enough may also be able to receive Social Security disability or retirement benefits as well as SSI.

As a general reply, since your son is younger than age 18, the original medical decision used to establish his Supplemental Security Income eligibility was based on childhood criteria. Near age 18, expect another medical review to see if he meets adult disability requirements for benefits to continue. 

A representative payee is the person appointed by Social Security to manage the Social Security and SSI payments of our beneficiaries who are incapable of managing their own funds. Very often, family, friends or qualified organizations serve as representative payees. SSA does not recognize power of attorney. Representative payees have specific responsibilities, outlined in the booklet A Guide for Representative Payees.

Since you are his representative payee, a local SSA representative will contact you for updated information before the review. You will be asked for medical sources but you will not need to obtain current medical information. SSA does that. You will also update non-medical information, including about his income, financial resources and living arrangements.  

Remember to report to Social Security that you and your wife have been appointed your son’s legal guardians so that his record can be updated.

Something for the future: Since your son’s disability began prior to age 22, he might become eligible for Social Security benefits upon retirement of you or your wife. More about Social Security child benefits is at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/yourchildren.htm.  See also  http://www.socialsecurity.gov/dibplan/dqualify10.htm.


Will adoption end benefits to a child?

Q: My young children receive Social Security survivors benefits because their father died several years ago. I am planning to remarry in a few months. Will the children lose their survivors benefits if my new husband adopts them?

A: Adoption of a child already entitled to Social Security survivors benefits does not end his or her benefits. 

Some other considerations:

Do you also receive Social Security survivors benefits? If you do, and assuming that you are younger than age 60, remarriage normally will end your survivors benefits even though benefits to the children continue. Ask about your specific situation.

Are you changing your name? If so, update your Social Security number (SSN) record at no charge. Assuming that you receive the Social Security benefits on behalf of the children, SSA calls this being their representative payee, you will also have to update your name on those benefits.

Read the Social Security booklet, What You Need to Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors Benefits (publication 05-10077), online at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10077.pdf, by calling the SSA national toll-free phone number, 1-800-772-1213, TTY 1-800-325-0778, or by contacting any SSA office.

Best wishes.

Representative payee – use of Social Security funds

Representative payees are routinely appointed for children. With rare exception, a child under age 18 will have a representative payee appointed to handle his or her Social Security benefits. If the child remains eligible past age 18 and assuming no capability issue exists, benefits are sent to him or her directly, without a representative payee. Social Security benefits for children are essentially the same whether due to a parent’s retirement, death or disability. 

Based on a question received this week, today’s topic involves the use of Social Security funds received on behalf of a child by the representative payee. How SSA funds are to be used is the same for an adult.

The child involved receives Social Security survivor benefits through the work record of a deceased parent. The surviving parent, representative payee for the child’s SSA benefits, is employed and taking care of the usual family expenses. Since the parent is handling expenses, the question was if they could save the Social Security survivor benefits for future need. With some caveats, the general answer is yes.

Referring to A Guide For Representative Payees, SSA publication 05-10076, the primary use of Social Security funds is to make sure the beneficiary’s basic day-to-day needs for food and shelter are met. Here, the child is the beneficiary but this applies to adults as well. After basic needs are met, Social Security benefits can be used for the person’s medical and dental care, if not covered by health insurance, and for personal needs, such as clothing and recreation. Remaining funds are to be saved for future need, preferably in an interest-bearing account, separately identified as belonging to the beneficiary.

Here, the parent is independently taking care of the child’s expenses. Since basic food and shelter plus additional financial needs of the child are met, saving the monthly Social Security survivor benefits for future need appears to be appropriate. If unmet needs existed, saving the Social Security benefits would serve little purpose and would not be in the child’s, or other beneficiary, best interests.

If you are now a representative payee or anticipate applying to be one for someone soon, review the representative payee section on the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov. For often asked questions, go to the representative payee FAQ section. 

One more thing: unlike Social Security benefits, eligibility for the income based Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program has income and resource limits. Combined with other resources, saved funds can end SSI eligibility. If you are representative payee for a person receiving SSI, or if you receive SSI yourself, read What You Need To Know When You Get Supplemental Security Income (SSI), publication 05-11011.

Publications are available online, by calling the national toll-free number 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or from any Social Security office.





On behalf of someone else: representative payee

The previous post was about working with the Social Security Administration concerning the benefits of another person. It was assumed that the other person could contact Social Security on their own but wanted you to do so for them. Today we move along to what happens if the person cannot help themself. 

Recall that Social Security cannot recognize power of attorney. Power of attorney is a legal process where one individual grants a third party the authority to transact certain business for that individual. They can be for different purposes but overall are not recognized by the Treasury Department for purposes of negotiating federal payments, including Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) checks. Having power of attorney does not let you transact business with Social Security on behalf of someone else. 

Perhaps Mom, Dad, a sibling or other adult is no longer capable of taking care of their business and you now handle all their affairs. It is no longer that you are helping as a convenience. You are handling affairs because the person no longer can do so themselves.

If so, file application to be representative payee. A representative payee is an individual or organization appointed by the Social Security Administration to receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits on behalf of a person who cannot manage or direct the use of his or her money. Acting on behalf of the person, a representative payee is responsible for everything related to Social Security or SSI benefits that a capable beneficiary would do for himself or herself. 

Appointment of a representative payee is not taken lightly. While minor children almost always require a representative payee, adult beneficiaries are presumed to be capable of managing their own benefits. Evidence must establish the need to appoint a payee for an adult.  

Being appointed means the representative payee agrees to follow Social Security Administration rules for handling of related funds, including reporting on how funds are used. Payees are appointed to manage Social Security and SSI funds only. A representative payee has no legal authority to manage non-Social Security related income or ­medical matters. As a representative payee, you must know what the beneficiary’s needs are so you can decide how benefits can best be used for his or her personal care and well-being. This is especially important if the person does not live with you. 

This helps protect beneficiaries. Even if you have power of attorney or are guardian for a parent or other adult, file a representative payee application if he or she is incapable of managing their own Social Security or SSI benefits. To learn more, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/payee  or read “A Guide For Representative Payees” at http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10076.html or available from any SSA office.


Working with Social Security on behalf of someone else

Summarizing the phone call, the woman was saying “I’m just trying to help my Dad and you are not letting me even though I have power of attorney” while the Social Security representative was trying to explain how the matter at hand could be resolved. 

How to work with the Social Security Administration concerning the benefits of another person is today’s topic.

Before Social Security can change a record, such as updating an address, we must verify not only who is contacting us but that they are the proper person to work with. For example, when a person receiving Social Security benefits calls the national SSA toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), or their local office, they are asked for information that the Social Security representative matches against information on the record. Assuming everything matches, the action requested is completed because the person is calling about his or her own benefits. If a change involves both members of a couple, we speak to both. 

If you are calling Social Security on behalf of a parent or another adult, one way to make this easier for everyone is for the person and you to both be by the phone. After verifying the identity of Mom, Dad or whomever you are helping, they could tell the SSA representative to speak to you and then hand over the phone. 

What about power of attorney? Power of attorney is a legal process where one individual grants a third party the authority to transact certain business for that individual. They can be for different purposes but overall are not recognized by the Treasury Department for purposes of negotiating federal payments, including Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) checks. In short, Social Security cannot recognize power of attorney. You might consider this a burden but the Social Security Administration is trying to protect our beneficiaries.  

Some actions can be completed online at www.socialsecurity.gov. With a my Social Security account, people already receiving Social Security retirement, survivors or disability benefits or enrolled in Medicare can change their address and other contact information including bank information for direct deposit (electronic fund transfer) of payments. 

Today’s example assumes the person you are helping can contact Social Security on their own but wants you to make the contact for them. What happens if this person cannot help themself? Next time.