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Social Security: Marriage could end survivor benefits

My daughter has been receiving benefits as a child with a disability since her father passed away. She’s now planning on getting married and has been told that she may lose her benefits when she does. Her fiance is employed full time and she works part time. We don’t understand why she would lose her benefits and hope you can explain this.

It’s unclear whether your daughter receives a Social Security survivor benefit or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or both. These are different programs, and each has its own eligibility rules. But her marriage would indeed disqualify her for the survivor benefit; and it might also make her ineligible for SSI because her income will reflect her husband’s salary as well as her own.

To qualify for a survivor benefit based on the Social Security taxes paid by his or her deceased parent, a child must be unmarried and under age 18 (or up to age 19 if still in high school). An adult can also qualify for this survivor benefit based on a deceased parent’s record — but to be eligible, he or she must be unmarried and have a disability that started before age 22.

To be eligible for Supplemental Security Income, a person must have low income and limited assets, and also be blind or otherwise disabled, or 65 years old or older. Since SSI is partly based on financial need, higher income or assets can be disqualifying. (This is why anyone planning to leave money to a disabled child should consider leaving it to a Special Needs trust for that person’s benefit. Unlike a direct legacy, this trust won’t disqualify its beneficiary for government benefits that are based on financial need.)

THE BOTTOM LINE Getting married or inheriting money can make a disabled person ineligible for some government benefits.


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