Special Needs Planning: What to Know About Age 22

Age 22 is relevant because there are many public benefit programs that require proof that a person’s disability arose before reaching age 22 in order to establish eligibility. While it may be tempting to toss or destroy yellowing medical records and other papers because they’re more than three, seven, or 37 years old, you should resist the urge to purge, since it may be impossible to recreate the records years later!  Professionals who have helped a person in the past may have retired, moved, changed jobs or even passed away. Schools or nonprofit agencies can merge with other organizations, evolve or even become extinct – making record recreation a nightmare, if not impossible. Tracing back through the years to track down the people who might still remember enough details to verify that the disability arising before age 22 may prove futile, even in the age of Facebook and Google.  It also is important to recall that professionals like attorneys and physicians, and even some government programs and public schools, may not be required to keep records indefinitely. A person might need documentation of an early disability to acquire appropriate accommodations in vocational training or college.  Others may need to document that a condition originally discovered during childhood was exacerbated in adulthood, putting substantial gainful employment on hold and qualifying for various benefits necessary.

Some of the most important documents that may be useful throughout a person’s lifetime would include the following:

  • Individual education plans (IEPs), multi-factored evaluations (MFEs), 504 plans, and the recommendations for accommodations
  • Results of medical exams, particularly by specialists such as neurologists and psychologists
  • Medical records documenting the “before and after” picture if an acute illness, accident or trauma resulted in permanent changes in the individual’s cognitive skills or physical abilities
  • Documentation that the individual received services from agencies that serve individuals with special needs or disabilities
  • Records from job training programs or workshop employment documenting supports provided
  • Letters from employers preserving the story of how your child got the job, whether the job was created or tailor-made for your child, whether any supports were provided to make employment possible, and whether there were any problems or issues on the job
  • Letters from coaches, camp counselors, neighbors, religious or community leaders – whose observations may someday help to establish how different or special your child was
  • Court documents regarding guardianship, conservatorship, settlements for personal injuries or orders concerning legal capacity.

Having clear documentation may become necessary for a person to qualify for invaluable public benefits in the future, including many of the following:

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) based on the individual’s own work record, or adult Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB, formerly Disabled Adult Child (DAC)) based on the earnings of a parent who is permanently disabled, retired, or deceased.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Medicare
  • Medicaid
  • Income and health insurance benefits available through a parent’s employer for dependent adult children
  • Supported living and other benefits through public Developmental Disability boards
  • Medicaid Waiver programs
  • Military Survivor Benefits Plans

Childhood Disability Benefits Childhood Disability Benefits (CDB) is an important public benefit that often is overlooked.  CDB benefits allow a disabled adult child to receive monthly income based on a parent’s social security earnings record.  To qualify for CDB, the adult child must be able to prove the following:

  1. The child must be 18 years of age or older and have a disability that arose before reaching the age of 22;
  2. The child must be disabled as defined by the Social Security Administration;
  3. The child may not be married, unless the adult child’s spouse also is disabled; and
  4. At least one of the child’s parents is receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits or is deceased and had an adequate work history.

To apply for CDB, you may contact the Social Security Administration by phone or go to one of the SSA field offices. Military Survivor’s Benefits A child who became disabled before age 18, or before age 22 if enrolled full-time in school, and is incapable of self-support, is considered a dependent child for life and parents in the military may undertake special needs planning for the child. To qualify as a dependent child of a military member, the child must be unmarried and also be:

  1. younger than age 18;
  2. older than 18 but younger than age 22, and enrolled in a full-time course of study or training at a defined educational institution; or
  3. incapable of self-support due to mental or physical incapacity which existed before age 18, or arose after age 18 but before age 22, while the child was enrolled in a full-time course of study or training.

Any child whose incapacity arose on or after a 22nd birthday is not considered “dependent” under the law and thus, the military parent is unable to use the special planning option of directing the payment of Military Survivor’s Benefits to a qualifying special needs trust.  A child not only must be a “dependent,” but also must be “disabled” under the same standard used to determine eligibility for Supplemental Security Income benefits.