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Frank Serritella

In this article, we answer the questions: “who is eligible for social security disability benefits in Illinois?” and “should I have a special needs trust?”  We discuss eligibility for Social Security Disability Benefits for individuals age 18 and older and for individuals under the age of 18.  We also answer the question: “If I am eligible for disability benefits, should I have a special needs trust?”

The Social Security Administration has set the following requirements for eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits under the Social Security Act. 

Eligibility for Social Security Disability Benefits For individuals 18 and older 

An individual is considered disabled by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) if he or she has “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.” 

Work is considered substantial if it “involves doing significant physical or mental activities, or a combination of both.” 

Gainful work activity is any of the following: 

  • Work performed for pay or profit; 
  • Work of a nature generally performed for pay or profit; or
  • Work intended for profit, whether or not a profit is realized. 

Eligibility for Social Security Disability Benefits For Individuals Under the Age of 18: 

An individual is considered disabled by the SSA if he or she has “a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations and that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.

A medically determinable physical or mental impairment is one resulting from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities, which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.

The SSA uses a specific list of impairments to determine eligibility along with medical evidence from treating physicians. 

If your child meets these requirements, he or she can only be eligible for SSI and other government benefits if he or she has less than $2,000 in assets in his or her own name. If you wish to leave wealth to your child, he or she won’t be able to receive a significant inheritance while simultaneously qualifying for government assistance. A special needs trust is the only way to preserve your assets for your child’s supplemental care while still ensuring government assistance eligibility.

If I am Eligible For Disability Benefits, Should I Have a Special Needs Trust?

Most children or adults who have a disability and qualify for Supplemental Security Income Benefits should have a special needs trust. If you have a child with special needs, it can be tough to plan for the future. Parents generally recognize that they cannot be around to care for their children forever. As hard as it may be, it’s important to consult medical experts and different care advisors early to establish realistic expectations about your child’s long-term ability to be self-supporting.

People over the age of 18 who have mental or physical disabilities are eligible to receive government assistance, like Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), vocational rehabilitation, and subsidized housing. However, due to strict limits on the individual’s income and assets, it is often difficult to qualify for most of these means-tested government programs when a beneficiary has inherited assets in his or her name. Because of this, it’s important for family members of individuals with special needs to consider passing wealth through proactive estate planning.  

A special needs trust is a fiduciary arrangement in which one person, a trustee, holds assets for the benefit of an individual with special needs. The trustee has complete discretion to make distributions to the special needs beneficiary; but, while the assets exist to benefit the beneficiary, the trustee is not legally obligated to distribute money to the beneficiary, so the assets in the special needs trust cannot be counted when it comes to qualifying for government programs. 

Special needs trusts are used to accumulate resources without affecting a beneficiary’s eligibility for benefits and allow the trustee to supplement the needs of the beneficiary. For example, if an individual with special needs is residing in an assisted living facility, the trustee can choose to pay for extra amenities like cable television, salon services, entertainment, etc. The trust’s assets are used to enhance the quality of life for the special needs individual and cover any necessary expenses that aren’t fulfilled by government assistance without disqualifying the beneficiary from those benefits. 

To learn more, check out our article: Illinois Special Needs Trusts Explained.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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