How Does Social Security Affect LGBTQ Families?

Submitted by Deanna on

If you are part of the LGBTQ community and you or your partner is receiving Social Security benefits, your family may be eligible for additional resources. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers monthly financial aid for people who have disabilities and are unable to work, or to people who have retired. Here’s a little more information on the benefits you and your family may be eligible to receive:

Social Security Disability Benefits

Social Security disability comes in two forms: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Both programs are for people with disabilities, but SSDI benefits are for people who have worked throughout life, and SSI is for people who have never worked such as someone born with autism or Down syndrome. The majority of disability applicants receive SSDI benefits.

When you receive SSDI benefits, your family may be eligible for resources in addition to your own monthly payments. Once gay marriage was legalized in the US in 2015, every state was granted access to auxiliary benefits for their LGBTQ spouse or children.

A spouse is eligible for an additional 50% of your benefits if he or she is age 62+, or is age 50 and has a disability, or is any age but you’re raising a child under age 16. A child* is eligible for 50% of your benefits if the child is under age 18, or under age 19 and still in high school.

*Who counts as a child to the SSA? This used to be challenging for LGBTQ couples, but now it’s straightforward. Any biological, adoptive, or stepchild will count as a dependent under your record. The biggest challenge you may run into is if your partner has adopted a child but you are not married. In a handful of states, including Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, and Wisconsin, additional challenges are faced by same-sex couples. You may have difficulty performing a second-parent adoption within a domestic partnership. Same-sex couples in Alabama and Nebraska cannot adopt children at all. Consider speaking with a family law attorney if you’re unsure about your family’s rights if you are unmarried or otherwise concerned.

Differences Between Social Security and Retirement

Retirement benefits are offered to all taxpaying US residents starting at age 62. If you’re 62 and disabled, you may be wondering if you should file for retirement or Social Security. The answer is always Social Security disability, presuming you’re unable to work due to your disability or illness. When you qualify for Social Security you will receive the monthly equivalent as if you had taken full retirement benefits. When you take early retirement from Social Security, you will lock into a reduced rate for the rest of your life.

Once you hit your full retirement age (between 65 and 67, depending on your year of birth) your disability benefits will “convert” to retirement benefits. Nothing will change other than the fact that you will be able to work and earn additional income if you are able to. Your monthly benefits will remain the same.

Maximizing Your Benefits

The most popular way to maximize your Social Security benefits was by “filing and delaying.” Under this system, you could delay taking your own Social Security benefits and instead receive spousal benefits, or 50% of what your spouse earns from Social Security. You would then file for benefits under your own record at age 70, receiving an additional 8% credit per year you delayed retirement. This plan is available for anyone born in 1954 or earlier, but a couple of years ago Social Security removed the file and delay option.

So the main question comes down to whether you should take early or delayed retirement? Most blogs recommend delaying to max out your benefits—someone eligible for $2,000 per month at age 66 would have $378,000 at age 82, as opposed to $411,000 for someone who delayed retirement until age 70.

While you do earn more income in the long run, you need to take your health and financial needs into consideration. If you’re not confident you’ll exceed an average life expectancy, it makes far more sense to take early retirement. The same can be said for families who need the additional income immediately. It’s a personal decision that a financial advisor can help your family weigh out before the time comes to officially file for retirement.

Starting The Process

If you are disabled and unable to work or if you are approaching your retirement age, the first place to go will be the Social Security Administraion's website. You can learn about how you can apply for disability or retirement, all the paperwork and documents you need, and actually apply entirely online. Now that LGBTQ couples have been granted the same marital legal rights as everyone else, you and your family could be entitled to much more than years before.

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