The Social Security Administration has two different programs that are designed to be safety nets for people who are too sick or injured to work.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): SSDI is only available to people who have a sufficient work history. Generally you need to work at least five out of the last 10 years and pay Social Security, disability insurance and taxes – and that applies to people who are over 31. The requirement is less for people aged 18-31.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI): The other kind of disability benefits that someone can apply for is called Supplemental Security Income, which is available to people who don’t have the work history to qualify for SSDI. An additional requirement for SSI is that the person applying for benefits pass a means test.
When performing a means test for SSI, one of the touchstones the Social Security Administration looks for is the applicant’s assets. In general, the person applying for SSI – assuming they can meet the medical requirements for disabled status under Social Security’s rules – can have no more than $2,000 in assets. That includes property, bank accounts and even jewelry. In general, however, there are a few exceptions to this rule: applicants are permitted to have one house, one primary vehicle, and other essentials.
Unfortunately, many of our SSI clients run into the situation where their names are on the deeds of properties that are held by other family members.
We recently came across a client who came to us applying for SSI. She has not been able to work for the last two years, and her application had been pending for all that time. As a result, she has been struggling to make ends meet, and is now close to being destitute.
Her case became complicated when she learned that a relative passed away in Puerto Rico, and the relative owned property there – and our client’s name may have been on the deed to the property. Right now our client is in limbo, and she does not know what is going to happen to the property in Puerto Rico. I explained to her that if her name is on the deed, she does stand to gain some significant assets, and that would render her unqualified for SSI.
Our client now finds herself in a good news/bad news situation because that asset may have her name on it, but she may not be able to put her hands on it – and that asset alone would disqualify her for SSI.
It’s something we’re studying, but we wanted to bring the issue to the attention of other people out there who may be considering applying for SSI: Be mindful of the fact there is an income analysis that Social Security does. In addition to determining whether you’re medically disabled, you must also have limited assets.