Social Security

Social Security was created in 1935 to promote economic security and is administered by the Social Security Administration for retirees, disabled individuals, and families of retired, disabled, or deceased workers.  Title II of the Social Security Act controls retirement, disability, and survivor’s benefits, which are non-means tested programs.

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Social Security Disability Insurance

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD) is a monthly benefit that is provided to an individual who has been determined to be disabled before retirement age and is unable to continue working.  To qualify for this benefit, an individual must have worked at a job, in which the individual paid Social Security taxes.  An individual can earn up to four (4) credits per year, and the number of credit hours needed to receive this benefit is dependent on how old the individual is when s/he became disabled.  If an individual is disabled but does not have sufficient work credits to obtain SSD, and if the individual has low income and assets, then that individual may qualify for Supplemental Security Income.

For purposes of SSD, disability is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death, or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”  When a (non-blind) disabled individual has average monthly countable earnings of $1,170.00 or more (in 2017), he is considered to be able to engage in substantial gainful activity.  For blind individuals in 2017, earnings of more than $1,950.00 per month is determined to be substantial gainful activity.

Certain family members may qualify for benefits on another’s work history; those family members include:

  • A spouse, if he or she is 62 years of age or older;
  • A spouse at any age, if he or she is caring for a child of the worker, who is either younger than 16 years of age or disabled;
  • An unmarried child, who is younger than 18 years of age (or 19 years of age if still in high school); or
  • An unmarried child, who is 18 years of age or older, if he or she has a disability, according to the definition of disability for adults, that started before the child turned 22 years of age.

An individual is eligible to receive SSD benefits in the sixth full month after the disability began; however, SSD benefits are paid in the month following the month for which they are due.  To illustrate these points, if an individual’s disability is determined to have begun on April 15, his first SSD benefit will be paid for the month of October, so the individual does not actually receive the first payment until November (the month following the month for which the benefit is due).

Social Security Retirement and Survivors Benefits

Social Security helps by providing income for retired workers, which are known as retirement benefits, and the families of workers who die, which are known as survivors benefits.  The age of an individual factors into the receipt of retirement benefits.  The earliest age an individual can receive retirement benefits is age 62; however, this benefit will be less than if an individual waited until his full retirement age, which depends on the individual’s year of birth.  Additionally, individuals can wait until age 70 to apply for retirement benefits that will be more than the amount of the benefit received at full retirement age.

When a worker dies, certain members of his family may be eligible to receive survivors benefits, and those family members include widows, widowers (and divorced widows and widowers), children, and dependent parents.

Retirement and survivors benefits are similar to SSD in that an individual must work and pay Social Security taxes, thus earning credits toward his Social Security benefit.  The number of years that an individual needs to work in order for his family members to be eligible for survivors benefits when he dies depends upon his age at his death; while the number of years that an individual needs to work in order to receive retirement benefits depends on the year in which the worker was born.  For individuals born in 1929 or later, an individual needs 40 credits, which is equivalent to 10 years of work.  No one needs more than 10 years of work to be eligible for any Social Security benefit.  If an individual does not have the required number of credits, Social Security Administration will not pay any retirement benefits.