5 Things to Know When Your Child with Disabilities Turns 18

October 26, 2023 • By

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Last Updated: October 26, 2023

A mother and son sitting on a couch while looking at a tablet deviceWhen your child turns 18 years old, they legally become an adult. This is an important time to consider their financial future – especially if they need additional care into adulthood. Here are 5 things that you need to know to prepare for this milestone:

1. Health and Welfare Decision-making

When your child becomes a legal adult, you can no longer make certain decisions for them about their health and welfare. However, you can stay involved through:

  • A Representative Payee: Social Security will determine who best serves as Representative Payee for your child’s benefits.
  • Guardianship: This requires court involvement. It may be necessary if your child can’t execute a power of attorney. Please consult an attorney for assistance.

2. Changes in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Eligibility

SSI provides monthly payments to adults and children with a disability or blindness who have income and resources below specific financial limits.

When your child turns 18, Social Security will review their eligibility for continued SSI payments based on the disability rules for adults. For more information, please review the publication, What You Need To Know About Your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) When You Turn 18. We also encourage you to check out Social Security’s Youth Resources page.

3. Education Transitions

If your child attended public school, they have a few options to continue their education after graduation, including:

  • Diploma: They may pursue further education in college or trade programs with Individualized Education Program (IEP).
  • Certificate: They may have the opportunity to continue in a transitional program in their high school even after they complete their senior year. Most are permitted to remain until they turn 22.
  • Employment: Local Vocational Rehabilitation Services can assist with employment options during pre-graduation IEP meetings.

4. Living Arrangements Supports

Once your child turns 18, they may choose or qualify for different living arrangements depending on the services they already receive. For example, if your child receives therapy services at school, how will they receive them once they transition out of school? They could receive them through a Medicaid Waiver or private insurance.

Qualification for respite services may also look different. Respite services allow family caregivers time to step away from their duties. It is essential you understand all the benefits and options available to your child after they complete high school before deciding on living arrangements and services.

5. Financial Protections

  • Special Needs Trust: Update estate planning documents before your child turns 18. Otherwise, inheritance may terminate your child’s governmental benefits.
  • ABLE Account: You can deposit funds into this account up to a certain limit each year; however, there are limits on what its funding covers.

Children receiving benefits on a parent’s record may continue to receive those benefits until age 19 if they’re a full-time elementary or secondary school student. People who have a qualifying disability that began before age 22 may also be eligible to receive child’s benefits at any age. For more information, please review the publication, Benefits for Children.

As your child turns 18, consider these issues while you navigate their financial future. For more information, please visit the Social Security website and contact the Special Needs Alliance.

Our posting of this blog does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of any non-Social Security organization, author, or webpages.

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  1. Stephanie

    My son is 8yrs old and is autistic and we are in the process of trying to get him benefits, my question is when diagnosed 4 years ago Dr said it could possibly be temporary and diagnosis could be removed in the future.
    If he qualifies for any help will that affect any back payment in the future if it’s removed ?

  2. Anne M.

    I am 75 and am planning for my son when I die. He was 25 when he sustained a severe brain injury and I have cared for him in my home since then(25 years ago) I have been divorced for over 20 years and my ex have remarried.
    Can my son be eligible for any benefit. His SS disability payments are 10,000 per year.

  3. StaceyB

    My mom and I have been trying to get in touch with social security for a while now because my brother that has down syndrome has not received any money from the group home he lives in and we are not able to get any answers. It has been almost a year and we do not know what to do. Thank you for your assistance.

  4. Janneth B.

    My son will turn 18 this next October 2024, so I will start the process to be his legal guardian he has autism! I am his attendant care and habilitation provider since 4 years ago, is this going to affect if I applied for him to get his SSI when he turns 18? Thank you!

    • Stacy W.

      Hi, Janneth. Thanks for reading our blog and for your question. When you apply for SSI for your son when he turns 18, you can also apply to become his representative payee. If you are his legal guardian, we’ll need to see the guardianship papers. But you don’t have to be his legal guardian to become his representative payee. To learn how to apply, visit our Frequently Asked Question. We hope this helps.

  5. Brooke J.

    My disabled daughter is 19 years old and her dad and I have legal guardianship. Do we need to pursue Representative Payee if we are already legal guardians?

    • Sue

      Hi, Brooke. Thanks for reading our blog and for your question. As your daughter’s legal guardian, you will need to apply for benefits for her, if she isn’t already receiving them, and apply to become her representative payee. For more information about our payee program, visit our Representative Page webpage. To schedule an appointment, please contact your local Social Security office or call 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. We will need to see an original or certified copy of the guardianship document. You may also wish to consider designating up to 3 potential payees for your daughter. For more information about advanced designation, read our blog. We hope this helps.


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