At Bernard Stuczynski Barnett & Lager, our Erie, PA law firm handles a large number of SSI cases. In this practice, our lawyers frequently see issues with SSI recipients losing their benefits due to joint bank accounts with boyfriends, girlfriends, or other significant others and family members. If you receive SSI benefits, it is almost never a good idea to share a bank account with anyone other than your spouse. In this article, I will briefly explain some of the issues with co-ownership of bank accounts and SSI benefits. Please note that this article applies only to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, not Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. Supplemental Security Income is a needs-based program where entitlement to benefits is based partially on financial eligibility, whereas Social Security Disability Insurance is a work-credit based system that has nothing to do with your assets, only your work history. Social Security Disability beneficiaries are free to share their funds with whomever they desire. If you are unsure whether or not you are receiving SSDI or SSI benefits, and are considering a joint bank account, you should consult with an attorney first.
SSI Qualifications and Joint Accounts
In addition to being disabled, in order to qualify for SSI benefits, you must meet certain financial eligibility requirements as to your “countable resources.” This not only includes your income, but also resources that are available to you, not counting certain excludable resources. If your countable resources ever exceed the total allowable amount, you will become ineligible for SSI and potentially other welfare benefits, like health insurance and food stamps. When you chose to open a joint bank account with another individual, the Social Security Administration presumes that you share ownership of these funds. When your co-ownership of this bank account is discovered, if your personal funds in addition to the shared funds exceeds the total allowable amount, you will be kicked off your SSI benefits. When that happens, it is almost always advisable to immediately get separate bank accounts so this problem does not continue occurring.
If you find yourself having your SSI benefits terminated due to the co-ownership of a bank account you should contact an attorney immediately, as it is sometimes possible to rebut ownership of a joint account. In order to do this, you must be able to prove that the funds in the joint account were not available to you personally. This can be extremely difficult. While our firm has had success rebutting ownership of funds in a joint account, it is by no means the norm. Regardless, it still makes sense to speak with an attorney to determine whether or not this is possible in your case.
It is imperative that you follow this advise and never open a joint bank account with another individual without first consulting with an attorney if you are in pursuit of SSI benefits. We have seen situations where people fought years for SSI benefits, won in front of an administrative law judge, only to have their claim later denied due to a joint bank account opened with a significant other several years prior. This can be tragic and often times irreversible. Even worse, sometimes the Social Security Administration does not notice that you have this joint bank account for several years after they have been paying you SSI benefits; this can lead to what is called an “overpayment,” where Social Security comes after you to be repaid all the benefits they have paid to you. We have seen situations where Social Security is claiming they are owed upwards of $20,000.00. if you find yourself on the receiving end of an overpayment, you should contact a lawyer immediately to discuss your options.
What about Payees?
One common pitfall where individuals wrongly think its okay to have a joint bank account with an SSI recipient is when said individual is a payee for a disabled person receiving SSI benefits. Even if you are the payee for a disabled SSI recipient, you should not co-own a bank account with the disabled individual, as doing so can cause the disabled individual to be kicked off their SSI benefits should the funds in that bank account end up exceeding the amount of allowable countable resources for SSI recipients. This can be an innocent mistake with tragic results. In short, it almost never a good idea to have a jointly owned bank account if you are an SSI recipient or are co-owning a bank account with an SSI recipient. If you believe your situation is unique, you should strongly consider consulting with an attorney before opening any joint bank accounts to determine whether or not doing so will affect your entitlement to benefits.
If you are in the process of looking for a disability lawyer, call our Erie, PA Disability lawyers for a free consultation at 814-452-6232.