Social Security, “In Real Life”

The following narrative is based on a true story brought to the AMAC Foundation’s Social Security Advisory Service by a real person seeking assistance with a Social Security matter. The names are fictitious, but the story is true.

Cassidy’s story
Baby Cassidy was only 4 years old when her mother died. Cassidy’s mother had never worked so the toddler wasn’t entitled to a Social Security survivor benefit from her deceased mother. But more important than the Social Security benefit was that Cassidy’s maternal grandparents, Bill and Phyllis, fought for and were granted legal custody of the child. Soon thereafter, Bill and Phyllis legally adopted Cassidy – their deceased daughter’s beautiful little girl.

Obviously, Bill and Phyllis were now older “parents,” both collecting their individual Social Security benefits. Grandpa Bill’s Social Security benefit was highest so Cassidy, as a minor child and Bill’s dependent minor daughter, was now able to receive SS benefits equal to half of Grandpa Bill’s “primary insurance amount/”

But little Cassidy’s life was soon disrupted again when, just a few years later, Grandpa Bill passed away. Cassidy’s grandma and adoptive mother Phyllis still cared for the child who, as Bill’s adoptive daughter and surviving minor dependent, was now entitled to 75 percent of Bill’s PIA, instead of the 50 percent she was receiving while her adoptive father was alive.

Life, however, wasn’t yet done with little Cassidy. Just a little over two years after Bill died, Grandma (and adoptive mother) Phyllis also died, leaving Cassidy, once again (and still a minor) without a responsible adult to care for her.

Throughout Cassidy’s young life, her Aunt Alexis – her deceased mother’s sister – was a loving and caring presence. Alexis had been a part of Cassidy’s life since the child was born and, with both her parents now deceased, Alexis quickly sought and was granted legal guardianship of her young niece. Indeed, Alexis’ intent was to adopt Cassidy as her own, but before doing so she contacted the AMAC Foundation’s Social Security Advisory Service to investigate the potential impact on Cassidy’s Social Security income, which was being saved for Cassidy’s future.

Exploring what would happen if she adopted young Cassidy was a smart move on Aunt Alexis’ part because, had she adopted the child, Cassidy would have lost her benefit as Grandpa Bill’s surviving adoptive daughter. Thus, her Aunt Alexis remains Cassidy’s legal guardian, and Cassidy continues to receive benefits as Grandpa Bill’s adopted minor daughter. Cassidy can collect her survivor benefits until she is 18 years old (or, if she is still in high school, until she is 19).

Aunt Alexis is obligated, as Cassidy’s Representative Payee, to use the Social Security money only for Cassidy’s welfare which, in this case, includes saving it for Cassidy’s future.