When Your Home Can Be Excluded as an Asset for SSI Disability

Social Security will not usually count your home toward the asset limit for SSI purposes.

To qualify for disability benefits through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, you must meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of disabled and meet certain income and asset limits. SSI allows a single person to have only $2,000 in assets to stay eligible for SSI, and a married couple can only have $3,000 in assets. Fortunately, some assets, like the home you live in, will not be counted when determining your eligibility if you meet certain requirements. This is is called the "home exclusion."

About the Home Exclusion

To be eligible for the home exclusion, you must own the home. To qualify for this exclusion, you can hold title to the house by yourself, share the title with others, or even have an equitable interest in the property (more on this below). In addition, the home must be your primary place of residence. Your principal place of residence is the house you live in that you consider as the primary place you live (where you go back to stay on a regular basis). Your home can be a mobile home or fixed home and can be on either land or water (like a houseboat).

The SSA doesn’t consider the value of the home when determining whether the home will be excluded; the entire value of your house will be excluded. Also, the land the house is located on and any buildings that are on the land (like a barn or garage) are excluded as well. However, there are a couple of weird situations where your house or all of your land might not be excluded from your income:

Land on Which a Home Is Located

Even if you live in a home you don’t own, if you own the land the home is located on, the land may be excluded. An example of this is if you live in a mobile home that someone else owns, but the mobile home is located on land that you own. (In this case, however, the SSA might consider the use of the mobile home as “in-kind support and maintenance” if you're not paying rent.)

Land Separated by Another Person’s Property

If you own land on which your home is located that is divided up by another person’s property, only the value of the land on which your home actually sits will be excluded. For example, if you own ten acres and your home is only located on two acres, and the remaining eight acres are separated from the two by a tract of land owned by someone else, only the two acres on which your home sits will be excluded. The value of the remaining eight acres will be included when the SSA determines your assets.

Type of Ownership Interest

You can own the house outright by yourself or your ownership interest can be “shared” or “equitable.”

Shared Ownership

Shared ownership is when you legally own the property with someone else (your name is on the deed). It doesn’t matter who you own the land with or how the ownership is titled (tenants-in-common, tenants by the entirety, or as joint tenants).

Equitable Ownership

Equitable ownership is when you have an ownership interest in a property even though your name isn’t on the deed. You may have equitable ownership if you help pay the mortgage, do the work to make improvements to the home (such as room additions), or pay to make improvements to the home.

Evidence Needed for Home Exclusion

You will need to provide the SSA with the evidence needed to show you meet the requirements of the home exclusion.

Proof of Ownership

You will need different evidence depending on whether you are a shared owner or an equitable owner in the home.

Shared ownership. Here are some of the documents you can use to show you have a shared ownership in the home:

  • property tax assessment notice with your name on it
  • a recent property tax bill with your name on
  • a current mortgage statement with your name on it
  • a deed
  • a report from a title search
  • if you inherited the property through an unprobated estate, then you need to provide evidence of the inheritance, such as a will, proof of income from the property, or some other evidence that shows you were entitled to inherit the property under the laws of the state that governed the estate. (An un-probated estate is one that didn’t go through the court.)

Equitable ownership. You will need to provide a statement of support from the person with whom you have the equitable ownership. If you have any other evidence such as bills showing that you paid for additions or repairs to the home or you made mortgage payments, you should provide those as well. SSI applicants or recipients who claim equitable ownership will have their case reviewed by the SSA’s Regional Counsel. The Regional Counsel will give an opinion about whether the equitable ownership exists.

Principal Place of Residence

Unless you own more than one home the SSA, will assume that the property is your principal place of residence. However, if you own a second home you must tell the SSA:

  • how much time you live at each place
  • where you are registered to vote, and
  • which address you use for your mailing address or for tax reasons.

The SSA will then use this information to decide which home is your principal place of residence.

If You Leave the Home and Don’t Intend to Return

Generally if you leave your home and don’t “intend to return,” the home will no longer be eligible for the SSI home exclusion. However, there are a few exceptions to that rule.

Exceptions

Under some circumstances, even if you leave the home and don’t intend to return, the SSA will still allow the value of your home to be excluded from your assets. Here are those circumstances.

  • You are institutionalized (in a nursing home, hospita, or other insitution) but your spouse or a dependent relative continues to live in the home.
  • Selling the home would cause undue hardship because the co-owner would lose his or her place to live.
  • You have to leave house due to domestic violence and you haven’t:
    • set up a new principal place of residence, or
    • done anything that would make the home no longer excludable (like turning it into a rental property).

Who Counts as a Dependent Relative?

A dependent relative is one that depends on you for any reason (such as for financial or medical help.). A relative includes:

  • your child (including adopted, step and grandchildren)

  • a parent (including step or grandparents)
  • an aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew
  • a sibling (including half and step)
  • a cousin, or
  • your in-laws.

The SSA Can't Consider Some Factors When It Determines “Intent to Return”

The SSA may still allow you the home exclusion if you have to leave your home but can't return to it for reasons beyond your control. This can happen if, for example, you are hospitalized or your home is damaged. In this circumstance, the SSA will make a decision based on your statement of whether you intend to return to the home and will not take into account the following factors:

  • your age
  • your physical health
  • your mental health (capacity and competence), or
  • “other circumstances” (such as damage to your home).

Here are some examples.

Example 1

Mr. Anthony was n 85 year-old man who was hospitalized in the intensive care unit. His doctor advised him that he may not be able to go back home even after discharge from the ICU but might be required to move into a nursing home facility. Despite this, Mr. Anthony advised the SSA that he hoped his health improved and he intended to go back to his home to live. Even though the Mr. Smith probably would be unable to return to his home, his statement about his “intent to return” satisfied the SSA’s requirements and his entitlement to the home exclusion continued.

Example 2

Ms. Peterson began living with her mother after a storm made her home unlivable. Ms. Peterson advised the SSA she planned on returning to her home even though she didn’t know when she would be able to afford repairs. In this case, the SSA concluded that Ms. Peterson demonstrated her “intent to return” and her right to the home exclusion continued.

Contact the SSA With Questions

If you have questions about the home exclusion, the SSA will be able to answer them for you. The SSA is available Monday through Friday, 800-772-1213. If you want to talk to someone in person, you can go to your local Social Security field office. Make sure you call your field office ahead of time to see if you need an appointment.

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