hello world!

Disability Benefits For Widow, Widower, & Surviving Divorced Spouse

Last updated: April 12, 2023

Based on the earnings records of their deceased spouse, a disabled widow/widower or surviving divorced spouse may qualify for SSDI benefits as early as age 50. Widows, widowers, and divorced spouses who are disabled and who wish to be considered for SSDI benefits based on the earnings records of their deceased spouses or ex-spouses have special programs available to them through the Social Security Administration (SSA). 

Specifically, these programs are: 

  • Disabled Widow/Widowers Benefits
  • Benefits for a Surviving Divorced Spouse 

Programs such as these are designed to assist disabled stay-at-home spouses who haven't worked or didn't earn enough Social Security credits to qualify for disability benefits. Qualifying for these disability benefits means financial security when you need every resource available.

Considering that the eligibility rules for these disability cases under widow benefits law can be quite complex, we will examine them separately.

Disabled Widow/Widower’s Benefits    

You may apply for widow/widowers disability benefits by meeting and proving the following conditions once you have verified your late spouse paid enough Social Security taxes as a wage earner to qualify for SSDI benefits:

1. Age Requirement

The applicant must be at least 50 years old but not yet 60 years old. Two years after becoming eligible for Widow's/Widowers Disability benefits, a disabled widow/widower will also become eligible to receive Medicare benefits. The widow/widower becomes entitled to SSDI benefits without having to prove disability at age 60. 

2. Marriage Of 9 Months Minimum

At the time of the deceased spouse's death, you must have been married to them for at least nine months.

3. Marital Status

Most of the time, a widow/widower age 50-59 eligible for remarriage cannot marry a different spouse. For eligible widows and widowers over 60 years of age, remarriage doesn't disqualify them from widow/widower benefits if all other conditions are met.

4. Prove You Are Disabled

As part of its 5-Step Evaluation Process and disabilities criteria used by the regular SSDI program, Social Security must find you to be disabled. Disability is defined by the SSA as follows:

Individuals are perceived to be disabled if they cannot engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) due to any medically determinable physical or mental impairments that may result in death or have lasted or may continue to last for a continuous period, not less than 12 months.

5. Seven Year Prescribed Period

The seven years following the death of your spouse are your deadline for meeting these requirements. The seven-year policy period is known as the "prescribed period." That means that within seven years after the death of your spouse, SSA must determine that you have a disability and are the legal spouse. Thereby, you are entitled to your deceased spouse's SSDI payments. 

One of the most difficult hurdles to overcome is proving that your disability began within the required seven-year period. Your medical records should establish when and how your disability started.

Example: You lost your spouse of 17 years on April 2, 2020. At the time, you were 45 years old. To file a Widow or Widower's disability claim on your spouse's record, you must become disabled and reach age 50 between April 2, 2020 (the date of death) and the end of April 2027 (the end of the seven-year prescription period). In addition, you must meet all SSA criteria to be determined to be a disabled widow/widower.

An exception to the prescribed period: 

If dependent children receive Survivor's Benefits, the seven-year window can be extended.  Benefits are available to widows and widowers at any age if they have a dependent child from their marriage who is younger than 16 or disabled and is receiving SSDI benefits based on the earnings of the deceased parent.

6. Sufficient Work Record

If you are a widow or widower with enough work history, you may apply for disability benefits under your record and your deceased spouse's record; however, you will only receive benefits based on the higher of the two records.

7. Five Month Waiting Period

To qualify for the Disabled Widow/Widowers Benefit, you must first wait five months as in a regular Social Security Disability Insurance claim.

There is always an onset date that attorneys watch for. They can amend a waiting period of five months to occur before the death of a spouse in certain cases. The five-month waiting period is served while the spouse is still alive if the date of disability onset can be determined five months before the spouse's death. Therefore, entitlement begins the month after the spouse's death, and the waiting period is over. By doing so, they can maximize their past-due benefits.

Disability Benefits For A Disabled Surviving Divorced Spouse

You may be eligible for benefits as a surviving divorced spouse if you are disabled and divorced from a deceased ex-spouse. There is one major difference between this program and the above criteria for widows and widowers: a minimum of 10 years of marriage is required. 

1. Age Requirement

Social Security disability benefits are only available to people over 50 but not yet 60. As of age 60, widows and widowers can receive their deceased spouse's SSDI benefits without being disabled.

2. Marital Status

The applicant must be unmarried (unless remarried after age 50). Remarriage before age 50 would keep the applicant from qualifying.

3. Marriage Of 10 Years Minimum

At the time of the divorcing spouse's death, they must have been married for at least ten years. The ten years must start over if you divorce and remarry after a separation of one year or more. 

Example: For example, say you married for four years, got divorced for two years, then remarried for six years, then got divorced again for another two years. You will not qualify as a surviving divorced spouse if you have been married to the same person for ten years.  

There is an exception to the ten-year rule if you still care for an under-16-year-old or disabled child from your marriage.

4. Prove You Are Disabled

To qualify for SSDI, you must meet the SSA's disability requirements for individuals aged 50 to 59.

5. Seven Year Prescribed Period

In addition to widow's disability benefits, you have seven years to meet these requirements from your spouse's death. These seven years are referred to as the "prescribed period."

An exception to the prescribed period:  

Dependent children receiving Survivor's Benefits may qualify for an extension of this 7-year window.  Depending on how much the deceased parent earned, a child from the marriage under 16 or disabled may qualify for SSDI benefits.

6. Surviving Divorced Spouse With A Sufficient Work Record

Divorced spouses with sufficient work records may file claims for disability benefits under their records and the deceased spouse's record. However, you can only draw benefits based on the higher record of the deceased spouse.  

As a divorced survivor, your benefits will not affect your benefits as an unmarried, divorced spouse. If a child is under the age of 16 or a disabled child from a previous marriage, your benefit will affect the payments to others receiving benefits on the deceased worker's record.

How Much Do You Receive?

According to the Social Security Administration, a survivor's payment is calculated based on the Social Security benefits the deceased spouse was collecting. If benefits were not claimed by the deceased, payments were based on their entitlements. To receive your widow's or widower's benefits, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Full retirement age or older: 100% of the deceased worker’s benefit amount 
  • Age 60 to full retirement age: 71.5 to 99% of the deceased worker’s benefit amount 
  • Aged 50 through 59 and are disabled: 71.5% of the deceased worker’s benefit amount
  • Any age, caring for a child that is disabled or under age 16: 75% of the deceased worker’s benefit amount

Family Maximum Benefits

Benefits paid by the Social Security Administration to family members have a limit. The Social Security Administration calculates this amount based on a specific formula each year. Families are entitled to a maximum based on their primary insurance amounts.  Nevertheless, the primary benefit remains unchanged. Reduced benefits would be paid to the rest of the family.

Applying for Widow or Surviving Divorced Spouse Disability Benefits

The SSA requires certain information to prove your eligibility for widow's or widowers' disability benefits. Examples include:

  • Your name and Social Security Number (SSN)
  • Social Security Number and name of the deceased
  • The death certificate of your late spouse
  • Documented proof of your birth, such as a birth certificate
  • If you are applying for disability benefits for a surviving divorced spouse, you will need your final divorce papers
  • Certificate of marriage
  • Document proving citizenship or lawful alien status in the United States
  • Birth certificates and Social Security Numbers of dependent children, if available
  • The latest W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return of the deceased spouse
  • Bank account information 

Get Help From An Attorney

This article aims to introduce readers to this complex area of Social Security law. Every individual's circumstances are different, influencing eligibility and even the strategy used in filing.

Suppose you have lost a spouse or ex-spouse. In that case, we urge you to speak with a Social Security lawyer immediately to determine whether you qualify for disability benefits, either as a widow or widower or as a surviving divorced spouse.

In addition to providing you with a highly informative initial consultation, a lawyer can assist you in preparing your initial application or take your case to appeal if your claim is denied. 

Applying for Social Security benefits can be an overwhelming process. If you seek SSDI benefits, check out our article about what you should not tell a disability doctor. To learn more, visit DisabilityHelp.org today!

Do You Qualify?
Disability Evaluation
Chloe Powers
Chloe works with policymakers on behalf of Disability Help to support their work at a strategic level, ensuring the conditions are in place for creative individuals and organizations to grow, reach their potential and effect relevant, sustainable change.
Do You Qualify?
Disability Evaluation
17595 Harvard Ave. C2480-C Irvine, CA 92614
(949) 979-6850
© 2024 Disability Help. All Rights Reserved.
DMCA.com Protection Status
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram