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SSDI Benefits For The Widows, Widowers, And Surviving Divorced Spouses

Last updated: April 12, 2023

If you are a disabled widow(er) or a surviving divorced spouse, you may qualify for SSDI benefits as early as you reach the age of 50 based on the deceased spouse's earning records.

Special programs are offered by the Social Security Administration (SSA) for widows and widowers, as well as surviving divorced spouses, who are disabled and would like to receive SSDI retirement benefits based on the earnings record of their deceased spouse or ex-spouse. 

The specific purposes of these programs are as follows: 

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

These programs are designed to help disabled stay-at-home spouses who haven't worked and don't have enough Social Security credits in Social Security records to benefit from a disability claim filed on their behalf. There are many ways in which disability benefits can help you manage your finances when you need access to all the resources you can get your hands on.

The eligibility rules for these kinds of disability cases may be quite complicated, so let's take a closer look at each separately before moving on.

Disabled Widow(er)’s Benefits    

Several conditions must be met to claim widow or widowers disability benefits once you have confirmed your late spouse paid sufficient Social Security taxes as a wage earner for you to qualify for SSDI benefits. These conditions include: 

  1. Age Requirement: You must have reached the age of 50, but you have not yet reached the age of 60. Upon qualifying for Widow/Widowers Disability benefits, a disabled widow(er) will also become entitled to Medicare benefits two years after qualifying for Widow/Widowers Disability benefits. The widow/widower at the age of 60 can receive the SSDI benefits of their deceased spouses without showing any evidence of disability. 
  2. Marriage of 9 Months Minimum: The deceased person must have been married to you for a minimum of nine months when they passed away and at the time of death.
  3. Marital Status: There will most likely be circumstances where an eligible widow or widower between 50 and 59 cannot remarry. Generally, if a widow(er) is 60 years of age and that person has not remarried, they would not be disqualified from claiming widow or widower benefits if the rest of the requirements are met.
  4. Prove You Are Disabled: According to the five-step evaluation process and disability criteria used in Social Security's regular program, the SSA is required to determine that you are disabled after evaluating your application. The SSA's definition of disability is as follows:

Disability is the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) due to any medically determined physical or mental impairment(s) that can be expected to result in death or which have lasted or will last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months, or which have lasted or will last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

  1. Seven-Year Prescribed Period: As far as meeting these requirements is concerned, you have seven years from the date of the death of your spouse. A seven-year window is sometimes referred to as the "prescribed period." This means that the Social Security Administration must determine whether you are disabled within seven years of your spouse's death. You are, therefore, the legal spouse and entitled to receive your spouse's SSDI benefits. 

One of the toughest hurdles to clear is proving that your disability began within the seven years required to qualify for benefits. Your disability must be documented in medical records that establish when it started and how it progressed over time.

Example: On April 2, 2020, you learn that your husband of 17 years has passed away. During this period, you are 45 years of age. You will have seven years to become disabled and reach the age of 50 before you can file a claim for Widow or Widower's disability benefits based on your husband's record between April 2, 2020 (the date of death) and April 2, 2027 (the end of the seven years). To be found to be a disabled widow(er) by the SSA, you must also be able to meet all of the requirements.

The exception to the prescribed period: When dependent children receive Survivor's Benefits, the 7-year window may be extended to allow them to access the benefits. In other words, widows can get benefits regardless of their age, as long as they are taking care of a child from the marriage, whether they are young or disabled, and they have been receiving SSDI benefits based on the earnings of their deceased parent.

  1. If you are a widow or widower with a good work record, disability benefits can be claimed under both your and the deceased person's records; however, you will only receive benefits under the highest record. 
  2. 5-Month Waiting Period: To be eligible for the Disabled Widow/Widowers Benefit, you must wait five months. This waiting period applies to both claims for Social Security Disability Insurance.

Benefits lawyers are always on the lookout for the onset date of the case. A five-month waiting period may be amended in certain cases so that it occurs before the spouse's death, which will not count as a waiting period. The five-month waiting period is served as long as the spouse is still alive at the onset of the disability, i.e., if the disability began five months before the spouse's death, the waiting period is served while the spouse is still alive. Therefore, it is safe to say that the waiting period has ended, and the right to receive benefits begins from the month the spouse dies. Taking this approach allows you to maximize the amount of past-due benefits.

Disability Benefits for a Disabled Surviving Divorced Spouse

The surviving divorced women of deceased former spouses may be eligible for spouse benefits based on account of the deceased ex-spouse if you are disabled and divorced from the deceased person. 

Generally, this program's requirements are similar to those described above for a widow or widower. However, this program requires a minimum of 10 years of marriage rather than the ten years for a widow or widower. 

  1. Age Requirement: You must be at least 50 to qualify for Social Security benefits due to a disability, but you must not yet be 60. The widows and widowers that reach the age of 60 will be able to receive the SSDI benefits that their deceased spouse would have received if they had been disabled at the time of their death.
  2. Marital Status: The applicants must be single (unless they remarried after 50). Those who remarry before they are 50 would be ineligible and this might lead to the loss of benefits.
  3. Marriage of 10 Years Minimum: The deceased spouse must have been married to you when they passed away, and you must have been married to them for at least a decade before the final divorce date.

You must restart the ten years of marriage if you are divorced and remarry after a separation of one year or more because the ten years will need to be reset. As an example, if you are married for four years, divorced for two years, remarried the same person for another six years, and then get divorced again, you are not the surviving spouse of a divorced spouse, even though you have been married to that person for ten years.

If you still have a child from the relationship under the age of 16 or who is disabled, then the 10-year rule can be waived if you are caring for them.

  1. Prove You Are Disabled: The 50 - 59 year age rule specifies that to be eligible for SSDI, you must meet all SSA requirements related to disability applicable to your age group.
  2. Seven-Year Prescribed Period: There is a seven-year time period from the date of the spouse's death from which you must meet these requirements if you wish to qualify for widow's disability benefits. The "prescribed period" is a term that describes this seven-year period of time.

An exception to the prescribed period: It is possible to extend this 7-year window if the dependent child receives Survivor Benefits. The benefits may be available to you at any age if a child from the marriage under the age of 16 or who is disabled receives SSDI benefits based on the earnings records of the deceased parent.

Suppose you are a divorced couple's surviving spouse and have a good work record. In that case, you may be able to submit a claim for disability benefits under both your and the deceased's work records, but you will only be able to receive benefits based on the higher of the two work records.  

If you are a surviving divorced spouse, the survivors benefits rates for other survivors who are also receiving benefits on your deceased spouse's record will not be affected by the benefits you receive. If, however, you are caring for a child from the marriage under the age of 16 or who has a disability, your payment on the deceased worker's record will affect the payments of others receiving benefits on the deceased worker's record.

What Do Widows/Widowers or Surviving Divorced Spouses Receive?

The Social Security Administration calculates survivors' benefits payable based on the benefit the deceased spouse or ex-spouse received at the time of their death. If you do not claim the spousal benefits at the time of death, payments are made according to the amount due to the deceased. Some applicants may receive maximum benefits while others may receive reduced benefits. Several factors will determine the amount of widow's or widower's benefits you will receive or what the surviving spouse of a divorced person will receive based on age and family circumstances, and if you have reached:

  • 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

Family members are only entitled to certain monthly benefits from the Social Security Administration. To calculate this amount each year, the U.S. Social Security Administration uses a formula. The maximum aid to families is calculated by taking a percentage of the primary insurance amount and applying it. It should be noted, however, that the primary benefit does not change. Those benefits that would be lowered are the benefits that would be given to the rest of the family. 

Applying For Widow Or Surviving Divorced Spouse Disability Benefits

The Social Security Administration will need the information to prove your eligibility for a Disability Benefits for Widows or Widowers program or Survivors of Divorced Spouses program. The following information will be required:

  • Your name and Social Security Number 
  • The deceased employee's name and Social Security Number
  • The death certificate of your late spouse
  • Proof of your birth, such as a birth certificate
  • One must submit the final divorce papers to qualify for benefits for disabled surviving divorced spouses
  • Certificate of marriage
  • Citizenship or legal status as a US resident 
  • A birth certificate and social security number of each dependent minor child, if available
  • W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax returns for the most recent year of the deceased spouse
  • Information about your bank account 
  • With the help of an attorney, you will be able to avoid mistakes and ease your stress

There is a lot to learn about this complex area of Social Security law, and we've only touched upon the basics. Each person will have a unique set of circumstances that will directly impact their eligibility and the approach taken when making a claim.

You must contact a lawyer as soon as possible if your ex-spouse or spouse has passed away, so they can determine whether or not you qualify for disability benefits, whether you are a widow or widower, or whether you are the surviving spouse of a divorced or separated couple.

Applying for Social Security benefits can be an overwhelming process. If you are interested in seeking SSDI benefits, check out our article about the effect of age on disability applications. To learn more, visit DisabilityHelp.org today!

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Victor Traylor
An expert to the field of Social Justice, Victor formed Disability Help to connect ideas and expertise from the US with rising global cultural leadership, building networks, fostering collaboration, long-term results, mutual benefit, and more extensive international perception.
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