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Can I receive disability benefits if my deceased spouse was receiving benefits?

You cannot receive disability benefits based on anyone’s disability except your own. You can, however, receive survivor’s benefits under certain circumstances. It’s also worth noting that in some cases, your deceased spouse’s earnings and contributions to FICA can be considered in determining the amount of disability benefits you are entitled to if you are also disabled.

Generally speaking, if you are of retirement age (62 years old), you can receive Social Security retirement benefits based on your spouse’s record with the SSA. In some cases, you may be able to receive disability benefits based upon his (or her) earnings if you’re also disabled.

In order to qualify, you must either be disabled at the time of your spouse’s death or become disabled within seven years of his/her death. In most cases, you will qualify for survivor’s benefits as long as you were married for at least nine months. You may also qualify if you are the parent of the deceased’s minor children (either biologically or through adoption). Here are some additional exceptions to the “nine month rule”:

  • Your spouse’s death was accidental. “Accidental” in this case means that it was the result of bodily injury as a result of a violent accident.
  • Your spouse was a member of the Armed Services on active duty and died as a result of his or her service.
  • Your spouse was previously married to someone who was institutionalized and was legally unable to divorce her. In such cases, the nine months may be waived if you were married shortly after the institutionalized spouse’s death.
  • If you had previously been married (to the same spouse) for at least nine months, divorced, and remarried.

If your spouse qualified for and received SSDI, then he had earnings which also counted towards Social Security retirement and survivor’s benefits. Both you and any minor children in the home will likely qualify.

The amount of Social Security survivor’s benefits to which you are entitled varies depending on the amount of retirement benefit your deceased spouse was entitled to, your age and (potentially) how long you were married. In most cases, you will be entitled to full benefits if you are of retirement age (62 or older). If you are over 50, but under 62, you will be eligible for a percentage based on your age. This percentage ranges from 71-99%.

If you have not worked and paid into FICA yourself, but your deceases husband or wife did, you may be eligible for disability benefits based on his or her contributions if you are also disabled. If you both worked and paid into FICA, you may be eligible to benefits based on your spouse’s contributions if his or her benefit amount is greater than yours. These benefits won’t stack, but you can claim the higher of the two benefits.

The laws regarding survivor benefits can be tricky. If you are not sure whether you qualify for benefits based on your deceased spouse’s (or ex-spouse’s) FICA contributions, contact the SSA.

If you are disabled, and need to claim benefits based on your deceased spouse’s FICA contributions, you should consider consulting a Social Security disability lawyer as early in the process as possible. You will need to prove your disability, the same as any other claimant needs to. This can be a time consuming process, and most claimants are denied. Having an experienced Social Security disability attorney in your corner vastly improves your chances of being approved for benefits.

Be prepared to wait several months while applying for Social Security disability benefits. Most claims take three to six months to process. Claims which require going through the appeals process can take much longer.