close up shot of social security

You can often continue to receive Social Security disability benefits when a spouse dies, especially if you are 60 or older. The payment amounts range from 71.5% to 100% of the pre-death benefit amount. Social Security can pay these survivors’ benefits to widows, widowers, and dependents, including young children and sometimes even parents who were dependent on the deceased. When people work and pay into Social Security, part of that money is reserved for survivor’s benefits.

Can You Continue to Receive Social Security Disability When a Spouse Dies?

Your spouse qualified for SSDI by gaining employment in a job or jobs that Social Security covered and having a medical condition meeting the Social Security framework of disability. When a person reaches full retirement age, SSDI benefits switch to retirement benefits.

You may continue to get your spouse’s Social Security disability when he or she dies. If you already receive SSDI based on your own disability, then you would apply for survivor’s benefits. Social Security officials will assess if your benefit would be higher as a widow or widower. SSDI is sometimes confused with Supplemental Security Income or SSI. However, survivor benefits are not given for SSI.

It is important to notify Social Security right away when your spouse dies. You typically do not do this yourself. Instead, you would give the funeral home your spouse’s Social Security number and ask them to make the report. Social Security does have local offices to call if you report the death yourself or need to apply for benefits.

In some cases, you might not need to apply for survivor benefits. If you were receiving benefits on your spouse’s record, then Social Security changes the benefit type to survivor benefits once they get the death notification. You might qualify for a special lump-sum death payment, too.

You will need to apply for survivor’s benefits, though, if you were already receiving SSDI benefits on your own record.

While many people do continue to receive Social Security disability when a spouse dies, some do not, or they receive a smaller amount. Here are some examples of when a benefit amount may be reduced or eliminated after a spouse dies:

  • You were married less than nine months. Fortunately, this rule has many exceptions, such as if your spouse died in a violent incident. Otherwise, you are not eligible for benefits.
  • You will work while collecting survivors’ benefits. In this type of situation, Social Security may reduce the monthly benefit amount depending on how old you are and how much money you make.

Consulting a Social Security disability lawyer can be helpful if you have concerns about whether you qualify for survivor’s disability benefits.

Just because you continue to receive Social Security disability when a spouse dies does not mean the payments will always continue. Remarriage is a prime example. If you get married again before you turn 60, you become ineligible to keep receiving survivor benefits. There are exceptions if you are 50 or older and disabled. Otherwise, if you wait until after you turn 60 to get remarried, the remarriage does not affect your surviving spouse’s benefits.

If you are taking care of your spouse’s minor child, your benefits could have an expiration date, too. Expect them to end when the child turns 16 years old. The exception is if the child is disabled as well, and you continue caring for him or her.

Your retirement is another instance when you might stop receiving surviving spouse benefits for disability. That is because your benefit amount could be higher than your spouse’s SSDI benefits. You become eligible to switch to your higher benefit amount at age 62 if you prefer that route.

Apply as quickly as possible for SSDI disability benefits after your spouse dies. Benefits are not always available retroactively, so you could be losing much-needed money to support yourself and your family.

Now, if you and your spouse are both alive, and one of you could be eligible for SSDI benefits but has not applied yet, consider applying as soon as possible. Doing so protects your family in case something happens. After you apply for benefits, you can check your disability claim status in three ways, including online.

It is possible to get SSDI benefits even if your spouse dies and had not yet applied. It helps if the Social Security Administration got a pre-death written statement to the effect that your spouse planned to file for disability benefits.

Who Can Get Social Security Survivors Benefits?

Spouses can get Social Security survivors benefits, and so can the deceased’s minor children, minor and adult children with disabilities, and even parents, grandchildren, stepchildren, and step grandchildren who were dependent on the spouse. Ex-spouses are eligible in certain cases, too. Some people hire a disability lawyer for SSDI benefits or survivors benefits if there is uncertainty surrounding the right to receive them.

Your spouse does not need to have been receiving disability benefits for you to qualify for straightforward survivors benefits. Many people meet the “insured status” for Social Security retirement, survivors, or disability benefits to be paid to survivors. However, much variability surrounds benefit amounts, depending on the worker’s age upon death, and how much and how long he or she had been working.

Additional Eligible Parties

To break down eligibility further, the people who could qualify to receive survivors benefits include widows and widowers 60 or older (or 50 or older with a disability), some divorced spouses, and widows and widowers regardless of their age caring for the deceased person’s child younger than 16 (or caring for a child with a disability receiving child’s benefits).

Other people who could qualify include unmarried children of the person who died if they are younger than 18 years old, or as old as 19 if they are a full-time elementary or secondary school student, or 18 or older with a disability they have had since before they turned 22. Adult children who are disabled and receiving benefits continue to do so as long as they are disabled and not married.

It is also possible for parents of the deceased to get benefits if they are 62 or older and relied on him or her for half or more of their support. Adopted children, stepchildren, grandchildren, and step grandchildren are eligible in some cases, too.

If you take survivors benefits before your full retirement age, you can collect them for longer. The downside is that benefit amounts are potentially reduced.

Divorced spouses can get the same benefits a widow or widower would if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. The benefits do not affect the benefits of other survivors on the deceased ex-spouse’s record.

If you are divorced from the deceased and were married less than 10 years, you can still qualify for benefits if you are caring for your former spouse’s child younger than 16 years old. In this particular case, the survivors’ benefits do impact the amount of benefits other people may get.

Parents 62 and older who depended on the deceased worker for at least half of their support may qualify for survivors benefits if the parents’ own retirement benefits are less than the survivors benefits. Stepparents and adoptive parents as well as natural parents may qualify for this.

Grandchildren and step grandchildren may qualify for survivors benefits if the child’s parents are dead or disabled, or if the grandparent had legally adopted the child. The grandchild (or step grandchild) must have been living with the grandparent before age 18 and gotten at least half of his or her support from the grandparent.

What Percentage of Disability Benefits Continue After a Spouse Dies?

Many husbands and wives continue to get Social Security disability when a spouse dies. Sometimes, they are eligible to collect 100% of the spouse’s SSDI benefit. Sometimes, they are eligible for 71.5% of the benefit, or up to 99%. Surviving spouses often collect:

  • 100%: If you are at least full retirement age, you get 100% of your spouse’s SSDI payments. Your full retirement age varies based on your birthdate.
  • 75%: You get three-fourths of your spouse’s SSDI benefit if you care for a child younger than 16 who receives survivors SSDI on your spouse’s record.
  • 71.5%: You get 71.5% of your spouse’s SSDI benefit if you are at least 50 years old and disabled and the disability began before your spouse’s death or within seven years after. However, you may be ineligible for spouse survivors benefits if you were receiving benefits based on one of your parent’s records.
  • 71.5% to 99%: You get 71.5% to 99% of your spouse’s SSDI payment if you are at least 60, but not at full retirement age.

The issue of what happens with Social Security disability when a spouse dies is not always straightforward. Much depends on the particulars of each situation.