People who work long enough for employers that pay taxes to the Social Security Administration (SSA) can become eligible for Social Security Disability insurance (SSDI). SSDI is a federal insurance program that provides cash payments to disabled workers and their families. SSDI benefits are also available to certain family members after a worker dies. These are called survivors benefits.
Survivors Benefits for Spouses
If your spouse was insured for SSDI when he or she died, you may be eligible for a survivors benefits based on his or her earnings record, if your spouse was fully insured under the SSDI program. The type of survivors benefit you can get will depend on how old you were when your spouse died, whether or not you are disabled, and whether or not you care for your spouse’s minor or disabled child.
To get widow(er)'s benefits, you need to have been married to your husband or wife for at least nine months before he or she died. In some cases you can get benefits even if you weren’t married for nine months prior to your spouse’s death; for instance, you are the parent of your spouse's child. You can learn about those exceptions on the SSA’s website.
If you aren’t disabled. Non-disabled widow(er) benefits may be available to you if you are 60 or older. You will get reduced retirement benefits at the age of 60 if you want to take advantage of benefits before full retirement age. If you wait until your full retirement age, you can get the full retirement amount.
If you are disabled. You may be eligible for disabled widow(er) benefits (DWB) if you meet all of the following requirements:
- You are at least 50 years old.
- The SSA has determined that you are disabled.
- Your disability began between the ages of 50 and 60 years old , and
- Your disability began before your spouse died or within seven years after your spouse died.
If you get remarried. Remarriage will usually end your eligibility, but if you get married again after you turn 60 years old (or after 50 years old if you are disabled), your benefits will not be stopped. If you remarry and that marriage ends, you can become eligible again for widow(er)'s benefits. Same-sex relationships don’t currently affect entitlement to benefits.
Medicare eligibility. If you are a disabled widow or widower aged 50 or older, you may be eligible for Medicare benefits. Contact the SSA for more information.
Mother's or Father's Benefits
If you take care of your deceased spouse’s adopted or biological child, you may be eligible for mother’s or father’s benefits. In some cases, taking care of stepchildren, grandchildren, and even step-grandchildren may qualify for benefits.
Here are the requirements for eligibility for mother’s or father’s benefits.
- You take care of your deceased spouse’s child who is eligible for survivors benefits on your spouse’s earnings record and is under the age of 16 or disabled.
- You have not remarried.
- You aren’t entitled to a higher benefit amount based on your own earnings record, and
- You aren’t eligible for DWB (discussed above).
If you get remarried. If you remarry at any age, you can’t get mother’s or father’s benefits anymore. However, if your subsequent marriage ends, your benefits can be restarted. Same-sex relationships don’t currently affect entitlement to benefits.
Survivors Benefits for Children
Children under the age of 18, or up to 19 if going to elementary or secondary school full time, can get survivors benefits based on the deceased parent’s earnings history. If the child became disabled before he or she was 22, benefits are available for the child regardless of age. In addition to the biological child of the deceased worker, an adopted child, stepchild, grandchild, and even step-grandchild may be eligible for the child's benefit. The child must be unmarried.
Survivors Benefits for Divorced Spouses
If your former spouse dies and was insured under SSDI, you may be eligible for the same survivors benefits as if you had stayed married. The requirements for getting benefits as a divorced spouse are:
You were married to your former spouse for at least ten years.
- You have not remarried (unless you are over 60, or over 50 if you're disabled), and
- You cannot get an equal or higher benefit amount on your own or someone else’s record.
What Will My Benefit Amount Be?
Your benefit amount depends on how much your spouse earned over the course of his or her lifetime. The higher the lifetime earnings, the higher the benefit amount will be. The most you can get is what your spouse would have be entitled to if he or she were still alive. Here are some examples:
- If you are a widow(er) who has reached full retirement age, you can get 100% of your spouse’s benefit amount.
- If you are a widow(er) who is aged 60 up to full retirement age, you can get 71 ½% to 99% of your spouse’s benefit amount.
- If you are a disabled widow(er) who is aged 50 through 59, you can get 71 ½% of your spouse's benefit amount.
- If you are entitled to mother’s or father’s benefits, you can get 75% of your spouse's benefit amount.
If your spouse's children are also receiving survivors benefits, you may get less than this amount because there is a limit to the amount that a family can receive. The family benefit limit is variable but is generally the equivalent of 150% to 180% of the deceased worker’s benefit amount.
If you are an eligible surviving former spouse, your benefit amount is the same as that of a surviving current spouse. Divorced spouse’s benefits do not affect the benefit amount any other family member may be entitled to.
Benefit amounts for spouses and former spouses can be affected if they get benefits on their own work record or if they are entitled to a pension for work that isn’t covered by Social Security.
What If My Adult Child Took Care of Me?
If you were dependent on your adult child, to provide care for you, you may be eligible for dependent parent’s benefits if you are 62 or older and unmarried. You also may be eligible for Medicare. For more information, see our article on Social Security survivors benefits for parents of deceased workers.
How Do I Apply For Benefits?
How you apply for survivor's benefits depends on whether or not you were getting Social Security benefits when the insured worker died.
If you were getting benefits at the time of death. If you were already getting benefits based on your spouse or parent's earnings record when he or she died, you will first need to tell the SSA about the death. The SSA will then automatically convert your monthly benefits to survivor benefits. If you are getting retirement or SSDI benefits based on your own earnings record, you will have to apply for survivor benefits to see if you are eligible for a higher benefit amount.
If you weren't getting benefits at the time of death. If you weren't getting spouse or child benefits at the time of death, you will have to apply for survivor benefits. Make sure you do this as soon as your spouse or parent has died, because you can't always get retroactive benefits going back to his or her date of death.
To apply for survivor benefits, call the SSA at 800-772-1213. If you have trouble hearing, you can call TTY 800-325-0778. You can also apply in person at your local field office, but make sure you schedule an appointment first.