Survivors Benefits for Dependents of SSDI Recipients

Spouses and children of someone who died while eligible for SSDI may be able to get survivor benefits, depending on their age.

By , J.D. University of Baltimore School of Law
Updated 1/19/2024

People who work long enough for employers that pay taxes to the Social Security Administration (SSA) can become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits or Social Security disability insurance (SSDI). SSDI is a federal insurance program that provides cash payments to disabled workers and their families. Social Security benefits are also available to certain family members after a worker dies. These are called survivors benefits.

Survivors benefits are often available to spouses and children of workers who were insured for Social Security retirement benefits or SSDI benefits.

Survivors Benefits for Spouses

If your spouse was insured for SSDI or retirement benefits when they died, you might be eligible for a survivor benefit based on their earnings record.

The type of survivors benefit you can get will depend on:

  • how old you were when your spouse died
  • whether or not you're disabled, and
  • whether or not you care for your spouse's minor or disabled child.

Widow(er)'s Benefits

To get widow(er)'s benefits, you need to have been married to your husband or wife for at least nine months before they died. In some cases, you can get benefits even if you weren't married for nine months before your spouse's death; for instance, if you're the parent of your spouse's child, you can get "mother's or father's benefits" (more on this below).

Your spouse also needed to be fully insured under the SSDI program or retirement program for you to get widow's benefits. To be fully insured, your spouse needs to have had between 6 and 40 work credits, depending on the age they died. (20 C.F.R. § 404.110(b).)

Here are the circumstances in which you can get widow's benefits:

You aren't disabled. Non-disabled widow(er) benefits may be available to you if you're 60 or older. If you want to take advantage of benefits before full retirement age, you can get reduced retirement benefits at the age of 60. If you wait until the full retirement age for survivors benefits, you can get the full amount that your spouse was receiving, or was entitled to receive.

You are disabled. You might 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 either before your spouse died or within seven years after your spouse died.

You aren't married. Remarriage will usually end your eligibility for survivors benefits. But if you remarry and that marriage ends, you can become eligible again for widow(er)'s benefits. Also, if you remarry after you turn 60 years old (or after 50 years old if you're disabled), Social Security won't stop your benefits.

Mother's or Father's Benefits

If you take care of your deceased spouse's adopted or biological child after their death, you might be eligible for "mother's or father's benefits." In some cases, taking care of stepchildren, grandchildren, and even step-grandchildren might 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 disabled widower's benefits (discussed above).

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.

Survivors Benefits for Children

Children under the age of 18 can get survivors benefits based on their deceased parent's earnings history, if they're unmarried. A child can get benefits up to age 19 if they're still going to high school full-time. And if a child became disabled before he or she was 22, benefits are available for the child regardless of age.

In addition to the biological children of the deceased worker, an adopted child, stepchild, grandchild, and even step-grandchild might be eligible for the child's benefit.

Survivors Benefits for Divorced Spouses

If your former spouse dies and was insured under the Social Security retirement or SSDI program, you might be eligible for the same survivors benefits as if you had stayed married. You must meet all of the following requirements to get survivors benefits as a divorced spouse:

  • You were married to your former spouse for at least ten years.
  • You haven't remarried (unless you get remarried over age 60, or over age 50 if you're disabled).
  • You can't get an equal or higher benefit amount on your own or someone else's record.
  • Your spouse was fully insured for Social Security benefits.

Note that, if you take care of your ex-spouse's child, you can qualify for mother's or father's benefits even if you got divorced before you had been married ten years.

What Will My Benefit Amount Be?

Your benefit amount depends on how much your spouse earned over the course of their lifetime. The higher their lifetime earnings, the higher your benefit amount will be. The most you can get is what your spouse would have been entitled to if they were still alive. Here are some examples:

  • If you're a widow(er) who has reached full retirement age, you can get 100% of your spouse's benefit amount.
  • If you're a widow(er) who is between age 60 and full retirement age for survivors, you can get 71½% to 99% of your spouse's benefit amount.
  • If you're a disabled widow(er) who is aged 50 through 59, you can get 71 ½% of your spouse's benefit amount.
  • If you're 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 might 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're an eligible surviving former spouse, your benefit amount is the same as that of a surviving current spouse, but it's not subject to the family maximum. And divorced spouse's benefits don't 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're entitled to a pension for work that isn't covered by Social Security.

Benefit for Parents: What If My Adult Child Took Care of Me?

If you were financially dependent on your adult child to provide care for you, you could be eligible for surviving parent's benefits if you're 62 or older and unmarried. You also might be eligible for Medicare. For more information, see our article on Social Security parent's benefits.

How Do I Apply for Benefits?

How you apply for survivors 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 their 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 survivors benefits.

If you're getting retirement or SSDI benefits based on your own earnings record, you'll have to apply for survivors benefits to see if you're 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'll have to apply for survivors benefits. Make sure you do this as soon as your family member has died, because you can't always get retroactive benefits going back to their date of death.

To apply for survivors 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.

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