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.
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:
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 marriage counts as remarriage only if you live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage.
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.
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.
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 marriage counts as remarriage only if you live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage.
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.
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.
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:
Need a lawyer? Start here.