Important: We updated this article in June 2022 with the latest available SSA policy and beneficiary data. The Social Security Administration (SSA) reports that more than 2 million widows and widowers get monthly Social Security disability (SSD) benefits based on their deceased spouse’s earnings record. Another 4 million senior widows and widowers receive Social Security retirement survivor benefits. And for many of these surviving family members, the benefits keep them out of poverty. Even though SSD benefits are available for widows/widowers, many surviving spouses do not know that they are still eligible to receive their late spouses’ benefits. Read on for more information on how to apply for SSD survivor benefits.
Who Qualifies for Social Security Disability Survivor Benefits?
A widow or widower can receive reduced benefits as early as age 60. If they are full retirement age or older, they are eligible to receive full benefits. If you are age 50 and disabled (and your disability began before or within seven years of your loved one’s death), you also qualify for benefits. And those who are caring for the deceased spouse’s children will continue to receive Social Security benefits, as long as the disability starts before those payments end or within seven years after they end.
As long as a widow or widower isn’t remarried, they can receive survivor benefits if they:
- Care for the deceased loved one’s child under age 16 in their home
- Have a qualifying disability and are at least 50 years old
- Are at least 60 years old, not disabled and have no children younger than 16 living at home
IMPORTANT: If you have a child younger than 16 at home, you may apply for Social Security survivor benefits at any age.
How to Apply for Social Security Disability Survivor Benefits
As long as all you can meet all the requirements, you can apply for survivor’s benefits. Here are ways to apply:
- The best way to apply: Contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 Monday through Friday during business hours.
- You cannot apply for these benefits online.
- Once you contact your local office, request an appointment with an SSA agent.
- Deaf or hard of hearing claimants should call 1-800-325-0778 (TTY phone number).
- Disabled claimants can speed up the application process by filling out an Adult Disability Report and bringing it to their scheduled appointment.
You must bring the following documentation with you to your appointment at your local Social Security office:
- Death certificate or a notice from the funeral home
- Your Social Security number as well as the number of your deceased spouse
- Deceased spouse’s birth certificate
- Marriage certificate
- Most recent income tax forms
Widowed? Here’s What Else You Should Know About Survivor Benefits
One of the most important things to know about your widow/widower benefits is that no benefits are paid the month in which your spouse died. If your late spouse’s check is mailed or deposited into a joint account, that amount must be returned to the SSA. If the SSA determines that you, as the surviving spouse, qualify for benefits, they’ll deposit those new payments directly into your bank account. Learn more about how Social Security can help you when a family member dies.
Additionally, a surviving spouse will also receive a one-time lump-sum Social Security death benefit of $255. This is only for those who are living with their spouse at the time of his/her death.
Related: Can You Inherit Social Security Payments After Someone Dies?
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
If you still have questions, an experienced disability attorney or advocate near you can help. They can answer any questions you have about widow/widower survivor benefits. Sign up for a free phone call today to get confidential advice or claim help by phone. People who qualify for legal assistance are nearly 3x more likely to get disability benefits paid within 6 months.
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Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.