Social Security Survivors Benefits After the Death of a Disabled Worker

If a disabled individual dies, his or her spouse and dependents may get Social Security survivors benefits.

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When a disabled person who was receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) dies, the money that they were receiving can go his or her dependents, including a spouse, children, and even elderly dependent parents. (SSDI is a monthly disability payment that is provided to individuals who have sufficient work history; see our overview of SSDI. These benefits, known as survivors benefits, are not available to the dependent relatives of SSI recipients.)

Here are the various categories of relatives who are eligible to receive survivors benefits.

Surviving Spouses

If your spouse who was receiving SSDI benefits dies, you may be eligible to receive widow's or widower's benefits. (This is only true, however, if your spouse was "currently insured" before becoming disabled.)

There are several different ways to be eligible for benefits as a widow. These different categories of eligibility affect the percentage of your deceased spouse’s SSDI benefit that you are eligible to collect.

Here are the categories along with the percentage of your deceased spouse’s SSDI benefit you are eligible to receive.

  • You care for a child under the age of 16 years old who receives survivor SSDI benefits from your deceased spouse.
    • You will receive 75% of your deceased spouse’s SSDI benefit.
  • You are at least 50 years old and disabled, and your disability started before your spouse died or within seven years of your spouse’s death (unless you were receiving mother's or father's benefits).
    • You will receive 71.5% of your deceased spouse’s SSDI benefit.
  • You are at least 60 years old but not yet full retirement age.
    • You will receive 71.5% - 99% of your deceased spouse’s SSDI benefit.
  • You are at least full retirement age. 

Here are some interesting twists on the surviving spouse benefit.

Remarriage. If you remarry before the age of 60 years old, you cannot receive benefits as a surviving spouse. If you get remarried after you reach the age of 60 years old, or 50 years old if you are disabled, your SSDI benefits will not be affected.

Own retirement benefit. For widows who are of retirement age, the benefit that they could receive based on their own work history may be higher than the money that they receive from their deceased spouse’s SSDI benefits. You can choose to receive whichever payment is higher.

Caring for deceased spouse's child. If a widow is receiving benefits based on caring for a child under 16 years old who receives SSDI benefits based on the deceased spouse's earnings record, the benefits to the widow will generally end when the child turns 16 years old. However, if the child is disabled and continues to be in the care of the widow and receive SSDI benefits on the deceased parent's earnings record, the widow can continue to receive SSDI payments as well.

Working. If you work while collecting a widow's or widower's benefit, your monthly benefit may be reduced, depending on your age and your earned income. For more information, see our article on working and survivors benefits.

Nine-month marriage requirement. In most cases, to be eligible for the surviving spouse benefit, the widow must have been married to the deceased spouse for at least nine months. However, there are many exceptions to this rule; for instance, if the deceased spouse died due to a violent accident, this requirement doesn't usually apply.

Children

If your parent died while receiving SSDI benefits or insured for SSDI, you may be eligible for Social Security survivor benefits. Social Security includes natural children, adopted children, and stepchildren as children of a parent. In order to receive survivor benefits as a child, you must be:

  • unmarried, and
  • younger than 18 years old.

You will receive 75% of your deceased parent’s SSDI benefit until your 18th birthday; payments will actually stop the month before you turn 18 years old. The amount of your payment is subject to the family maximum benefit rules; see below.

If you are 18 years old or older, you may still be able to receive Social Security survivor benefits if you are in high school or disabled. See the “Adult Children” section below.

Adult Children

As an adult child, which includes all children who are 18 years old or older, you may be eligible for Social Security survivor benefits under either of two circumstances.

  • You are under 19 years old and a full-time student in a secondary school. (This only includes schooling through high school; being a full-time student at a college or university does not qualify you under this exception.)
  • You are disabled and you became disabled before the age of 22.

Qualified adult children will receive 75% of their deceased parent’s SSDI benefit, the same as children under 18. If the adult child is receiving benefits because as a full-time student, the benefits will end when school is completed or two months after turning 19, whichever comes first. Disabled adult children will continue to receive benefits for as long as they are disabled.

Grandchildren

As a grandchild (which includes stepgrandchildren), you may be eligible to receive survivor benefits on the record of a deceased grandparent if the following requirements are met:

  • Your biological parents are deceased or disabled and are not making regular contributions to support you.
  • You began living with your grandparent before the age of 18 years old and your grandparent provided at least half of your support for 12 months before his or her death.
  • For babies under 12 months old, the infant has lived with the grandparent for substantially all of his or her life and the grandparent provided at least half of the infant's support.

Qualified grandchildren will receive 75% of their grandparent’s SSDI benefit, the same as children. The payments will continue until the grandchild’s 18th birthday; payments will actually stop the month before the grandchild turns 18 years old.

If the grandchild is adopted by the grandparents, the above requirements need not be met. The adopted grandchild will need to meet the requirements laid out in the “Children” section.

Elderly Parents

If your disabled child was providing substantial support to you as an elderly parent, you can receive a percentage of their  Social Security benefits if they die only if they were fully insured for Social Security at the time of death. In addition, all of the following must be true.

  • Your disabled child provided at least half of your support at the time of their death.
  • You are at least 62 years old.
  • You have not married since your disabled child’s death, and
  • You are not entitled to your own Social Security benefits that would be higher than the benefit you would receive based on your deceased child's earnings record.

If you are the only surviving parent, you will receive 82.5% of your deceased child’s Social Security benefits. If there are two surviving parents, each parent will receive 75% of the deceased child’s benefit.

Note that you have only two years after the death of your disabled child to provide evidence to show that your child provided at least one half of your support.

Maximum Family Amount

There is a limit to how much a family gain receive based on their deceased relative’s Social Security benefits. Generally, a family cannot receive more than 150-180% of the total amount of the deceased’s Social Security benefit. If the percentage of awarded benefits would be higher than that percentage, each family member's percentage would be reduced proportionally until the awarded amount meets the percentage limit.

Note that benefits paid to surviving divorced spouses generally don't count toward the maximum family benefit.

Surviving Divorced Spouses

While ex-husbands and ex-wives can collect a benefit based on their deceased ex-spouses earnings record, there is a different set of eligibility and payment rules. For more information, see our article on disability benefits for surviving divorced spouses.

by: , Contributing Author

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