If your spouse is physically or mentally unable to apply for Social Security disability benefits and you wish to file on their behalf, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has rules that make that possible in certain situations.
First, a quick note about SSA terminology. According to SSA's Program Operations Manual System (POMS), a "proper applicant" for disability benefits is a person who can sign a valid application on behalf of the disability claimant. The claimant is the individual on whose behalf the application is filed. Usually the claimant is also the proper applicant. However, if the claimant is unable to file his or her own application, a proper applicant may be the claimant's spouse, a court-appointed representative, or a relative responsible for the claimant's care.
Adult claimants who are physically and mentally able to do so should always sign their own disability applications. However, the claimant is not required to file the application under certain circumstances.
If physical limitations prevent a claimant from signing the application, a spouse or eligible third party may sign it instead. Some examples of qualifying physical problems include severe burns to the hands requiring extensive bandages, both arms in traction, temporary blindness as a result of eye surgery, paralysis, and coma.
The Social Security field office may require a written statement from the third-party applicant identifying the nature of his or her relationship with the claimant. A letter simply stating that you are the claimant's spouse and you reside together generally qualifies.
If a person has mental limitations that prevent him or her from understanding what filing for disability benefits means, if they suffer from seriously impaired reasoning or judgment, if they have been deemed legally incompetent, or if they're unable to communicate with others, a third-party proper applicant (including a spouse) may apply on the claimant's behalf.
In cases where the applicant is alleging legal incompetence, the Social Security field office requires a copy of the court order and proof of legal guardianship. A power of attorney alone does not allow a person to file for benefits on behalf of another. For other claims of mental incapacity, a supporting opinion from a doctor is usually necessary. If a doctor agrees that the claimant cannot understand the nature of the application, Social Security will send the claimant a letter stating that a claim was filed on his or her behalf, and allow ten days for the claimant to object.
In certain situations where an individual is out of town due to a family crisis or unavailable due to jury sequestration and a loss of benefits would occur, a spouse or other qualifying individual may be able to file the application for benefits.
If you or a third-party have taken steps toward applying for benefits but not actually completed an application, Social Security may assign you a protective filing date. The impact of a protective filing date differs depending on whether you're applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
For an SSDI application, a protective filing date can effectively extend the term of your disability insurance, allowing you to qualify for benefits even if your application was filed after your date last insured. For SSI, a protective filing date may allow you to receive an extra month or two of benefits. Filing dates can be protected for six months for SSDI, and 60 days for SSI.
To protect an SSDI filing date for your spouse, you should send written notice to SSA indicating your spouse's intention to file for disability within six months. It is even easier to protect an SSI filing date. Social Security's rules allow third parties such as church members, labor union representatives, veterans' groups, and many others (including spouses) to protect SSI filing dates, which can be done either in writing or over the phone.
When a claimant is approved for benefits and but is unable to manage his or her finances, Social Security will appoint a representative payee to handle the claimant's funds. When the claimant is married and living with the spouse, SSA usually appoints the spouse as representative payee. If the spouse has a history of substance abuse, gambling, or fraudulent behavior, another representative payee will be named.