Surviving spouses and even divorced surviving spouses (who were married at least ten years) can sometimes get Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) based on their deceased spouse's work record. These benefits are called disabled widow(er)'s benefits (DWB). The deceased spouse must have worked enough years paying Social Security taxes into the system for the surviving spouse or surviving ex-spouse to be eligible for Social Security benefits.
The surviving spouse or ex-spouse must be at least age 50 and disabled to be eligible for SSDI auxiliary benefits (benefits based on someone else's work record), and must have become disabled before age 60 and no later than seven years after the deceased spouse's death. This seven-year period is known as the prescribed period.
If the widow or ex-spouse received mother's or father's benefits for caring for the deceased spouse's children, the seven-year period starts when the mother's or father's benefit ends. As you can see, this exception can greatly lengthen the time an individual is eligible to apply for disabled widow or widower's benefits.
If a surviving spouse or ex-spouse became disabled immediately after her spouse's death, but she did not reach the age of fifty within seven years of her spouse's death, she will not be eligible for benefits. If the surviving spouse does become disabled within seven years of her spouse's death, and is over age 50, she will be eligible for disability benefits, but the benefits will not be payable for the months before the surviving spouse reached age 50, even though the impairment may have existed before age 50.
Whether or not a widow or widower is disabled, he or she can file for a survivor's benefit based upon age alone at age sixty. For more information on these benefits, see our articles on Social Security survivors benefits and survivors benefits for divorced spouses.