Social Security Survivors Benefits After the Death of a Disabled Worker

When disabled individuals die, their spouses and dependents may be able to get Social Security survivors benefits depending on their age and marital status.

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When people who were receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) dies, the money they were receiving can go to their dependents, including a spouse, children, and even elderly dependent parents. These after-death benefits are known as "survivors benefits."

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

Surviving Spouses of SSDI Recipients

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

You can be eligible for benefits as a widow in several different ways. Depending on your category of eligibility, you'll be eligible to collect a certain percentage of your deceased spouse's SSDI benefit.

Here are the categories along with the percentage of your deceased spouse's SSDI benefit you can receive.

  • You care for a child under the age of 16 years old who receives survivors 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 full retirement age or older.

Here are some interesting twists on the surviving spouse benefit.

Remarriage. If you remarry before the age of 60 years old, you can't 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 switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62.

Caring for deceased spouse's child. If a widow is receiving benefits because they're 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 based 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. The requirement is also waived if you were in a same-sex relationship and your marriage didn't meet the nine-month requirement due to discriminatory marriage laws.

Children of Deceased SSDI Recipients

If your parent died while receiving SSDI benefits or insured for SSDI, you may be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits. Social Security includes natural children, adopted children, and stepchildren as children of a deceased parent. In order to receive survivors 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 survivors benefits if you are in high school or disabled. See the "Adult Children" section just below.

Adult Children of Deceased SSDI Recipients

As an adult child—a child of an SSDI recipient who is 18 years old or older—you may be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits under either of two circumstances.

  • You are under 19 years old and a full-time student in a secondary school. (This includes schooling through high school only; 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 an 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 and unmarried.

Grandchildren of Deceased SSDI Recipients

As a grandchild (which includes stepgrandchildren), you may be eligible to receive survivors 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 at least 12 months before dying.
  • For babies under 12 months old, the infant has lived with the grandparent for substantially all of the infant's, 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 for grandchildren need not be met. The adopted grandchild will instead need to meet the requirements laid out in the "Children" section.

Elderly Parents of Deceased SSDI Recipients

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 was providing 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 for Survivors Benefits

Social Security puts a limit on how much a family can 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 total awarded amount meets the percentage limit.

Note that benefits paid to surviving divorced spouses 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.

One-Time Lump-Sum Death Benefit

Social Security will pay a one-time lump-sum death payment of $255 to surviving spouses who were living with the SSDI recipient at the time of death. If they were living apart, they can still be able to receive the $255 if they were receiving Social Security benefits based on the deceased's record or if they are eligible for survivors benefits.

If the SSDI recipient did not have a surviving spouse, Social Security will pay the $255 lump-sum death benefits to a child or children who are eligible for benefits based on the deceased's record.

Here is the information you'll need to apply for the lump-sum death benefit.

Updated March 10, 2022

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