Q & A
My wife is on disability…Am I eligible for survivor’s benefits based on her disability benefits?
Complete Question: My wife has been on disability for many years. Before that, I had only thought about surviving spouse benefits in terms of what she would receive based on my retirement benefit. Unfortunately, things have taken a turn for the worst and it looks like I’m the one who will need to apply for widower’s benefits. But I’m not sure if I can since she is on disability. I’m 60 right now and cannot get my own Social Security benefits yet. Originally I was planning on waiting until I was at least 65, but now I might have to apply at 62 even though I don’t want to. What should I do?
Answer: There is a chance that you will have other options, depending on some of the details of your situation. The first key component is whether your wife is receiving SSI or SSDI disability benefits. SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is disability paid to people with limited income and resources. Since it is not based on work history and “paying into the system”, there are no surviving spouse benefits. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) on the other hand, is based on a person’s work history. Therefore, dependents such as yourself could possibly get survivors benefits if they meet other eligibility criteria
If your wife is receiving SSDI, the next major factor for eligibility is age. Unlike your regular Social Security benefit, you are eligible for surviving spouse benefits as early as age 60 (or 50 if you are disabled). So in your case, you are old enough to receive the benefit. It will be reduced because you are not yet full retirement age, but in the meantime, your own retirement benefit can continue to grow. In addition, when the time comes that your own benefit is larger than the survivor’s benefit, you can switch to your own benefit.
The other major consideration is marriage status: You have to be married to the deceased for at least nine months at the time of death. In addition, you can only remarry after the age of 60 to continue receiving survivor’s benefits. For example, if your spouse passes away when you are 58 and you remarry at 59, you will not be eligible for surviving spouse benefits. But if you remarry at the age of 61, you can continue those benefits until switching to other benefits. It does not sound like either of these exceptions apply to you, but it is still good information to know.
Of course there are other things that Social Security would look at in the same way as regular Social Security, such as earnings limits, but these are the major factors that would affect your eligibility.