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I am a widow and disabled. Am I entitled to social security benefits?

This is a good question. Your eligibility for Social Security disability insurance benefits (SSD) depends on two inquiries. First, are you personally eligible for SSD benefits based on social security tax contribution from employment and did you become “disabled” while covered under SSD? If so, you qualify for SSD benefits regardless of your spouse’s eligibility.

We’ll assume for the purposes of this response, that you are not eligible for SSD benefits based on your own social security contributions. We’ll assume further that your spouse was eligible for SSD benefits at the time he died. Therefore, if you are going to receive SSD benefits at all, it must come from your deceased husband’s SSD benefit eligibility.

Your eligibility to receive survivor SSD benefits begins at age 50 and depends on your age and the timing of the onset of your disability. The next requirement is that the onset of the disability must occur before you reach age 60. Next, your disabling condition must have started within seven (7) years of the latest of the two following dates: (1) the month your husband died or (2) the month your eligibility for disabled widow’s benefits ended. The second date involves the scenario where you were once receiving SSD survivor benefits based on being “disabled” but your condition improved and you are no longer “disabled” under Social security rules. To remain eligible for SSD survivor benefits you must become “disabled” again within seven (7) years of the previous disability ending, in order to remain eligible for the your spouse’s SSD benefits.

We’ll use a hypothetical to illustrate how the first scenario develops under social security rules. Assume that Diane is 57 years old and her husband was receiving SSD benefits (or was eligible) at the time he died. Throughout Diane’s life, she never contributed to social security until she had to get a job to pay for living expenses once her husband died. Two years later when Diane is 59 she is seriously injured in a car accident. The accident left Diane severely impaired and unable to work. Assume she now meets the definition of “disabled” under social security rules. By working for only two years Diane will not have earned enough “credits” to qualify for SSD.

However, she might qualify for SSD survivor benefits from her deceased husband’s eligibility. Diane is eligible since she is at least 50 years old and her disability began before she reached age 60. So long as the Social Security Administration finds Diane “disabled” in the required time period, she will receive SSD survivor benefits based on her husband’s SSD benefits. Here, Diane became “disabled” before she reached age 60, and, therefore, she will receive SSD survivor benefits.

To answer your question, in order to qualify for any social security benefits, you must first look at your own eligibility. If you earned enough social security credits throughout your life and became “disabled”, you will likely qualify for SSD benefits under your own eligibility. If your spouse received SSD benefits or was eligible when he or she died, you are at least 50 years old, and you become “disabled” before you reach age 60, then you qualify for SSD survivor benefits. You will receive the higher of the two benefits if you qualify for both SSD benefits based on your own credits and SSD survivor benefits based on your spouse’s credits, but you will not receive both benefits.

If you are disabled and wait to file, Social Security will grant you retroactive benefits beginning one year before you file for SSD benefits. Though there are some exceptions, you will not receive retroactive benefits from earlier than one year before your filing date. Therefore, if you are disabled, it is important that you file as soon as possible to ensure maximum retroactive benefits based on your and/or your deceased spouse’s SSD benefits.

Should you have any questions regarding social security benefits, or if you would like to consult with an attorney, please contact our office.