Depending on where you’re located, it can take more than two years from the date of filing a disability application to get a hearing and decision from an administrative law judge.
Unfortunately, many claimants suffer from illnesses so severe that they simply cannot wait that long and pass away long before their hearing.
In these circumstances, the Social Security Administration lets family members step in to complete a claim and receive the deceased’s benefits, but the exact rules for substitution of party depend on whether a claimant filed for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits before death.
For SSDI cases, the substitution of party can be made (in order) by the spouse of the deceased, surviving children, surviving parents, and finally, the legal representative of the estate of the deceased.
To stand in for the claimant, the new party must submit a copy of the death certificate and complete form HA-539.
SSI claims are more restrictive in who can act as substitute for the deceased claimant. A surviving spouse who was living with the claimant within six months immediately preceding the month of the claimant’s death is a valid substitute.
Also, the parents of deceased children who were living with the child within six months of the date of death are an eligible substitution of party.
In both SSDI and SSI cases, the substituted party can either attend a hearing or request that a judge make a decision on the record.
If a hearing is held, the judge will ask the substituted party what they observed about the claimant from the time of their onset of disability until their death.
As this is understandably difficult for many people, some family members opt for a judge to make a decision on the record. In that case, the judge’s decision is based completely on the submitted medical evidence without any additional testimony.