The sudden death of a spouse can be emotionally and financially devastating.
It’s even worse if you’re disabled and unable to work when your spouse is gone.
Many people are familiar with survivor benefits, which they can start collecting at age 60. However, a disabled spouse can begin receiving widow or widower benefits at age 50.
To receive these benefits, you must be age 50, and your disability must have started within 7 years of your spouse’s death. Widow/widower benefits are capped at 71.5% of what the deceased spouse would have received in Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.
Typically, this amount is more than the $750 per month that Supplemental Security Income (SSI) pays each month. If an individual qualifies for both SSI and widow’s benefits, it’s usually more advantageous to them to apply for the widow’s benefits.
Often, widows or widowers who pursue these benefits have limited education and work experience, making them ineligible to pursue Social Security Disability Insurance benefits based on their own earnings.
Thankfully, the Social Security Administration has rules in place that takes age, education, and work experience in account when pursuing disability benefits. These are called the “grid rules.”
For example, if a 50-year-old widow has no past relevant work, and less than a high school education, she does not need to show that she cannot do any jobs. Instead, if she is limited by a severe impairment to sedentary work, Social Security’s “grid rules” would find that she is disabled.
The grid rules change again when a claimant turns 55. Let’s say that in that case a 55-year-old widower with no past relevant work and a high school degree is limited to what Social Security considers “light work,” such as a cashier or housekeeping job.
In that case, the 55-year-old would also grid because of his age and limited work experience.
Admittedly, widow and widower’s benefits can get confusing for claimants unfamiliar with the disability system, but an experienced disability attorney can help guide you through the process.