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Social Security benefits for some disabled widows and widowers

Social Security pays monthly benefits to eligible disabled widows or widowers 50 to 59 years old.

We all grow up understanding that if we work regularly and contribute to Social Security, we will be eligible for monthly retirement payments in our older age. Many people also know that the same regular Social Security contributions make us potentially eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits should we become unable to work because of physical or mental impairment.

Disabled widows’ or widowers’ benefits

What few people know is that a small number of us will be eligible for Social Security payments because of our status as disabled widows or widowers, but based on their deceased spouses’ work records, rather than on their own. This class of benefit was created in 1968 to protect mainly the traditional wife who was a homemaker without much work experience (and thus little contribution to Social Security), but whose husband died prematurely, leaving her disabled and in financial need in the years approaching retirement age.

David A. Weaver, an official of the Social Security Administration or SSA, believes that this population of disabled widows and widowers are still at particular risk of poverty.

Interestingly, disabled widows’ or widowers’ benefits are still overwhelmingly received by women. Of course, such benefits are helpful no matter the gender of such a widowed person, since today women are more often the main breadwinners. In fact, some widows (and widowers) may be dually eligible for both disabled widows’ or widowers’ benefits on their spouses’ work records and for disabled workers’ benefits on their own work records.


Eligibility requirements for disabled widows’ or widowers’ benefits are:

  • Age 50 to 59
  • Marriage must have lasted at least nine months
  • Disabled under the federal definition (unable to work because of a severe physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments expected to last at least 12 months or result in death)
  • Disability began either before the working spouse’s death or within seven years after it (or before or within seven years after Social Security payments end for caring for the deceased worker’s kids)
  • Deceased spouse met the work history requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance eligibility
  • If remarried, remarriage must have happened after disability onset

Similar benefits exist for disabled surviving divorced spouses who meet most of these requirements provided the marriage lasted at least 10 years.

The amount of the monthly disabled widows’ or widowers’ benefit is 71.5 percent of the deceased spouse’s “primary insurance amount” or PIA, based on an average of his or her eligible wages before death. For a disabled widow or widower eligible for these benefits, if income and assets are low, he or she may also be eligible for another monthly payment of Supplemental Security Benefits or SSI, Social Security’s poverty-based program for the aged and disabled.

Legal counsel advisable

Securing Social Security disabled widows’ or widowers’ benefits can be complicated, so seeking the help of an experienced Social Security attorney can be very beneficial. A knowledgeable lawyer can help with the initial application and supporting medical and other evidence, as well as appeals, if necessary.

Keywords: Social Security, widow, widower, Social Security Disability Insurance, impairment, disabled widows’ or widowers’ benefits, eligibility, disability, spouse, marriage