Social Security Matters: Ask Rusty – Can I get a widow’s benefit if I’m on disability?
Dear Rusty: I was recently approved for my Social Security disability benefits. Will I still be able to get my widow’s benefits when I turn 60, which is right around the corner? Or do I lose those because I am disabled? Signed: An Uncertain Widow
Dear Uncertain Widow: You will not lose your survivor (widow’s) benefits because you are now collecting Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. You can get the survivor benefit if it is more than your SSDI benefit and provided that you did not remarry before age 60 (and remain married). If you are entitled to and claim a survivor benefit while on SSDI, it will come as a separate supplemental payment which, along with your SSDI benefit, equals the amount you are due as a widow.
If you are now on SSDI you can actually take your survivor benefit before age 60 because survivor benefits can be taken as early as age 50 if you are disabled. But claimed at age 60 or earlier, the survivor benefit will be reduced by 28.5% from what it would be if you wait until your full retirement age (FRA) of 67 to claim it. If you are collecting both SSDI and the survivor supplement when you reach your full retirement age, it will automatically convert to one payment equal to what you’re entitled to as a survivor (SSDI benefits stop at full retirement age).
It would be prudent for you to evaluate whether you should continue with your SSDI benefits only for a while and allow your survivor benefit to grow to a higher amount. At age 67, your survivor benefit as a widow will be 100% of the amount your deceased husband was receiving, or entitled to receive, at his death. But claiming it before your full retirement age will mean it will be cut by 4.75% for each year earlier than your FRA that you claim it. You can find out your full survivor benefit amount by contacting Social Security.
Your survivor benefit will reach maximum at your full retirement age, and it does not expire so you can delay up to age 67 to claim if you wish (to get the maximum amount as a widow). But if your financial situation is such that you need the reduced survivor benefit earlier, and your benefit as a widow is more than your SSDI benefit, you can claim it at any time. Survivor benefits must be applied for directly with the Social Security Administration, which you can reach by phone at 1.800.772.1213, or at your local office (find the phone number for your local office at www.ssa.gov/locator). Note that all Social Security offices are temporarily closed to in-person visits by the public, so telephone is your only current option to apply for your survivor benefit, until after the pandemic closure is lifted.
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