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Filing for Widows’ Disability Benefits in Pennsylvania

The Origin of SSA Widows’ Disability Benefits

Sometimes great accomplishments or events have very obscure origins, and that is certainly the case with one of the nation’s most important “safety net” programs, Social Security.

In 1933, a desperate widow, a Mrs. M.A. Zoller, took pen in hand and addressed a pleading letter to President Franklin Roosevelt. She asked for some form of financial assistance from the federal government for her own mother who was diabetic and penniless, with no means of support.

Letters of this kind were typical at that time, as millions of Americans appealed for financial relief from the hardships of the Great Depression. Their pleas led to passage of the Social Security Act of 1935 which was designed to provide small pensions, financed through a federal payroll tax, to seniors upon their retirement.

Widows’ Disabilities Benefit Pennsylvania

In the decades following passage of the original law, Congress has amended the Social Security Act many times to expand the program’s benefits to a greater number of Americans. For example, the original law provided a lump sum payment to widows of Social Security beneficiaries, but was soon amended to allow widows to collect their deceased husband’s Social Security pension.

Eventually, provisions passed making it somewhat easier for disabled widows and widowers to collect their spouse’s pension. In this article we will explain what is needed to secure this type of financial support if you are a disabled widow or widower.

Eligibility Requirements for Disabled Widows/Widowers

Once it’s confirmed that the late spouse paid enough into Social Security to qualify for regular benefits or SSDI benefits, a surviving spouse may apply for disabled widow/widower benefits if he or she meets the following criteria:

Age requirement – The disabled widow/widower must be at least 50 but not yet 60-years-old. Beyond this basic age requirement, two other things should be noted. First, once a disabled spouse qualifies for widows’ disability benefits in Lackawanna County, or anywhere else in the country, two years later they will also become eligible for Medicare.

Minimum marriage of 9 months – At the time of their death, in most cases, the widow or widower must have been married to the deceased spouse for at least nine months.

Marital status – If the disabled surviving spouse is less than 60 years of age, he or she cannot be married to a different spouse and still be eligible to collect benefits in most cases. However, if the eligible disabled widow/widower has reached the age of 60, remarriage will not disqualify their claim if other requirements are met.

SSDI Benefits for Disabled Widows/Widowers

Proof of disability – The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines disability as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” The surviving spouse must meet this definition.

Seven-year prescribed period – The surviving spouse has seven years from the time of his or her spouse’s death to meet these requirements. This application window is called “the prescribed period” and in that time, the SSA must determine that you are disabled and the legal spouse and therefore entitled to the deceased spouse’s Social Security benefits. For example, if your spouse died when you were 45, you must be found to be disabled within a seven-year period (by age 52).

This seven-year window may be expanded when dependent children are receiving survivor’s benefits.

A widow/widower with a sufficient work record – If the surviving spouse has a sufficient Social Security work record of their own, he or she may file for disability benefits under their own record or the record of their deceased spouse. The applicant will be paid the higher of the two, but not both.

5-month waiting period – As with a regular Social Security Disability Insurance claim, the 5-month period applies in disabled widow/widower benefit claims. Note: If the onset of the disability can be established five months before the spouse died, the 5-month waiting period will be considered served while the spouse was alive. That means the waiting period is not applicable, and entitlement starts with the month of the spouse’s death.

Disability benefits for a disabled, surviving, divorced spouse

If a former spouse is both disabled and divorced when their ex-spouse dies, he or she may qualify for benefits as a surviving divorced spouse. The widow or widower must be at least 50, but not yet 60, and have been married to the deceased spouse for at least 10 years before the final divorce date. The claimant must be unmarried unless they remarried after age 50. Remarriage before age 50 negates eligibility.

Disability Benefits for a Disabled, Surviving, Divorced Spouse

Necessary Documentation

The following documentation is needed to apply for widow/widower or surviving divorced spouse disability benefits:

  • Your name and SS number
  • Your deceased spouse’s name and SS number
  • Proof of your late spouse’s death
  • Your birth certificate or other proof of birth
  • Final divorce papers if applying for disabled surviving divorced spouse benefits
  • Your marriage certificate
  • Proof of citizenship or resident alien status
  • Dependent children’s SS numbers, if available, and birth certificates
  • Deceased spouse’s W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return for the most recent year
  • Your banking information

Experienced SSD Lawyers – Scranton

In this article, we’ve only covered the basics when it comes to filing for Social Security benefits for disabled widows/widowers. It is a complex process and every situation is different. Individual circumstances will affect eligibility and the strategies involved in submitting your application to the Social Security Administration.

There really is no valid reason to take on this significant task alone. Our lawyers at Leventhal, Sutton & Gornstein have decades of experience dealing with all matters related to Social Security Disability, and we urge you to call us today to schedule your initial free consultation.

We’ll help you understand whether you qualify for disability benefits, answer any questions you may have, and provide insights into other issues we have not addressed in this article.

Please do not hesitate to reach out for assistance. Contact the offices of Leventhal, Sutton & Gornstein today at 215-357-3300 or toll free at 800-889-6101, and let us get to work to secure the survivor’s benefits you are wholly entitled to.

Posted on August 28th, 2021 by Leventhal, Sutton and Gornstein

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