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How is "disability" defined for determining entitlement for disabled widow(er)'s benefits?

Excerpted from "Social Security Handbook". See the up-to-date, official Social Security Handbook at

515. How is "disability" defined for determining entitlement for disabled widow(er)'s benefits?

For title II, the definition of "disability" for determining your entitlement to disabled widow(er)'s benefits is the same as that shown for disabled workers in §507.1. This definition applies to disabled widow(er)'s benefits payable January 1991 or later.

(See Chapter 6 for a further explanation of how disability is evaluated.)

Note: The following may not be used to establish disabled widow(er)'s benefits:

  1. Impairments or the aggravation of preexisting impairments related to the commission of a felony after October 19, 1980, for which you are convicted; or

  2. Impairments or the aggravation of preexisting impairments related to your confinement for committing such a crime.

Last Revised: Mar. 1, 2004

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There are 8 Comments

my hasband an i have been married for 22 years " he had a stroke 14 years ago : ( he is 100% disable an i take care of him . do i get any benefits ? because i can"t work " because he needs me

Benefits are payable to you, as a spouse, when you reach age 62 or older, unless you collect a higher Social Security benefit based on your earnings record. The spouse benefit amount will be permanently reduced by a percentage based on the number of months up to your full retirement age.

You can also receive spousal benefits at any age if you care for your child under age 16 or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits.

Is your monthly benefit calculated on your highest 4 quarters throughout your career or is it based on your last 10 years of work?

Ten years (forty "credits" or quarters) is generally the minimum number of years you must work to qualify for retirement benefits. Shorter periods can apply for disability and survivor benefits.

Social Security uses the highest 35 years of earnings to compute an individual's benefit amount. If the individual does not have 35 years of earnings, the SSA will use all of the earnings on the record. The SSA will factor in an annual total of $0.00 earnings for each of the remaining years.

You can experiment with different annual earnings by clicking on the "See the earnings we used" button in the result and entering your own salary estimates.

My husband of 36 years died 2 years ago and he was on SSI disability prior to his death. I was told that I couldn't apply for his benefits until I reached age 60. I had to retire after he died due to some health issues of my own. I am not disabled but wanted to start to claim my husband's benefits. How do I start this and how do I find out if I am eligible now that I will be come 60 yrs. old shortly.

Yes, it sounds like you're stating things appropriately.

In general, you can qualify for (reduced) survivor benefits when you reach age 60. You can qualify as early as age 50 if you are disabled, but you must meet the definition of being disabled.

If you begin survivor benefits at age 60, they will be reduced relative to what you would receive if you started the survivor benefits later. Delaying initiation of benefits gives you a higher monthly benefit.

It sounds like you have your own work record. If you receive survivor benefits on his record, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes you are eligible for retirement benefits and your retirement rate is higher than your rate as a widow.

In many cases, a widow or widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then, at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate.

You may want to check your potential benefits at

i need to know my husband passed away in 2010.i am 48 am i eligable for benefits?

Generally, as a surviving spouse, you must be age 60 to qualify for survivor benefits. If, however, you are disabled, you can qualify as early as age 50.

However, you can receive survivors benefits at any age if you take care of the deceased worker's child who is under age 16 or is disabled and receives benefits on the worker's record.

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