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Ask the Expert: Limits on disability benefits

I’m 61 years old, and will take Social Security at 62. My wife, who raised two great kids, hasn’t worked for 30 years. Four years ago, she suffered several strokes and is now disabled. When can she collect Social Security on my account? Some people have said she can start collecting at 60, others that she could have collected when she became disabled. If she’s eligible, will her benefit be based on my disability benefit rate or on my age 62 retirement benefit?

The earliest your wife can receive Social Security based on your work record is after she turns 62, assuming you’ve already filed for your own benefit at that time. At 62, she’ll qualify for a retirement benefit equal to 35 percent of the Social Security benefit you’d get at 66, your full retirement age. If your retirement benefit at 66 would be $2,000, for example, at 62 your wife can receive $700.

She can’t receive a disability benefit based on your record. There is no such benefit for a spouse. “Social Security disability benefits are only payable to disabled workers, their widows or widowers, and their adult disabled children,” says Linda Lauria, a Social Security Administration spokeswoman.

Even someone who’s eligible for Social Security on his or her own earnings record also needs a recent work history to qualify for a disability benefit, says Lauria. Disability eligibility requirements take into account both the applicant’s total work under Social Security and how recent that work was, because this benefit is designed to replace part of the earnings lost when a worker becomes disabled — and a person who becomes disabled years after he stops working hasn’t lost earnings due to his disability.

THE BOTTOM LINE You can’t collect a Social Security disability benefit based on your living spouse’s work record.



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