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Ask the Expert: Can a surviving wife collect Social Security disability?

At 52, I had to retire and start collecting Social Security disability. I'm now 64 and have been married for almost eight years. Does my wife have any ties to my Social Security disability benefits after my passing?

No. There are no spousal disability benefits. But as your surviving spouse, she'll be entitled to collect an equal dollar amount from your Social Security retirement benefit

When you qualify for Social Security disability, regardless of your age, you receive a disability benefit equal to the amount you'd have collected at your full retirement age. When you reach your full retirement age — which in your case will be in two years — your disability benefit is automatically converted into a retirement benefit. The dollar amount you receive every month will remain the same, but the check will be paid from Social Security's Retirement and Survivor Trust Fund instead of from its Disability Trust Fund.

As a widow, the earliest your wife could apply for a survivor benefit is age 60. But if she applies at 60, she'll be eligible to receive only 71.5 percent of your retirement benefit. To collect the maximum survivor benefit, she must postpone her application until she reaches her own full retirement age. At that point, she'd qualify to collect 100 percent of the retirement benefit you were receiving -- or were entitled to receive -- when you died.

What if she's also entitled to Social Security retirement benefits based on her own work record? She can't collect both benefits at the same time. But she can choose to take her survivor benefit early and delay her own — or vice versa. The best option depends on their relative dollar amounts.

The bottom line

Social Security disability doesn't provide a spousal benefit.

More information

ssa.gov/benefits/disability

ssa.gov/planners/survivors/1945s.html

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