pass awayAs anyone who has applied for Social Security disability benefits knows, the agency can be maddeningly slow in deciding your case. And wait times are getting worse. In the late 2010s, it typically took the Social Security Administration 110 to 120 days to process an initial application for disability benefits, according to agency data. In December, the average wait time was 228 days, or more than seven months. As a result, tragically in fiscal 2023 30,000 Americans passed away while awaiting decisions on their Social Security disability claims. 

If a disability applicant dies while waiting to be approved for benefits, it may be possible for a family member to continue the claim and receive any benefits owed, but it depends on which disability program the individual was applying for. There are two disability programs: Social Security Disability Insurance, which is known as SSDI, and Supplemental Security Income, commonly referred to as SSI. SSDI pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are disabled, and you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes recently enough. SSI, on the other hand, is based on financial need. The Social Security Administration says, “It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income.”

Except in very limited cases an SSI claims will expire when the claimant passes away, because SSI claims are based on the financial need of the individual.

However, an SSDI claim does not necessarily die with the claimant. Family members, if they are considered a valid substitute, can pursue the applicant’s right to benefits. Here is the order of preference:

  • Surviving spouse. A surviving spouse who was living with the disabled person, or who was entitled to SSDI benefits on that person's record, during the month of death has the first priority.
  • Children. The second priority to collect the benefits of a deceased person to goes to children of the applicant who were entitled to SSDI benefits in the month of the applicant’s death.
  • Parents. Parents who were entitled to SSDI benefits in the month of the applicant’s death can collect the applicant’s benefits if they did not have a spouse or children.

Siblings, other relatives, and partners who were not married to the applicant at the time of their death are not eligible to be awarded that person’s benefits.

Qualified family members of an applicant who has passed away need to determine if it is worthwhile to pursue their case. SSDI benefits have a five-month waiting period. This means that the first payment will not be made until the sixth full month after the disability began. The waiting period starts the first full month after the disability began. Social Security does not count partial months. If the applicant did not survive for long after the onset of their disability, they may have only qualified for a small amount of money (or maybe nothing at all). Pursuing disability back pay in these cases may not be worth the time and effort.

If you or someone you care about is disabled, unable to work, and considering filing for disability benefits, or if your claim has been denied we can help. At Cuddigan Law, we will give you a free evaluation of your disability case. The evaluation can be done over the telephone or in person. Call or email the experienced Social Security disability attorneys at Cuddigan Law today to schedule an appointment. At Cuddigan Law you have a team of professionals in your corner who will fight for your rights.

Sean D. Cuddigan
Connect with me
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska
Post A Comment