Ask Larry

How Is My Disabled Widow's Benefit Amount Calculated?

I have been receiving SSDI since 2000. My husband and I were married the same year. He began receiving SSDI when diagnosed with AML and continued up until his death in Dec., 2021. At that point he had been on SSDI for about 4 years and his check was $1844 per month after deductions. I received $784 after deductions.

I filed for Disabled Widows Benefits in November, 2022 and have had to go through the entire disability process all over again, although my health has declined. I was originally told it would be expedited because I was already determined disabled and any continued evaluations demonstrated as much. Now, I know that "expedited" isn't a real world when it comes to Social Security, so I decided to go with the "longest amount of time" of six months. I have all sorts of paperwork in, and am only waiting for that meeting with the vocational person in March. But I am barely holding on and had hoped to qualified for an income-restricted apartment and I needed an estimate of what my monthly income WOULD be. So, I made the phone call...

I currently receive $1039 and Medicaid pays for Medicare. I was told I would receive about $805 in disabled widow's benefits on top of my own SSDI. I understand the concept of how it works, but isn't it supposed to be 71.5% of the deceased spouse's benefits? Do they mean 71.5% of the SSDI amount he was receiving, or the 71.5% of what his full retirement benefit would be? Also, COLA has increased 5.99% in 2022 and jumped to over 7% (?) for 2023. Will all of those be added in?

So, if I understand what I was told, I will receive $1,039 + $805 for a total of $1,844. This means it is just the same SSDI benefit he received prior to death without any COLA increase. And it isn't based on his full retirement amount? The distinction on whether the deduction comes off of his SSDI (which is a deducted amount anyway) or his actual retirement Social Security at full retirement, is found NOWHERE!

I just need to be able to make wise decisions with the little money I have.

Thank you in advance

Hi. I'm sorry for your loss. Disabled widows benefits (DWB) are calculated based on 71.5% of the deceased worker's primary insurance amount (PIA), but if you're collecting your own Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits then your DWB benefit amount would be calculated at 71.5% of the difference between your own PIA and your husband's PIA. A person's PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA), or their full SSDI benefit rate.

Therefore, assuming you're approved for DWB benefits, you should continue to be paid your own SSDI benefit plus a a DWB benefit equal to 71.5% of the difference between your PIA and your husband's PIA. Both your PIA and your husband's PIA should be credited with all of the Social Security cost of living (COLA) increases that occurred after you became entitled to SSDI benefits, and all future COLAs.

By the way, the 28.5% reduction for age that's applied to DWB benefits is normally permanent, but when a widow is collecting SSDI benefits at the time that they become entitled to DWB benefits then the 28.5% reduction in their DWB rate is removed when they reach FRA. So, when you reach your FRA of 67 you should get an increase in your DWB rate that will bring your combined benefit amount (i.e. your own benefit plus your widow's benefit) up to 100% of your husband's PIA.

Best, Jerry

Feb 18 2023 - 4:25pm
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