My brother, age 63 has just been accepted for SSDI due to a compassionate allowances condition. He will begin collecting in July. His wife is 62. Social Security just suggested to them that she apply for her own benefit now. I'm confused about whether, if she does so, it will be deemed that she has applied for her spousal benefit now, since he isn't actually collecting yet (there is a 5 month waiting period for SSDI). Do you know why SSA might have suggested it to them? We do understand that his survivor's benefit would not be affected by her applying, but during his lifetime, how would her applying now for her own benefit affect her spousal benefit?
If your brother's wife files for her reduced retirement benefits now she would be deemed to have also filed for reduced spousal benefits as soon as she first qualifies. That would be the month that her husband's SSDI benefits start, assuming that 50% of her husband's disability benefit (SSDI) rate is higher than her own full retirement age rate. Those benefit reductions would continue for at least as long as your brother and sister-in-law are both living.
If your brother dies, then his wife's combined benefit rate would be increased to his full SSDI rate provided that she is at least full retirement age when she starts drawing widow's benefits. If he dies before then, she would have the option of receiving just her reduced retirement benefits (not spousal) until full retirement age or taking reduced widow's benefits.
Social Security may have suggested filing because it would likely be advantageous if your brother's benefit rate is significantly higher than his wife's rate and if he has a terminal illness. You can't always count on the advice you get at Social Security, though, so your brother's wife should strongly consider using our maximization software to compare her options and determine which strategy is best in her situation.