Senior woman in wheelchair looking out of window © iStock

Dear Liz:

I am a 42-year-old widow raising my 15-year-old daughter. I became a widow in 2013. I’m handicapped but have been turned down for Social Security disability benefits 3 times. I stopped fighting for disability when my husband died because I receive widow’s disability now. I am scared they are going to take away my widow’s disability when my child reaches a certain age. I can barely walk and am wondering how I will survive.

— Donna

Dear Donna,

What your household receives is likely 2 benefits, neither of them “widow’s disability.”

You’re probably receiving child-in-care survivors benefits, often called mother’s insurance benefits, because you’re taking care of the child of a deceased worker and she’s under age 16. Typically, survivors benefits aren’t available before age 60 except when the survivor is disabled. In that case, widows or widowers age 50 to 59 can receive benefits if the disability started before or within 7 years of the worker’s death. But as you know, Social Security’s definition of “disabled” is pretty strict. If you’ve been turned down for Social Security disability payments, you don’t meet the standard of being disabled for survivors benefits.

Your daughter is likely also receiving survivors benefits of her own. She can continue to receive this benefit until she turns 18, or 19 if she’s still in high school, or for life if she’s disabled.

If neither of you is considered disabled by Social Security, then your benefit will end when your daughter turns 16 and hers will end entirely 2 or 3 years later.

Definition of Social Security disability

To be considered disabled, you must meet these criteria:

  • You cannot do work that you used to do.
  • Social Security determines that your medical condition prevents you from doing other work.
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least a year or will result in death.

Source: Social Security Administration

It’s probably time to renew your efforts to get Social Security disability benefits, perhaps with the help of an attorney who specializes in this field. Most work on contingency, which means they get paid only if they win your case.

If you can’t get Social Security disability benefits and you aren’t able to work, you’ll need to look into other public aid benefits that may be available to you.

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