What Happens to a Social Security Disability Claim When a Person Passes Away?

December 4, 2023

Here is just one measure of how difficult and backlogged the Social Security Disability process is: Tragically about 10,000 Americans die every year while waiting for a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) appeal hearing after being initially turned down, according to the Government Accountability Office.

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: SSDI and Supplemental Security Income, commonly referred to as SSI.

SSDI pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you have a disability, 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 (SSA) says, “It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income.”

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

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

  • 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 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 generally not eligible to be awarded that person’s benefits unless they are the executor or administrator of the claimant’s estate.

If a valid substitute party pursues an SSDI claim, SSA will decide if they are eligible for back pay for the time the claimant was living and unable to work.

Benefits are still subject to the same five-month waiting period that any applicant faces. This means the calculation of the payment won’t begin until the sixth full month after the deceased person’s disability began.

The waiting period starts the first full month after the disability began. Social Security does not count partial months. The payment to a survivor of a disability applicant can include up to two months after the claimant’s death. But in this situation, Social Security won’t pay ongoing benefits into the future.

If you lost a loved one who was set to receive disability benefits, talk to the disability lawyers at Nash Disability Law in Chicago.

And if you or someone you care about has a disability, is unable to work, and is considering filing for disability benefits, we can help.

The Nash Social Security Disability attorney team will give you a free evaluation of your disability case. The evaluation can be done over the telephone or in person at one of our office locations around Chicagoland.

Contact us today to discuss your situation or to schedule an appointment to meet one of our experienced disability attorneys.