What to do when a claimant dies before the SSA reaches a decision in a disability claim.

Although the Social Security Administration has had some success in reducing their response times for disability applications and appeals, waiting periods remain burdensome for individuals suffering from disabling illnesses and injuries, particularly in instances where an individual must go through the disability hearing process after being denied on the initial and Reconsideration stages. And sadly, in some instances, during this long-wait for a Social Security claim to be decided, a claimant passes away while the case is still pending for review.

When this happens, spouses and other family members may still pursue the application or appeal and receive the disability benefits which would have been paid to their deceased relative. However, there are different sets of rules for which family members can pursue the appeal or claim, depending on whether the claim is for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

For SSI cases, for example, only the surviving spouse can claim the disability payments, called an “underpayment” by SSA, and in some cases, a parent can also petition for the underpayments which would have been paid to a disabled child. The order of priority for payment in SSI cases is better explained in 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.542.
SSDI claims differ from SSI in that here not only spouses, but also children and/or the deceased's estate may be eligible to collect the underpayment. The order of priority for payment is documented in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.503.

In cases where there is no family member eligible to receive the underpayment, the case is subsequently dismissed without underpayment recovery.
If you are facing the loss of a loved one during the processing of a Social Security Disability claim, and believe that you can receive the underpayment, these are some steps that you need to follow before you file a claim for payment of retroactive or past-due benefits:

  1. Obtain an original certified copy of the death certificate of the claimant to provide to SSA.
  2. File a Notice Regarding Substitution of Party Upon Death of Claimant. These forms are available on line through the Social Security website. A link is here:
    https://www.ssa.gov/online/ha-539.pdf.
    Instructions for how to complete this form are here:
    https://www.ssa.gov/online/ha-539.html
  3. The finding of disability must still be resolved for the time prior to the claimant’s death, but once a final determination is made, the Social Security Administration can process any amount owed to whom they are properly payable according to Social Security law.
  4. You can also contact our offices if you have any further questions on this topic, or any other disability eligibility matter.