Qualifying for Social Security Benefits With a Terminal Illness

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, your family’s financial situation should be the last thing on your mind. Fortunately, if you require hospice care you’re nearly guaranteed medical qualification for Social Security disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) approves millions of applicants for monthly benefits that can help pay for your hospice care, outstanding medical bills, your family’s housing or other expenses, and much more.

Age and Social Security Disability Benefits

Most people receive Social Security disability benefits during their working years, and these disability benefits convert to retirement payments at age 65. Social Security disability is a separate program from Social Security retirement, and you cannot receive payments from both programs at once.

This means if you’re already receiving retirement benefits and you’ve been diagnosed with a catastrophic illness, you will not be able to apply for additional benefits due to a disability.

Medically Qualifying for Disability Benefits

To medically qualify for disability benefits, you’ll need to meet the SSA’s definition of disability: A condition that prevents an applicant from working for 12 months or more, or results in death. Anyone in hospice care will automatically meet the SSA’s definition of disability, unless you’re still maintaining employment.

The SSA will refer to its own medical guide of qualifying criteria, known as the Blue Book, when evaluating a claim. There are hundreds of listed conditions that require hospice care. For example, someone with ALS will qualify with only a diagnosis that was established using “standard medical procedures,” such as reviewing EMGs, MRIs, and your medical history.

Applicants with any metastatic cancer (cancer that’s spread to other organs) will also medically qualify for disability benefits. The entire guideline for eligibility can be found online, so you can review the criteria with your doctor to determine if you’re eligible if you’re worried your claim will be denied.

If you are diagnosed with a terminal illness, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Survivors’ Benefits

If you pass away and leave dependent family members behind, they’ll be protected by Social Security disability benefits. The following family members are eligible for survivors’ benefits under your account:

  • A child* under age 18, or under age 19 while still in high school
  • A spouse over age 60
  • A spouse with a disability over age 50
  • A spouse of any age who’s caring for your child under age 16

Your survivors could be entitled to up to 75% of your monthly Social Security disability payments each. These benefits will continue until your children reach adulthood or if your spouse chooses to take Social Security retirement benefits under his or her own account.

Starting Your Application

The easiest way to apply for Social Security disability benefits is online from the comfort of your own home. If you’re unable to type for extended periods of time, you can ask a family member to fill out the application on your behalf.

Most people in hospice care qualify for expedited approval. There is nothing additional you’ll need to do when applying—your claim should simply be flagged for quick processing due to your disability. Most people in hospice care will be approved in as little as two weeks.

Additional Resources