A spouse who has not remarried or an unmarried child of a deceased wartime military veteran is eligible for a death pension administered by the VA. The death pension is needs-based and entitled only to dependents with an annual income below a yearly limit set by law.
VA death pensions are eligible for dependents who meet the following criteria:
- The dependent is the unmarried spouse or unmarried child of a deceased veteran. Children must be under the age of 18, attending university and under the age of 23, or were unfit for self-support before the age of 18 in order to be eligible.
- The dependent has an annual countable income less than the limit set by law.
- The deceased veteran served at least one day of service during a period of war that include:
- World War I: April 6, 1917 through July 2, 1982
- World War II: December 7, 1941 through December 31, 1946
- Korean conflict: June 27, 1950 through January 31, 1955
- Vietnamese War: February 28, 1961 through May 7, 1975 for service within Vietnam; August 5, 1964 through May 7, 1975 in all other cases
- Persian Gulf War: August 2, 199, through a date yet to be determined
- The deceased veteran joined the military on or before September 7, 1980 and served active duty for at least 90 days. This applies to a veteran who joined the military after September 7, 1980 and served active duty for at least 24 months (for National Guard and Reserve members) for the full period called to active duty.
- The deceased veteran was discharged from the military with a characterization that the VA does not consider dishonorable.
Individuals are required to complete VA Form 21-534, Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Death Pension and Accrued Benefits by Surviving Spouse or Child to apply for the VA death pension. Visit a VA regional office for a form or download a PDF at www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-534-ARE.pdf.
After completing VA Form 21-534 and attaching available copies of dependency records like marriage or children’s birth certificates, individuals can mail it to the VA regional office accountable under the state they live.
Checking the rates and income limits
Surviving spouses or dependent children are required to have countable income less than what Congress recommends (“Deciphering countable income” details how to determine what is countable) in order to qualify for a death pension. The VA pays the discrepancy between countable income and yearly income limit depending on the dependent’s situation. In most cases, the difference is paid in 12 equal monthly payments that are rounded down to the nearest dollar.
A surviving spouse with one child and a countable annual income of $3,000 would be eligible for an annual death pension of $6,815 ($576 per month).
Accounting for inflation Congress alters the annual income limits every year. An up-to-date list of rates is available at http://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/.
Deciphering countable income
Countable income is income obtained from most sources by the surviving spouse and any qualifying children. This includes:
- Disability and retirement payments
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)
- Survivor Benefit Program (SBP) payments
- Interest and dividends
- Net income from farming or businesses
Additionally, the VA presumes any income produced by children is made available to the dependent spouse, but the VA is able to make exceptions in cases of hardship.
Exclusions and deductions
When configuring countable income, some income doesn’t count and some expenditures can be deducted. An example of noncountable income would be public assistance like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), food stamps, or welfare. Deductions available in order to decrease countable income include medical expenses, final expenses concerning the deceased veteran’s last illness paid by the survivor, burial expenses paid by the survivor, and special educational expenses for surviving spouses and children.
Examining net worth
Net worth is the net value of assets of the surviving spouse and their children, including such things as bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and property other than the surviving spouse’s address.
No limit exists for how much net worth an individual can have for this benefit granted the net worth is not excessive. What is excessive is determined by the VA on a case-by-case basis who judge whether the individual’s assets are suitably large enough for them to subsist off of for an appropriate length of time.
Death pensions operate on a needs-based system and not designated for protection of significant assets or build up an estate for the benefit of successors.