Death Pensions

Death Pensions

Death Pensions

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 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 includes:
    • 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, 1990, 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) 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 https://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 can 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 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.

17 Comments
  • Henry W Boulware Jr
    Posted at 23:11h, 08 August

    VA member receiving funds on the first of the month, he or she pass away on the 21st of the month does his or her spouse have to return the unuse part of the paid benefits for that month?

  • Amina Roy Manning
    Posted at 17:07h, 07 July

    My grandfather he died 1914 September in karonga war nyasaland (GEORGE FREDERIC MANNING) so we need know when receiving compensation cause until now we don’t have full information about this

  • Amina Roy Manning
    Posted at 16:53h, 07 July

    My grandfather was world war one veteran Mr George Frederic Manning.He died in 1914 September.We are not received compensation so am asking when we can get that money

  • Andrea Martin
    Posted at 13:53h, 21 October

    Just asking to clarify information. Do I meet the definition of a Veteran. Based on the definition I read here I do, even if only in title but not VA benefits. I was told upon leaving I would not receive VA benefits because I was never deployed for a contingency.
    I served 6 years in the Air Force Reserves but was never deployed, Honorable Discharge. I did perform active duty orders while completing my units weekly airdrop missions and supported the 53rd Weather Squadron (Hurricane Hunters) during NOAH storm tasking.

    • Adam
      Posted at 17:11h, 24 October

      Reserves or National Guard members with active duty for training purposes only do not meet the basic eligibility requirement. You can find out more about eligibility here: https://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/apply/veterans.asp

  • Melody Ritter
    Posted at 17:47h, 22 August

    I hear tell that a death certificate can be changed (AFTER) time has passed of the death of the vet…
    How or who do I go about doing or getting this done?

    • Adam
      Posted at 20:46h, 22 August

      You can call the VA Office of Survivors Assistance at 1-800-827-1000.

  • Vince Glowacki
    Posted at 13:28h, 15 May

    I am at 100/70% disabled Vietnam vet. I am 69 years old. I receive a compensation of 100%. My concern is if I die first, will my wife be able to collect half my disability per month.

    • VA.org Editor
      Posted at 13:38h, 15 May

      The Survivors Pension benefit, which may also be referred to as Death Pension, is a tax-free monetary benefit payable to a low-income, un-remarried surviving spouse and/or unmarried child(ren) of a deceased Veteran with wartime service. You can find more information here: https://www.benefits.va.gov/pension/spousepen.asp

  • Shelia Jackson
    Posted at 17:32h, 03 November

    My mother was not aware of these benefits after my father’s death. My father was a Korean War Veteran. He died in 1988. Mother passed away last year August 20 2015. Are the surviving hires able to claim benefits

    • VA.org Editor
      Posted at 15:43h, 08 November

      The Office of Survivors Assistance has prepared a list of the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) to assist you. Please review this FAQ to see if your question has already been addressed here: https://www.va.gov/survivors/faqs.asp

  • donna dood
    Posted at 23:38h, 13 October

    my ex husband just died. he has to children which are both over 35 and disabled Is there anything they get cause of there dads death. he served in the marines and got an honorable discharge.

  • Kathy jais
    Posted at 16:38h, 01 August

    If you are entitled to a spousal death pension benefit, is does this benefit have a beneficiary listed. Does this benefit just go to the survivor?

    • VA.org Editor
      Posted at 18:48h, 01 August

      The Survivors Pension benefit, which may also be referred to as Death Pension, is a tax-free monetary benefit payable to a low-income, un-remarried surviving spouse and/or unmarried child(ren) of a deceased Veteran with wartime service. You can find more information here: https://www.benefits.va.gov/pension/spousepen.asp

  • Teretha McNeil
    Posted at 13:46h, 24 March

    i wanted to know is it too late to take out life insurance on my husband or the family. my husband is disable vet 100% and i’m hid fidicsary. i’m not sure i spelled it right. i have also faxed a letter for educational benefits. i owe money back . i got sick with breast cancer two time, with the cancer and depression i had to come out of school. hoping to return again soon. at the time i didn’t have the right mine to focus on nothing but the cancer. i’m cancer free now and realize that some things need to be taken care of. our finances. we need every dime of our money. in the fax i have sent every doctor and number to the cancer center i attend to now still. my battle started in 2011 until now. and i still has to have surgery soon on my knee.

    • VA.org Editor
      Posted at 16:04h, 25 March

      The Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance (S-DVI) program was established in 1951 to meet the insurance needs of certain veterans with service connected disabilities. S-DVI is available in a variety of permanent plans as well as term insurance. Policies are issued for a maximum face amount of $10,000.

      You can find more information here: https://www.benefits.va.gov/insurance/s-dvi.asp

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