Veterans Benefits For Dummies
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The VA will pay a veterans death pension to a spouse who has not remarried or to an unmarried child of a deceased wartime veteran. A veterans death pension is a needs-based benefit and is payable only to eligible dependents who have annual income below a yearly limit set by law.

You may be eligible to receive a veterans death pension if all the following conditions are met:

  • You are the unmarried spouse or unmarried child of a deceased veteran. To be eligible, a child must be under the age of 18, be in school and under 23, or have been incapable of self-support before the age of 18.

  • You have an annual “countable income” less than the limit set by law.

  • The deceased veteran served at least one day during a period of war. For the purposes of this benefit, periods of war include:

    • World War I: April 6, 1917, through July 2, 1921

    • World War II: December 7, 1941, through December 31, 1946

    • Korean conflict: June 27, 1950, through January 31, 1955

    • Vietnam era: The period beginning February 28, 1961, and ending May 7, 1975, for service within Vietnam, and 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 on active duty for at least 90 days, or joined the military after September 7, 1980, and served on active duty for at least 24 months or (for National Guard and Reserve members) for the full period called to active duty.

  • The deceased veteran was discharged from the military with a discharge characterization that the VA does not consider dishonorable.

To apply for the VA death pension, you need to complete VA Form 21-534, Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Death Pension and Accrued Benefits by Surviving Spouse or Child. The form is available at any VA regional office or online through the Forms page on the VA's website.

Mail the completed form to the VA regional office which has responsibility for the state in which you live. If available, attach copies of dependency records (marriage or children’s birth certificates).

Checking the veterans death pension rates and income limits

To be eligible, the surviving spouse or dependent child must have countable income less than that prescribed by Congress. This table shows the income limits for 2008. The VA pays you the difference between your countable income and the yearly income limit for your situation. This difference is generally paid in 12 equal monthly payments rounded down to the nearest dollar.

Annual Death Pension Income Limits for 2008
If You Are a . . . Your Yearly Income Must Be Less Than . . .
Surviving spouse with no dependent children $7,498
Surviving spouse with one dependent child $9,815
Housebound surviving spouse with no dependents $9,164
Housebound surviving spouse with one dependent $11,478
Surviving spouse who needs aid and attendance with no dependents $11,985
Surviving spouse who needs aid and attendance with one dependent $14,298
Surviving child (no eligible parent) $1,909
Note: For each additional child Add $1,909 to the limit

For example, using the rates shown here, a surviving spouse with one child with a countable annual income of $3,000 would be paid an annual death pension of $6,815, or $567 per month.

Congress generally changes the annual income limits once a year to account for inflation. For the latest rates, visit the Compensation page of the VA's website.

Deciphering countable income towards a veterans death pension

Countable income includes income received from most sources by the surviving spouse and any eligible children. It includes earnings, disability and retirement payments, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), Survivor Benefit Program (SBP) payments, interest and dividends, and net income from farming or business. Also, the VA presumes that all of a child’s income is available to or for the surviving spouse. The VA may grant an exception in hardship cases.

Exclusions and deductions for veterans death pension countable income

Some income doesn’t count when computing your countable income, and some expenses may be deducted.

Examples of noncountable income include public assistance, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), food stamps, or welfare. Deductions that you may take to decrease your countable income include medical expenses, final expenses relating to the deceased veteran’s last illness paid by the survivor, burial expenses paid by the survivor, and certain educational expenses for the surviving spouse and children.

Net worth and the veterans death pension

Net worth means the net value of the assets of the surviving spouse and her children. It includes such assets as bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and any property other than the surviving spouse’s residence.

There is no set limit on how much net worth you can have for this benefit, but under the law, net worth can’t be excessive. The VA makes this determination on a case-by-case basis.

When making this decision, the VA decides whether your assets are sufficiently large that you could live off them for a reasonable period of time. Remember, the death pension is a needs-based program, and it’s not intended to protect substantial assets or build up an estate for the benefit of heirs.

About This Article

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Rod Powers is a recognized expert in all U.S. military matters. A military author, his articles have appeared in numerous military and civilian publications. Powers is the co-author of the successful ASVAB For Dummies, 2nd Edition, and serves as a military guide for

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