Veteran Death Benefits for Funerals & Family

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If your loved one was a Veteran, and he or she recently died, you may be entitled to receive some type of death benefit. This could include payment to help pay for the burial and funeral expenses. In some cases, surviving spouses and children may receive ongoing tax-exempt VA death benefits in the form of monthly payments.

The funeral and burial expense allowance you may receive depends on the status of the Veteran at the time of his or her death. For example:

  • Was the Veteran on active duty?
  • Did the Veteran receive anything other than an honorable discharge?
  • Was the Veteran receiving monetary benefits from the Veterans Administration (VA) at the time of death?
  • Was the Veteran killed in the line of duty, or did he or she die due to a service-related injury or disease/

These are just a few of a multitude of factors that determine if there is a benefit, if so how much it is, and who will receive it, parents, spouse, or children. You may also decide whether you want your loved one to be buried in one of the 136 National Cemeteries, or check on the eligibility for burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

Veteran Death Benefits: Funeral and Burial Expense Allowances

Since 2014, the VA pays the maximum amount of burial and funeral expenses that is allowed by law.  The funds are supposed to be paid automatically to the surviving spouse as soon as the VA is notified about the death. There is no need to submit a formal claim.

If the surviving spouse is not paid, the spouse or family members may submit a claim. The first one who files for a claim will be the one who is paid. Those eligible to file a claim for the burial benefit if the surviving spouse is not paid, or there is no surviving spouse are:

  • The Veteran’s children
  • The Veteran’s parents
  • The executor of the Veteran’s estate
  • The survivor of a legal union with the Veteran if there is state documentation of the relationship.

In order for the survivors to be eligible to collect for funeral and burial expenses, the Veteran must also meet certain eligibility requirements. Particularly, the Veteran must have not have received a less than honorable discharge. In addition, the death must have been the result of a service-connected disability or related to the military service in one of several ways.

The amount of the burial and funeral expense benefit varies and depends on:

  • If the death was service-related
  • If the Veteran is buried in a VA National Cemetery, the costs for transporting the deceased may be paid for or, at least in some part, be reimbursed
  • If the death was non-service related. This also has conditions, depending on whether the Veteran was hospitalized for a service-related injury or disability at the time of death. 

The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) determines which Veterans are eligible for burial in one of the 136 National Cemeteries in the U.S. For those eligible, they also receive without charge:

  • A gravesite if there is space available in the desired cemetery
  • The opening and closing of the grave
  • Perpetual care
  • A grave marker or headstone
  • Burial flag
  • Presidential Memorial Certificate

The NCA will also help you in determining if your loved one is eligible for burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

Military Death Benefits for Parents, Spouses, and Children

The United States military tries to take care of its own. When a Veterans dies, it provides many benefits to surviving parents, spouse, and children. In order to be eligible for any benefit, the Veteran must have been discharged for service under other than dishonorable conditions.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a special section explaining the many benefits available for survivors. In all cases, the death of the Veteran must have been in the line of duty, or the death due to a service-related injury or disease. For benefits available to children, eligibility requires the children to be under the age of 18, or between the ages of 18 and 23 and enrolled in a college program approved by the VA.

These benefits include, but are not limited to:

  • Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). Tax-free funds are provided to the surviving spouse and children. As with other benefits, there are requirements recipients must present to the VA in order to prove eligibility for benefits. This benefit does not depend on the income of the spouse or of the children. 

  • Parents' Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). This benefit is for an adoptive, biological, or foster parents. For foster parents to be eligible, they must have been foster parents for at least one year before the Veteran entered active-duty. In order to be eligible, parents must have an income below a certain level that is established by law.

  • Survivors' Pension. This is also referred to as “Death Pension.” Funds are provided tax-free to a low-income spouse or unmarried child of a deceased Veteran who has had war-time service. There are other eligibility requirements for the Veteran, the spouse, and the children. If the spouse remarries, they will no longer receive this pension. |

  • Educational Benefits. There are two different educational programs for survivors and dependents. 1) Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance Program (DEA); and 2) Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship (Fry Scholarship). There are different eligibility requirements, but if a person qualifies for both programs, they must choose just one. The Fry Scholarship is specifically for those survivors of a Veteran who was killed in the line of duty after September 10, 2001.

  • Home Loans. Almost everyone knows that the VA helps living service members and Veterans with home loans, but the VA also helps surviving spouses of Veterans killed in the line-of-duty, or who died of a service-related injury or disease, to “buy, build, repair, retain, or adapt a home” for their own personal occupancy. Also, if a loan was in place at the time of the Veteran’s death, the surviving spouse may be eligible for a reduction in the interest rate of that loan.

Other Possible VA Death Benefits

There are other benefits available to certain individuals who meet eligibility requirements. Brief examples include:

  • Same month pension benefit. If a Veteran was receiving a pension at the time of his or her death, the surviving spouse may request receipt of the pension for the month the Veteran died.
  • Health Care Benefit. Surviving spouses and children are likely eligible for health care benefits. There are two different programs with different eligibility requirements. The program available may depend on the circumstances of the Veteran’s death.  
  • Financial counseling and Will preparation. This is limited to beneficiaries of certain life insurance programs the Veteran had in place at the time of his or her death. If eligible, the services are available for the lifetime of the beneficiary.

If you are the parent, spouse, or child of a Veteran who has died, you may want to visit your local VA Vet Center for assistance in determining exactly what benefits you qualify for based on your relationship to the deceased and the circumstances of his or her death. You should have your questions answered and receive help in applying for the VA benefits to which you are legally entitled.

Honoring Life

If you're researching this topic, it's likely you've recently lost a family member who served our country. Figuring out benefits and making final arrangements can be harrowing. We hope this article helped provide you with some valuable information. 

The reality is that making final arrangements for anyone is hard. It can be even harder if that person didn't leave behind a plan for their estate and funeral wishes. When the dust settles, consider thinking through your own preferences for someday. Would your loved ones have access to all the documents they need to make decisions about your healthcare, estate, funeral, and legacy if something happened to you? Cake is free end-of-life planning website. You're on our blog right now. We aim to make proactive planning easier for all adults who want to get their affairs in order for more peace of mind. Create a free end-of-life plan with Cake. 

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