Spouses and children of veterans may be eligible for a range of benefits after the veteran dies. Benefits available to qualifying survivors include cash payments as well as help with healthcare and education expenses and even home loans. Here’s what you need to know about VA survivor benefits. A financial advisor can help you create an estate plan for your family’s needs and goals.
Veteran Benefits Roundup
A couple of major government programs pay tax-free cash monthly benefits to eligible spouses and children of deceased veterans. The VA Survivors Pension is for surviving spouses and unmarried dependent children of veterans who served in wartime. Survivors Pension recipients have to meet limits on income and net worth.
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) pays tax-free monthly benefits to spouses, children and parents of veterans who died in the line of duty. DIC doesn’t require wartime service to make family members eligible for this benefit, and there are no income or net worth caps for recipients.
VA also offers survivors of deceased veterans other types of help. Spouses, dependent children and family caregivers may qualify for government-sponsored health insurance under the CHAMPVA or TRICARE programs. The Dependents’ Education Assistance (DEA) program or the Fry Scholarship may pay for school or job training. And zero-down VA loans can help surviving spouses buy, build, repair or refinance a home.
Survivors Pension Eligibility
To qualify for VA Survivors Pension benefits, recipients have to be spouses or unmarried dependent children of vets who served in wartime. Eligible conflicts include the Mexican Border War in 1916 and 1917 through the Gulf War beginning in 1990.
In addition, recipients have to meet financial requirements based on net worth. VA calculates net worth by adding income and assets. For 2023, the net worth limit to be eligible for survivors pension benefits is $150,538.
To calculate assets, add the market value of investment real estate less any mortgages to the market value of any securities and personal items such as furniture and boats. Don’t include a primary residence, personal automobile and appliances.
Income includes salary, wages, bonuses, commissions and tips from a job as well as income from retirement accounts or annuities. Education and medical expenses are subtracted from income. If the combination of assets and income comes to less than $150,538, a qualifying survivor is eligible for pension benefits.
Survivors Pension Payment Amounts
The amount of the annual Survivors Pension payment is based on the difference between countable income and the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR), which is set by Congress. Countable income includes wages and salary as well as investment and retirement income, minus some expenses such as unreimbursed medical costs.
The MAPR is subject to annual cost of living increases and also varies by the number of children a surviving spouse has. This amount may also vary depending on whether the recipient is getting other cash benefits. To determine the amount a specific recipient is eligible for, VA subtracts yearly income from MAPR.
To be eligible for DIC payments, survivors must be family members of veterans who died while in service or who died or were totally disabled by a disability related to their service. Eligible family members include spouses, including some spouses who remarry. Children may be eligible if unmarried and under age 18 or, if in school, age 23. Parents whose income meets certain limits may also receive DIC.
DIC Payment Amounts
The amount DIC recipients get each month depends mostly on their relationship to the deceased veteran. Other factors, such as whether the veteran was disabled, may also apply.
As of Dec. 22, 2022, a surviving spouse can generally receive $1,563 monthly. If the veteran was totally disabled related to his or her service for at least eight years before dying, the spouse may receive another $331.84 per month.
A dependent only child is generally entitled to $607 per month, as long as there is no surviving parent who is already receiving DIC payments. If there are more children, the total amount paid to the surviving children increases but the amount each child receives declines. Older children, age 18 to 23, may receive approximately $322 if enrolled in school.
Parental DIC benefits depend on income and whether the other parent is alive. For instance, a parent who is the sole surviving parent and has $800 or less in annual income will receive $774 per month from DIC.
VA Survivors Pension and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) are two programs that can pay cash monthly benefits to spouses, children and in some cases parents of deceased veterans. Eligibility for the tax-free payments depends on, among other things, when the veteran served and whether or not the veteran was disabled. Recipients’ income and assets also affect eligibility and monthly payment amounts.
Tips for Estate Planning
- A financial advisor can help you create an estate plan to protect your family. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- It’s necessary to file for VA survivor benefits in order to receive them, and it’s best to do this as soon as possible because benefits may be paid retroactive to the filing date. To get time to gather necessary paperwork, eligible survivors may want to submit an intent to file form. This locks down an effective date for calculating retroactive payments.
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