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Death Pension
(also known as Survivors Pension)


Death Pension

Death Pension is a needs based benefit paid to an unremarried surviving spouse, or an unmarried child of a deceased wartime veteran.

"Needs based" means that eligibility to receive this benefit will be based on your income and your financial net worth.

Eligibility For Death Pension

To be eligible, spouses must not have remarried and children must be under age 18, or under age 23 if attending a VA-approved school, or have become permanently incapable of self-support because of disability before age 18.

The Veteran must have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable and must have had 90 days or more of active military service, at least one day of which was during a period of war, or a service-connected disability justifying discharge.

Longer periods of service may be required for Veterans who entered active duty on or after Sept. 8, 1980, or Oct. 16, 1981, if an officer. If the Veteran died in service but not in the line of duty, the death pension may be payable if the Veteran completed at least two years of honorable service.

Children who become incapable of self-support because of a disability before age 18 may be eligible for the death pension as long as the condition exists, unless the child marries or the child's income exceeds the applicable limit.

As you can see, there are a number of criteria that may affect your eligibility to pension benefits.

If you are unsure if you meet all criteria, VA encourages you to go ahead and file an application, particularly if your countable income appears to be near the maximum.

VA will determine if you are eligible and notify you.

If you do not initially qualify, you may reapply if you have un-reimbursed medical expenses during the twelve month period after VA receives your claim that bring your countable income below the yearly income limit. (These are expense you have paid for medical services or products for which you will not be reimbursed by Medicare or private medical insurance.) 


The death pension provides a monthly payment to bring an eligible person's income to a level established by law. The payment is reduced by the annual income from other sources such as Social Security. The payment may be increased if the recipient has unreimbursed medical expenses that can be deducted from countable income.

 Recipient of Pension  Maximum Annual Rate
 Surviving Spouse  $8219
 (With Dependent Child)  $10759
Permanently Housebound   $10046
 (With Dependent Child) $12582 
 Needs Regular Aid and Attendance  $13138
 (With Dependent Child)  $15673
Each Additional Dependent Child  $2093 
 Pension for Surviving Child  $2093

What is "countable income" for pension eligibility?

This includes income received from most sources by the surviving spouse and any eligible children.  It includes earnings, disability and retirement payments, interest and dividends, and net income from farming or business.

There is a presumption that all of a child's income is available to or for the surviving spouse.   VA may grant an exception in hardship cases.

Certain expenses like medical expenses may be excluded from your annual income to lower the total countable income. 

The Yearly Income Limit information is here.

Age Requirements

An unremarried spouse can be any age.

A child must be: under 18, or in school and under 23, or was incapable of self support before the age of 18.

What is net worth? 

Net worth means the net value of the assets of the surviving spouse and his or her children. It includes such assets as bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and any property other than the surviving spouse's residence and a reasonable lot area.

There is no set limit on how much net worth a surviving spouse and his or her children can have, but net worth cannot be excessive.

The decision as to whether a claimant's net worth is excessive depends on the facts of each individual case.

All net worth should be reported and VA will determine if a claimant's assets are sufficiently large that the claimant could live off these assets for a reasonable period of time.

VA's needs-based programs are not intended to protect substantial assets or build up an estate for the benefit of heirs. 

There are other factors that may affect your eligibility. You are encouraged to apply no matter what you may believe your eligibility is.

How do I apply?

VA Form 21-534 Application for Dependency & Indemnity Compensation, Death Pension & Accrued Benefits by a Surviving Spouse or Child (Including Death Compensation if applicable)

Download the form to your computer and print a copy for your use.

Complete the form to the best of your ability. Don't forget to sign it.

Mail the form to the VA Regional Office that would have possession of your veterans records. If you aren't sure of the address, click here.

We recommend that you do not call the toll free number provided by VA to ask questions. We also recommend that you do not use the electronic communications provided by VA. It is our experience that these services often provide the wrong information and that they will not help you as you seek benefits.

We strongly recommend that you use only certified mail, return receipt requested to mail the VA Form 21-534 and any other documents to the VA Regional Office.

Use caution accepting assistance!

The loss of a loved one may leave you vulnerable to people who will take advantage of you.

You do not need professional assistance to complete the VA Form 21-534. If you receive solicitations from people who offer to assist you and may charge you any fee for such a service, we advise that you should not continue such a conversation.

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