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Who is eligible for the VA Survivors Pension benefit?

The Survivor's Pension, also known as the Death Pension, is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to a surviving family member of a war time veteran. The benefit is payable to a low-income, un-remarried spouse and/or the unmarried child or children of the deceased veteran.

With an estimated 21.8 million veterans as of the last U.S. census, understanding the benefits available to the veteran and his or her family members has far-reaching, positive consequences.

Eligibility criteria for the veteran and the beneficiary

In order to be eligible for the survivor's benefit the deceased veteran must have met certain service requirements. War time periods include World War I & II, Korean conflict, Vietnam era and the Gulf War.

  • If a veteran served on or before September 7, 1980, he or she must have served at least 90 days of active military service with at least one day served during a war time period.
  • If a veteran served after September 7, 1980, he or she must have served at least 24 months or the full period ordered to active duty with at least one day served during a war time period.
  • The veteran must have been discharged from service under any conditions except a dishonorable discharge.

In addition, the surviving spouse and offspring need to meet requirements.

  • The spouse must have remained un-remarried.
  • The child or children must be under the age of 18 or under the age of 23 if attending a VA approved school or permanently incapable of self-support due to a disability before the age of 18.
  • The yearly family income must be below the annual income limitations set by Congress.

Calculating income and assets

Congress changes the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR) amounts as the cost of living increases. Currently, the MAPR amount to be eligible for the Survivor's Benefit Pension is $8,830. When factoring countable income, sources of income including earnings, disability or retirement payments and interest of dividend payments from annuities are considered. Net worth assets such as bank accounts, investments and property outside of the primary residence are also factored in if the VA determines the assets are substantial enough to live off of for a reasonable period of time.

The pension is calculated to equal the difference between the annual pension limit and the countable family income. The amount is divided into 12 payments and paid monthly. A beneficiary with an annual income exceeding $8,830 would not be eligible for the pension. However, the beneficiary could reapply for benefits if their income level was reduced below the threshold at a later date.

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