Without question, every man, woman, and child in the United States owes a debt of gratitude to those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces that can never truly be repaid. While the country does make an effort to honor veterans in many ways, another group of unsung heroes is often overlooked – spouses. The husbands and wives of servicemen and women live every day with the knowledge that their spouse may make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, often leaving them a widow or widower at a young age. If you are a surviving spouse, at some point you may wonder if VA benefits transfer to a surviving spouse.
Are You a Surviving Spouse?
The first step in determining if you are entitled to any VA benefits as a surviving spouse is to make sure that the VA considers you to be a surviving spouse. The VA will consider you to be a surviving spouse if at least one of the following is true:
- You were married to the veteran for at least a year.
- You were married for any length of time and your spouse died while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.
- You married the veteran within 15 years of his or her discharge from service, and the injury or illness that caused the veteran’s death started in military service, or was made worse by service.
- You were married to the veteran before January 1, 1957.
- You had a child with the veteran, and
- you were living with the veteran until his or her death, or
- you were separated, and the separation was not your fault.
VA Benefits for a Surviving Spouse
As you may already know, there are numerous benefits available to veterans, each with its own set of eligibility guidelines and application procedures. You may also already know from experience that navigating the application process for any VA benefit can be confusing and time-consuming. Given the complexity of the eligibility guidelines for most benefit programs, and the frequency with which they change, it is always best to consult with a VA benefits attorney to determine if you are, indeed, eligible for a specific benefit. As a surviving spouse, some of the more common VA benefits to which you may be entitled include:
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) — a tax-free monetary benefit paid to eligible survivors of military Servicemembers who died in the line of duty or eligible survivors of Veterans whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease. To be eligible, a surviving spouse must have been:
- Married to a Servicemember who died on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training, OR
- Validly married the Veteran before January 1, 1957, OR
- Married the Veteran within 15 years of discharge from the period of military service in which the disease or injury that caused the Veteran’s death began or was aggravated, OR
- Was married to the Veteran for at least one year, OR
- Had a child with the Veteran, AND
- Cohabited with the Veteran continuously until the Veteran’s death or, if separated, was not at fault for the separation, AND
- Is not currently remarried (NOTE: A surviving spouse who remarries on or after December 16, 2003, and on or after attaining age 57, is entitled to continue to receive DIC.)
- Survivors Pension — also be referred to as Death Pension, is a tax-free monetary benefit payable to a low-income, un-remarried surviving spouse and/or unmarried child(ren) of a deceased Veteran with wartime service. To be eligible as a surviving spouse, you must meet a yearly income requirement that is set by Congress each year and your deceased spouse must meet the following service requirements:
- For service on or before September 7, 1980, the Veteran must have served at least 90 days of active military service, with at least one day during a wartime period.
- If he or she entered active duty after September 7, 1980, generally he or she must have served at least 24 months or the full period for which called or ordered to active duty with at least one day during a wartime period.
- Was discharged from service under other than dishonorable conditions.
- Home Loans – surviving spouses may be able to participate in a home loan guaranty benefit and other housing-related programs to help you buy, build, repair, retain, or adapt a home for your own personal occupancy.
- Aid and Attendance OR Housebound – veterans and survivors who are eligible for a VA pension and require the aid and attendance of another person, or are housebound, may be eligible for additional monetary payment through this program. These benefits are paid in addition to monthly pension, and they are not paid without eligibility to Pension.
Office of Survivors Assistance
The Veterans Administration has a special program, the Office of Survivors Assistance, that is dedicated to providing assistance and support to survivors. They have a “Frequently Asked Question” on their website where you can find answers to some common questions.
Contact VA Benefits Attorneys
Please download our FREE estate planning checklist. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding planning issues, contact us at the Northern California Center for Estate Planning & Elder Law today by calling (916)-437-3500 or by filling out our online contact form.