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  • Scott

VA Estate Planning and Elder Care Related Benefits (Part II) - The Surviving Spouse Pension

My prior VA Benefits post dealt with a veteran’s eligibility for a Non-Service-Connected Disability Pension. (Link) I turn now to the Survivor’s Pension. The VA Survivors Pension provides monthly payments to qualified surviving spouses and unmarried dependent children of wartime Veterans. Like the Non-Service-Connected Disability Pension, recipients must meet specified income and net worth limits.

I. Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible, the surviving Spouse:

1. Cannot have remarried after the Veteran’s death;

2. The Veteran must have been discharged from service under other than dishonorable conditions;

3. The Veteran’s service must meet a qualifying period of service:

a. 90 days of active duty with at least one day during a period of wartime (for veterans entering service on or before September 7, 1980)

b. 24-months of active duty with at least one day during a period of wartime (for veterans entering service after September 7, 1980); OR

c. Was an officer and entered active duty after October 16, 1981, and hadn’t previously served on active duty for at least 24 months.

4. Have an income and net worth below the statutory limits.

A dependent child may receive benefits if:

1. Child is not included in the surviving Spouse’s benefits. (Easiest example here is a child from a prior marriage, not living with the Surviving Spouse.);

2. Child is unmarried; AND

3. Child meets one of three age/ability requirements;

a. Under the age of 18;

b. Under the age of 23, if enrolled full time in a qualifying education program; OR

c. Unable to care for themselves due to a disability that occurred before age 18.

The first thing to notice is the spousal benefit, unlike the veteran’s benefit, does not include an age or disability requirement on the part of the recipient.

II. Amount of Benefit Available

The VA pays the recipient the difference between their countable income and the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR). The MAPR varies depending on the family situation of the recipient. For example, a surviving spouse with dependents at home has a higher MAPR than a surviving spouse with no dependents. The full MAPR calculations from the VA can be found here.

III. How to Apply

Like the Non-Service-Connected Disability Pension, the VA makes available several avenues to file your claim. In my opinion, the process is not nearly as simple for the Spouse as applying as the Veteran. Their online portal is available to start the application process (link). If the beneficiary prefers, they may complete the VA Form 21P-534EZ and submit it via mail or in person at a VA regional office. As noted in the prior post, it takes the VA between three and six months to act on the pension request, but the beneficiary receives benefits starting from the date of submission of the actual application or the submission of the intent to file form (VA Form 21-0966).

If you require assistance, many Veterans Service Organizations such as the Americal Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, or other similar groups offer assistance in filing. To find an accredited representative, you can search online at the VA eBenefits Portal or the VA General Counsel’s Website.

Next week I’ll address the third major VA benefit of this type, the Housebound or Aid and Attendance benefit.

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