Death Gratuity Laws

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 What Is a Death Gratuity?

Congress created the GI Bill in 1944 under the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, but a death benefit didn’t become part of the Bill until it was amended by the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB).

In 2003 Congress passed new legislation allowing for an increase from $12,000 to $100,000 in the benefit amount.

The Death Gratuity has been codified under 10 U.S. Code § 1475 – Death gratuity: death of members on active duty or inactive duty training and of certain other persons.

A death gratuity is a payment made to the family of a deceased military service member. The Department of Defense (DoD) offers several different types of death gratuities, which are outlined below.

The Armed Forces death gratuity provides $100,000 in tax-free payments to eligible survivors of members who die while on active duty or serving in certain reserve statuses. The payment is the same no matter what cause of death

The purpose of the death gratuity is to provide some financial assistance to the service member’s family in their time of need. The death gratuity is intended to provide immediate financial assistance for the surviving spouse and any other survivors so they can cope with their loss without having to worry about paying their expenses.

There are three types of death gratuity payments offered by DoD:

  1. Immediate lump-sum payment
  2. Annual payments for up to five years, or
  3. A combination of both immediate payment and periodic payments.

As of 2013, family members who are eligible for a death gratuity include the following:

  • The deceased’s spouse or child (if there is no spouse)
  • A parent of the member if there are no other survivors
  • Legal guardians of minor children.

If there are multiple potential recipients, precedence goes first to the surviving spouse.

If that person does not qualify because they have remarried or voluntarily abandoned their status as a spouse, then the next priority is given to surviving children. If there are no children, then to the parents. If there are no surviving parents, then to next-of-kin.

When Is A Death Gratuity Awarded?

The U.S government gives a death gratuity to anyone who has died as soon as they receive notice of that person’s passing in one of the following ways:

  • An active duty member of the Armed Forces who dies on active duty or during authorized travel while on active duty;
  • A reserve member of the Armed Forces who dies while on inactive duty training;
  • Any member on reserve of the Armed Forces who dies while authorized to was required to travel directly to or from active or inactive duty training;
  • Any member of the Reserve Officers Training Corp who dies while performing annual duty training or while attending field training
  • Any person who dies while traveling to active duty because they have enlisted or been drafted into the Armed Forces.

When Are Military Death Gratuities Not Awarded?

  1. Temporary Member Of The Coast Guard Reserve. The section of the US Code governing death benefits does not provide for survivors of temporary Coast Guard Reserve personnel, and as such, death gratuities are not typically awarded to temporary members of the coast guard reserve. In order to be eligible for a military death gratuity, an individual must have been a member of the Armed Forces on active duty at the time of their death.
  2. Lawful Punishment. Death gratuities are not awarded to the families of military members who have been executed for a capital crime. The death gratuity is a benefit paid to eligible survivors of military members who die while lawfully on active military duty. Since capital punishment is a lawful punishment for a crime and not an accidental death, the death gratuity would not be payable in these cases.
  3. Dishonorable Discharge. Military death gratuities are not awarded if the veteran is dishonorably discharged by the Secretary of Veteran Affairs. The Department of Veterans Affairs will make the determination as to whether or not a discharge was honorable. If it is determined that the discharge was dishonorable, then the Department of Veterans Affairs will notify the service branch that issued the discharge and no payment will be made.

How Much Of The Death Gratuity Can A Retiree Receive?

A death gratuity benefit of $12,000 is a one-time payment that a relative can receive if a retired military veteran dies of a service-related injury or disease within 120 days of release or discharge from active duty.

Some injuries and diseases can include:

  • Combat injuries or illness
  • Diseases contracted as a result of service (such as malaria)
  • Accidents during active duty or training
  • Injuries sustained during prisoner of war captivity

What Other Death Benefits Are Available?

The circumstances surrounding death are factored into whether or not relocation expenses are also paid to the survivors. For example, if an active duty member dies while on active duty, their spouse and children could be entitled to Relocation Death Benefits (up to $5,000).

If it occurs while traveling en route to or from active service, they would not be eligible for relocation benefits. Relocation benefits are also available only if serving greater than 30 days past deployment date after 21 July 2004 regardless of the level of hostile fire or imminent danger pay.

Relocation benefits are also available only if serving greater than 30 days past deployment date after 21 July 2004 regardless of the level of hostile fire or imminent danger pay.

Details about death gratuities depend on the circumstances surrounding the death, as well as whether they died active duty service, inactive duty training, traveling to and from service, enlisted with URC-ITP (uniformed services recruitment), or drafted into the uniformed services.

Some important points to remember are that family members can share in gratuity payments otherwise not authorized by law due to “interruption of their permanent change of station.” But this does not include missing movement of household goods and effects, nor travel expenses related thereto.

Also, survivors must travel to and from the deceased’s duty station, not their home of record. Death gratuities are paid in a lump sum, not monthly or weekly installments. Finally, spouses can work while waiting for relocation payments if they have been approved by the Military Personnel Office to change duty stations with a military sponsor.

Do I Need an Attorney If I Think I Should Receive a Death Gratuity?

If you are a surviving spouse, surviving child, surviving parent, or next of kin to a service member who died while on active duty, It’s a good idea to consult with an estate lawyer to find out if you are eligible to receive a death gratuity.

Even if you are the personal representative of the service member’s estate, it’s important to guide the surviving members and the estate through this process with the counsel of an attorney.

Since the Department of Defense (DoD) may pay a death gratuity to certain survivors of military personnel who die while on active duty, as well as to certain survivors of reserve members who die while on inactive duty, it’s important to know how the funds are disbursed.

If the death benefit is being contested due to a ruling of ineligibility by the military, it’s advisable to seek the advice of a military lawyer to discuss your potential case.

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