Death gratuities are special, tax free payments made to certain family members if a soldier of the U.S. Armed Forces dies. They are governed by federal statutes: 10 USC §§ 1475-1491.

When Are Death Gratuities Awarded?

A death gratuity is awarded by the U.S. government once they have immediate notice that the death has occurred of one of the following:

  • An active duty member of the Armed Forces who dies on active duty or during authorized travel
  • A Reserve of the Armed Forces who dies on inactive duty training
  • Any Reserve of the Armed Forces who dies while traveling directly to or from active or inactive duty training
  • Any member of the Reserve Officer’s Training Corp who dies while performing duty or in authorized travel
  • Any person who has enlisted or been drafted into the Armed Forces and dies while traveling to a place of final acceptance.

When Are Death Gratuities Not Awarded?

Death gratuities will not be awarded if:

  • The deceased was only a temporary member of the Coast Guard Reserve,
  • The death was a result of lawful punishment for a crime, or
  • The deceased was dishonorably discharged by the Secretary of Veteran Affairs.

Who Is Eligible to Receive a Death Gratuity?

The government will pay a certain amount if the deceased falls into one of the categories above. The recipient of the money will be determined by who is first on the list below:

  1. A surviving spouse
  2. Children
  3. If stated by the deceased, one or more of the following, in equal shares:
    1. Parents
    2. Brothers or sisters

How Much Can a Relative Receive?

The standard death gratuity amount is usually $100,000. Additionally, a retiree who dies from a service related injury more than 120 days after separation from the Armed Forces is entitled to $12,000.

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

It is highly recommended that you find an attorney if you believe you should receive a death gratuity. An estate lawyer will be able to help protect your rights as an eligible survivor and deal with the relevant agencies involved.