Getting Federal Assistance
Social Security (800-772-1213 / www.ssa.gov)
The Veterans Administration (855-574-7286 / www.vets.gov/burials-and-memorials/preneed)
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (800-621-3362 / www.fema.gov/disaster-funeral-assistance/a>)
National Center for Victims of Crime (202-467-8700 / victomsofcrime.org)
More information on each of the above categories of assistance is provided below.
UPDATE: In April of 2021, FEMA began accepting applications for COVID-19 funeral-related assistance. For more information on how to apply for help under this program, visit our FEMA COVID-19 funeral-related reimbursement page.
Social Security Survivors Benefits
We normally associate social security with monthly retirement benefits. But there is another benefit that you should be aware of if you have experienced the death of a loved one—the Social Security one-time death benefit.
Social Security One-Time Death Benefit
Depending on your loved one’s employment history, you may be eligible for a one-time lump sum payment of $255. This payment is in addition to any monthly benefit for which the deceased’s survivors may be eligible. The Social Security death benefit is paid to beneficiaries in the following order:
- A surviving spouse who lived in the same household as the deceased person at the time of death.
- A surviving spouse who is eligible for social security benefits based on the deceased’s earnings record for the month of death.
- Children are eligible for benefits for the month of death when there is no surviving spouse.
You should notify the Social Security Administration as soon as possible after the death. If you are working with a funeral director, he or she may handle the notification for you, but you should confirm this since you must apply within two years of death. If you are taking care of notification, you must do so in person at a local social security office or by calling 1-800-772-1213. You cannot apply online.
Social Security Monthly Benefits
The amount of monthly benefits paid to survivors depends on the average lifetime earnings of the deceased. The higher the earnings, the greater the benefits. However, there are also other factors that are taken into consideration in determining benefits such as the survivor’s earnings. For complete information on eligibility, we recommend that you contact the Social Security Administration.
Eligible survivors include:
- A widow or widower age 60 or older (50 if disabled), or at any age if caring for an entitled child who is under 16 or disabled.
- A divorced widow or widower age 60 or older (50 if disabled) if the marriage lasted ten years, or if caring for an entitled child who is under 16 or disabled.
- Unmarried children under age 18 and age 19 if they are attending a primary or secondary school full-time; and under certain circumstances, benefits can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren or adopted children.
- Children who were disabled before reaching 22, as long as they remained disabled.
- Dependent parent or parents 62 or older.
How to Apply
You cannot apply for Social Security benefits online. To apply, visit your local Social Security office or call 1-800-772-1213. You will need the following information when you apply:
- Death certificate.
- Social security numbers — the deceased, the applicant, dependent children.
- Applicant’s birth certificate.
- Marriage certificate and divorce papers, as applicable.
- W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return for the deceased worker for the most recent year.
- Bank and account number for direct deposit of benefits.
If you are already receiving benefits as a husband or wife on your spouse’s record when she or he dies, immediately report the death to Social Security to have your payments changed to survivor benefits. If you are receiving benefits based on your work record, complete an application and Social Security will determine if you can receive more under survivor benefits.
For more information on applying for Social Security benefits visit www.ssa.gov or call 1-800-772-1213.
Veterans Benefits for Funerals and Burials
If the deceased was a veteran, spouse of a veteran, or the minor child of a veteran you may be eligible to receive assistance for the burial.
Under regulations that went into effect on July 7, 2014, the Veterans Administration (VA) will pay a one-time cash allowance of up to $300 for a non-service-related death and $2,000 for a death related to military service. Payment is made on a reimbursement basis. In other words, you must submit your receipts to the VA.
In addition to the one-time payment, veterans, spouses of veterans, and minor children may be eligible for burial at a national or state military cemetery in the United States. Veterans may also be eligible for military funeral honors, burial flags, headstones and markers, and Presidential Memorial Certificates at no cost. If the burial is in a private cemetery, only the veteran is eligible for those items.
- Deaths occurring on or after September 11, 2001: The VA will pay up to $2,000 toward burial expenses.
- Deaths prior to September 11, 2001: up to $1,500.
- If the burial is in a national cemetery, some portion of the deceased’s transportation may be covered.
- Deaths occurring on or after October 1, 2017: Up to $762 if hospitalized by the VA at the time of death. If not hospitalized, the VA will pay $300 toward burial or funeral expenses. If not buried in a national cemetery, the VA will also pay a $762 plot-interment allowance.
- Deaths on or after December 1, 2001, but before October 1, 2011: Up to $300 toward burial and funeral expenses and a $300 plot-interment allowance. For deaths on or after April 1, 1988, but before October 1, 2011, $300 toward burial and funeral expenses, for Veterans hospitalized by VA at the time of death.
Eligibility requirements for funeral benefits are established by law, and they can change from time to time. You should always check to make sure that you have the most current information before you decide your eligibility. Visit the VA Burial Benefits Eligibility Page.
You can apply for benefits online at https://www.vets.gov/burials-and-memorials/pre-need/. To apply by the paper application you will need to complete VA Form 21P530, Application for Burial Allowance. For more information on how to complete the paper form, you can visit the link above. Your local regional benefit office can also assist you.
The National Cemetery Scheduling Office is the organization that can help you make arrangements to have an eligible Servicemember, Veteran, Spouse, or dependent buried in a national cemetery. A funeral director can help you make arrangements, or you can contact the office at 800-535-1117.
Some private cemeteries offer free grave sites for veterans. Be aware that restrictions may apply and there may be requirements to purchase an additional gravesite or a grave marker. The VA will provide a free headstone or marker for private cemetery burials. However, this benefit is limited to eligible veterans or Service members only.
Funeral directors can request military funeral honors on behalf of veterans’ families. Veterans organizations often assist in providing military funeral honors.
For information on burial at sea, contact the United States Navy Mortuary Affairs office toll-free at 1-888-647-6676, and select option 4.
FEMA provides some assistance with funeral expenses if you are in a Presidentially declared disaster area and the death is caused as a direct result of the disaster. The amount that you are eligible for is determined by the state, territory, or tribal government. You can reside outside the declared area but the death must be caused by the emergency. To be eligible, the deceased must:
- Be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien.
- Must have a verifiable identity.
- Burial insurance or other forms of assistance must be insufficient to meet the disaster-caused needs.
- Required documentation must be provided. To see exactly what documentation is required visit the FEMA funeral assistance page.
FEMA will only provide assistance for expenses directly related to funeral or burial. Items such as an obituary, flowers, or catering are not covered.
Because the amount of awards and details of how to apply can vary depending on the disaster, we recommend that you contact FEMA (800) 621-3362) to discuss your specific circumstances.
In times of emergency, the community often pulls together to raise funds to help people work through difficult situations. If you are in a disaster and suffering, please contact your local Red Cross or municipality.
The National Center for Victims of Crime is responsible for managing the Federal program that provides compensation for crime victims. In addition to items such as medical and dental expenses, the fund offers assistance with funeral costs. The National Center is primarily an agency that coordinates between states since each state is responsible for its own crime victim compensation. Benefits vary by state and range from $10,000 to $100,000.
The National Center maintains a listing of the programs offered by each state. To contact the National Center, call (202) 467-8700.