The death gratuity program provides for a special tax free payment of $100,000 to eligible survivors of members of the Armed Forces, who die while on active duty or while serving in certain reserve statuses. The death gratuity is the same regardless of the cause of death.
The longstanding purpose of the death gratuity has been to provide immediate cash payment to assist survivors of deceased members of the Armed forces to meet their financial needs during the period immediately following a member's death and before other survivor benefits, if any, become available.
The death gratuity is payable for death of members in a reserve status while performing authorized travel to or from active duty, while on inactive-duty training, or while performing authorized travel directly to or from active duty for training or inactive duty training, as well as, members of reserve officers' training programs who die while performing annual training duty under orders for a period of more than 13 days or while performing authorized travel to or from that duty, to applicants for membership in reserve officers' training corps who die while attending travelling to or from field training or a practice cruise and to persons travelling to from or while at a place of acceptance for entry upon active duty.
The death gratuity is also payable if an eligible member or former member dies within 120 days of release or discharge from active duty, or active duty for training when the Secretary of Veterans Affairs determines that the death resulted from injury or disease incurred or aggravated during such duty.
Prior to May 25, 2007, the death gratuity was payable according to a specific hierarchy prescribed in law with limited opportunity for the member to designate a beneficiary.
Since July 1, 2008, a member may designate any person or persons to receive up to 100% of the death gratuity (in 10% increments) with any remaining undesignated amount payable according to a new prescribed hierarchy. The new beneficiary hierarchy for the amount of the death gratuity not covered by a designation shall be paid as follows:
(1) To the surviving spouse of the person, if any.
(2) If there is no surviving spouse, to any surviving children (as prescribed in the note for item 2 of the pre-2008 hierarchy, above) of the person and the descendants of any deceased children by representation.
(3) If there is none of the above, to the surviving parents of the person or the survivor of them.
(4) If there is none of the above, to the duly appointed executor or administrator of the estate of the person.
(5) If there is none of the above, to other next of kin of the person entitled under the laws of domicile of the person at the time of the person’s death.
Item (1), Surviving Spouse. If a person has a spouse, but designates a person other than the spouse to receive all or or a portion of the amount payable, the Secretary of the Military Department shall provide notice of the designation to the spouse.
Item (3), Treatment of Parents. Parents include fathers and mothers through adoption. However, only one father and one mother may be recognized in any case, and preference shall be given to those who exercised a parental relationship on the date, or most nearly before the date, on which the decedent entered military service.
If a person entitled to all or a portion of a death gratuity dies before the person recieves the death gratuity, it shall be paid to the living survivor next in the order prescribed.
Designation of Eligible Survivors
Members may designate eligible survivors, at any time, by updating their DD Form 93, Record of Emergency Data.