How to Report Death of a Servicemember and What to Expect

I recently helped a relative report the death of her husband, a military retiree, since she’d attempted to call DFAS multiple times but was getting nowhere.  I quickly discovered she was calling the wrong phone number, as DFAS has several “customer service” numbers depending on the subject.

While it is possible to report the death of a military retiree online, I prefer the “human touch” (i.e., a phone call) since it permits the widow/widower/Former Spouse beneficiary to ask and get answered important questions since this is a process most people will only go through once, God willing.

The number to call to report the death of a military retiree is (800) 321-1080.  (emphasis added).  The representative was extremely courteous and took time to explain the process and answer the widow’s questions.  The call lasted some 15 minutes.  The key steps in the process are as follows:

  1. The widow provided the name of the deceased retiree, his SSAN, place of death, and manner of death.
  2. The representative confirmed the widow is a Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) beneficiary.
  3. The representative informed that the widow will be mailed an information packet with forms; the forms would address two key processes.
  4. The first key process, in this instance, is how the widow collects the arrears of military retired pay owed to her as the retiree’s “payment of arrears beneficiary.”  Although possible, it is not the norm for a Former Spouse to be the payment of arrears beneficiary.  The name of payment of arrears beneficiary typically appears on the backside of a Retiree Account Statement.  Here, the retiree passed away on February 25, 2021 and the report of death occurred on March 2, 2021.  The representative explained that the Treasury would withdraw from the retiree’s designated bank account THE FULL AMOUNT of retired pay paid on or about March 1, 2021 (i.e., “February 2021’s retired pay”).  (emphasis added).   The widow must fill out forms including the Standard Form 1174, Claim for Unpaid Compensation of Deceased Member of the Uniformed Services, for payment of arrears to the beneficiary.  Payment of retired pay due and owing from February 1, 2021 through February 25, 2021, will take about 2-3 months to process after DFAS’ receipt of the application.  The application must include a copy of the death certificate; DFAS does not require an original death certificate.  The end result is electronic deposit of retired pay the deceased earned from the first day in the month of death up to the date of death into the arrears beneficiary’s bank account.  Payment of a portion of the military retired pay arrears may or may not need to be paid to a Former Spouse, if not paid by DFAS.
  5. The second key process is how the widow begins to receive Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) monthly payments.  The widow must fill out forms including the Department of Defense Form 2656-7, Verification For Survivor Annuity.  Again, the widow’s first SBP annuity payment (which is 55% of the amount of retired pay insured) will take DFAS 2-3 months to process after receipt of the application.  Again, a copy of the death certificate is part of the application packet.  Typically, the second or perhaps the third monthly SBP payment will include a lump sum for SBP arrears from the date of the retiree’s death up to the day prior the DFAS’ first SBP monthly payment to the widow.   Again, payment will occur electronically based on info provided by the widow.  The amount of retired pay insured by SBP and what 55% of that amount will amount to is available on the front side of a Retiree Account Statement.

My counsel to the widow emphasized these key items:

  1. Be prepared financially for the fact the Treasury will withdraw the full retired pay paid in the month of death.  Ensure that event won’t cause any auto-payments to be rejected due to insufficient funds.
  2. Be prepared financially for the fact it will take 2-3 months until the arrears beneficiary receives deposit of the retired pay earned by the retiree from the first of the month until the date of death.
  3. Be prepared financially for the fact it will take 2-3 months before the first SBP monthly annuity is received from DFAS by the designated beneficiary.
  4. Be prepared financially for the fact that it will take 1-2 additional months before the SBP arrears owed from date of death through the day prior to the first SBP payment will be paid in a lump sum. (emphasis added).

Big-picture takeaway, the widow/widower/former spouse must have sufficient financial resources on hand to navigate these “gap periods” to avoid financial calamity in paying bills and living expenses over these unavoidable 2-3 month processing times.

 Author Jim Cramp is a retired active duty colonel and the founder and principal attorney at the Cramp Law Firm, PLLC.  The firm provides a spectrum of family law-related services to clients in the greater San Antonio region, across the United States and throughout the world.  The firm specializes in Federal Civil Service and Military Divorce matters.