My Husband is a Veteran and Dying of Cancer. I’m Afraid.


Dear Steve,

My husband found out last week he has cancer 6 months to live he is the sole provider we got a loan joint on his income only.

When he passes retirement, disability and ss will be cut off.

I am afraid the loan company will freeze our bank account.

I will have no income for 3 months to get only 500 his social security and a small spouse found. [?]

I only have $2000 in my bank account because I have to cremate him what can I do?

He was a veteran 28 yrs in the military he started a gofundme for me it is not bringing in money. I have to worry about all of it very stressful time

Will the loan company freeze our bank account if we default on the loan what can I do? He is 65 I am almost 62 yrs old I won’t have money to pay the mortgage utilities and feed my pets if they do.



Dear Kayla,

First off, I’m so very sorry to hear about this terrible diagnosis and the months ahead.

In general, you might want to read my post How to Handle the Bills After the Death of a Loved One.

Let’s try to figure out a few things.

Retirement Income After He Passes

You mentioned he has some retirement income. I would advise you to contact the retirement plan administrator and ask them if you continue to receive a portion of his retirement payment after he passes. Depending on the plan and what selections your husband made, you might receive his regular payment, a portion of it, or nothing. We just don’t know.

Social Security Survivor Benefits

Your survivors benefit amount is based on the earnings of the person who died. The more they paid into Social Security, the higher your benefits would be.

The monthly amount you would get is a percentage of the deceased’s basic Social Security benefit. It depends on your age and the type of benefit you are eligible to receive.

These are examples of the benefits that survivors may receive:

  • Widow or widower, full retirement age or older — 100 percent of the deceased worker’s benefit amount;
  • Widow or widower, age 60 — full retirement age — 71½ to 99 percent of the deceased worker’s basic amount;
  • Disabled widow or widower aged 50 through 59 — 71½ percent;
  • Widow or widower, any age, caring for a child under age 16 — 75 percent;
  • A child under age 18 (19 if still in elementary or secondary school) or disabled — 75 percent; and
  • Dependent parent(s) of the deceased worker, age 62 or older:
  • One surviving parent — 82½ percent.
  • Two surviving parents — 75 percent to each parent. – Source

Additionally, “A one-time lump-sum death payment of $255 can be paid to the surviving spouse if he or she was living with the deceased; or, if living apart, was receiving certain Social Security benefits on the deceased’s record.”

Generally, the funeral home will report the passing of someone to Social Security. As difficult as it to deal with these tough issues, it would be good to talk to the funeral home if you’ve already selected one. Ask them if they will automatically notify Social Security.

If you need to report a death or apply for benefits, call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). You can speak to a Social Security representative between 8:00 am – 5:30 pm. Monday through Friday.

The Veterans Administration also provides “up to $796 toward burial and funeral expenses for deaths on or after October 1, 2019 (if hospitalized by VA at time of death)” – Source

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The Veterans Administration provides a number of additional benefits you may be eligible for.

Veteran Benefits for Spouses, Dependents, and Survivors

Health care – Find out if you may qualify for health care through our CHAMPVA program, the Department of Defense’s TRICARE program, or one of our programs related to a Veteran’s service-connected disability. If you already have health care through VA, learn how to manage your health and benefits. For spouse, dependent child, surviving spouse, surviving child

Education and training – Find out if you may be eligible for help paying for school or job training through our Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance Program (also called Chapter 35) or the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship. And learn about how a Veteran may transfer their unused Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to you. For spouse, dependent child, surviving spouse, surviving child

Home loan programs or financial counseling – Apply for a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) for VA home loan programs to buy, build, repair, or refinance a home. Or, if you’re having trouble making mortgage payments on a VA-backed loan, get help to avoid foreclosure and keep your house. For surviving spouse

Life insurance options, claims, and beneficiary assistance – Learn how to apply for Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) coverage, explore other coverage options, and manage an existing policy. If you’re the beneficiary of a Veteran’s or service member’s policy, find out how to get free financial advice and will preparation services. For spouse, dependent child, surviving spouse, surviving child

Pre-need eligibility determination for burial in a VA national cemetery – Apply in advance for eligiblity to be buried in a VA national cemetery. This can help you plan ahead to make the burial process easier for your family in their time of need. For spouse, dependent child, surviving spouse, surviving child

Burial benefits and memorial items – Get step-by-step guidance on how to plan a burial in a VA national cemetery, or in a state or tribal government Veterans cemetery. You can also apply for help paying for burial costs, request memorial items, and learn about bereavement (grief) counseling and transition support. For surviving spouse, surviving child, surviving parent

Survivors Pension – If you’re the surviving spouse or child of a Veteran with wartime service, find out if you’re eligible for monthly pension benefits. For surviving spouse, surviving child

Compensation for surviving spouse and dependents (DIC) – If you’re the surviving spouse, child, or parent of a service member who died in the line of duty, or the survivor of a Veteran who died from a service-related injury or illness, find out how to apply for this tax-free monetary benefit. For surviving spouse, surviving child, surviving parent

Speaking of Life Insurance

You should talk to the retirement plan administrator and the VA to determine if there are life insurance benefits that might be payable to you.

I also recommend the National Association of Insurance Commissioners Life Insurance Policy Locator. This free online tool can help you to locate any old life insurance policies that were long forgotten. I used this when my parents died and found a policy I never knew about.

Cremation Expenses

This is going to come off sounding really bad but you need to know this. If you live in an area with more than one place that provides cremation services, shop around now.

Cremation providers are a business that wants to win you as a paying customer. I accidentally discovered this when my father died. A few months prior I went to the funeral home to talk to them about arrangements when he passed from dementia. It was a horrible time so I can empathize with what you are going through.

I had just casually mentioned that my mother had been cremated at a different place and the representative said, “Oh, we price match.” They took $900 off the price of the cremation just because I had accidentally asked.

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Cremation services can be less than $800 as evidenced by this one place. Your VA and Social Security benefits should pay for a majority of that cost. Shop around now.

See What Benefits You Will be Eligible For

Far too often people forget to check to see what public benefit programs they are eligible for. Not accessing these programs is like throwing money away. What you will find are benefits you are already eligible for. My favorite place to search for benefits is at Benefits.gov. Use the Benefit Finder tool on the website.

Dealing With the Loan and Other Debt After He Passes

I have no idea what the loan was for. But what I can tell you is After you’ve done all the homework and research above, it might just be that we will have to deal with the debt left after he sadly passes.

As you can see now, you will have two lives. One is the life you’ve shared together and the expenses you’ve undertaken based on what your current financial reality was.

The second life will be after he passes. And we need to make sure that financial life fits within whatever your income might be with potential retirement, Social Security, and VA benefits. We just don’t know yet.

If you have any assets like a car, home, bank account, or investment account like a 401(k) you should absolutely take action right now to make sure those accounts are held in a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship (JTWROS), or similar, status. This change will allow any assets you might jointly hold to pass to you without having to go through your state probate process first.

That’s another lesson I learned from experience. When my mom died the car she owned with my father was the only thing that wasn’t held JTWROS and it had to go through the State probate process that was not fun.

I also learned that your motor vehicle agency in your state might say they don’t title vehicles JTWROS but they do if you push them. Here in North Carolina, they told me “We don’t do that” and I had to go hunt down the rules and point it out to them. When I went back the clerk told me, “In all of my years working here I never knew that.” My car titles are now held JTWROS.

If there is anything leftover, like maybe that loan, you can always use your legal rights and file for bankruptcy of the debt you can’t manage with your future financial life.

If you run into trouble and issues with any particular debt afterward, you should contact HELPS, a non-profit law firm that specializes in assisting seniors. Their services are low cost and they can advise you what income will be protected from creditors if you get legal threats or collection calls.

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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
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