How to fill out the FAFSA if your parent is deceased

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the cornerstone of receiving financial aid for college. However, the form can seem complex at the best of times, and if you’ve lost a parent, the process can be even more difficult to navigate. If one of your parents has died, your form may look a little different.

The US Department of Education considers the following legal parents:

  • Biological father.
  • Foster father.
  • Stepfather (as long as he is still married to the student’s biological father).
  • A person determined to be a parent by the state.

Foster parents, grandparents, legal guardians, and widowed stepparents are not considered legal parents for FAFSA purposes.

If one of the parents is deceased, there is no way to use their income when completing the FAFSA. By completing your form, you will be filling in parent information for the surviving parent only. Do not provide any financial information about your deceased parent, even if they have recently passed away.

If both parents have died, you are considered an independent student. This means that information about you, not your parents, is evaluated, including your income, assets, and expenses. Step three of the FAFSA will ask, “At any time since you turned 13, did your parents die, were you in foster care, or were you a dependent or ward of the court?” If you check “yes” next to this question, you will be able to skip step four, which asks about your parents’ information.

If a parent died after you submitted your FAFSA, there are ways to adjust your FAFSA. A good first course of action is to call the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend and request a form to update your financial aid information. Different schools may have different procedures and forms to complete.

You can also go to the Federal Student Aid website and update your Student Aid Report (SAR) to reflect the most recent change. If both parents are deceased, you will need to change your dependency status to become an independent student.

As an independent student, you will only report your financial information (unless you are married, in which case you will also include your spouse’s information). His financial information is one of the most important factors in determining the amount of financial aid he’s eligible for, so if he previously didn’t qualify for federal grants and scholarships because of his parents’ income, he might now.

If you are a beneficiary of a parent’s life insurance policy and receive a payment after your parent’s death, that payment generally counts as income to the beneficiary. This, in turn, could lower the amount of financial aid you are eligible for.

However, you may be able to appeal this with your university under the circumstances. Some colleges will make an exception and ignore the death benefit when calculating your total income, although the payment may still be considered an asset to the extent that it has not been spent, which could disqualify you from receiving some need-based aid. It’s best to talk to your financial aid office if you have questions about the process or to learn more about your options.

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