What Happens If the Student's Custodial Parent Dies After the FAFSA Is Completed?

Award Year: 2024-25 KA-36769 Helpfulness Rating 1,909 page views

This guidance is specific to the 2024-25 award year and later.

Scenario: A student's parents are divorced. The student files her FAFSA with her mother's information, but her mother dies afterward. The student's father is her surviving parent.

Answer: According to guidance NASFAA has received from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), since the FAFSA was correctly filed prior to the death of the mother, a new FAFSA would not be filed for the student using the father's information. The student still has a surviving parent, so she remains a dependent student, but the mother would not be replaced by the father on the FAFSA for the current award year. According to guidance NASFAA has received from ED, you cannot replace the parent of record on the FAFSA in this scenario, not even using professional judgment (PJ).

If the student is selected for verification, you can waive the verification documentation that is required from the mother and complete verification based only on the student's documentation. The regulatory language in 34 CFR 668.54(b) does not mention a verification exclusion due to the death of a parent. However, the Application and Verification Guide volume of the FSA Handbook does. According to ED, this exclusion applies only to the parent or parents whose information is required to be reported on the FAFSA. If only one parent is reported on the FAFSA, then only that parent needs to be deceased to be excluded from verification. If both parents are on the FAFSA, then both parents need to be deceased to be excluded from verification.

ED strongly encourages the school complete verification for the parent(s) listed on the FAFSA if the student or anyone else has access to the documentation needed to complete verification (such as a power of attorney). See the IRS guidance for Deceased Persons–Getting Information from the IRS. However, if you document the mother's death in this scenario, then you may exclude the mother's information from verification and complete verification by verifying only the student’s information. The documentation can be a death certificate or a statement from the student or a third party who is knowledgeable about the situation, such as a physician or member of the clergy.

Under 668.55(b), if family size changes after the FAFSA is filed and before verification, you must update family size to be correct at the time of verification (except for a change in student’s marital status). However, according to ED, in this specific scenario you cannot update family size to exclude the only parent on the FAFSA, so the parent remains on the FAFSA and in family size. This is based on the statutory definition of family size which includes the relevant parent (see Section 480(k) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), as amended [20 USC 1087vv(k)(1) Amendment of Section]).

In this scenario, you would not switch the parent of record to the father until the following award year if the student is living with the father at that time and he is the parent of record on the FAFSA at that time. You could choose to exercise PJ discretion to include the father's income and asset information on the current year FAFSA, while the mother remains the parent of record and in family size on the FAFSA. FAFSAs for future award years would be filed using the father's information, until the student is otherwise independent.

You could also exercise PJ to perform a dependency override if you believe and can document unusual circumstances that you believe warrant the dependency override. As with all PJ decisions, this must be done on a case-by-case basis.

Had the parent who died been the last surviving parent, the student would be required to update his or her dependency status and report income and assets as an independent student.

See also AskRegs Q&A, Who Is the Parent Of Record On the FAFSA Starting In 2024-25? (Award Year: 2024-25)

 

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