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Death of Custodial Parent

Normally, if one of a student's parents dies, the student should include only the income of the surviving parent. (See Section 475(f)(2) of the Higher Education Act.) This is the case even if the student's parents were divorced, the custodial parent remarried and the student continues to live with and be supported by the stepparent. (If the stepparent adopted the student, of course, the stepparent counts as the surviving parent, as the adoption usually terminates the parental rights and obligations of the non-custodial parent.) This is also the case even if the student's parents were divorced, the custodial parent died, and the student lives with someone other than the non-custodial parent (say, with the parents of a friend).

However, many financial aid administrators will make an adjustment if the student has not had any meaningful contact with or support from the surviving non-custodial parent for at least one year, or there is evidence of an estranged or abusive relationship with the non-custodial parent. Usually the adjustment consists of a dependency override, with the inclusion of the support from the stepparent on Worksheet B. Some financial aid administrators will substitute the stepparent for the non-custodial parent, but that is much less common and more of a stretch. (Unless the stepparent has adopted the child, guidance from the US Department of Education clearly indicates that the stepparent cannot count in place of a parent. For example, Chapter 2 of the Verification Guide states "However, a stepparent cannot be the sole parent for determining dependency status. If the biological parent dies, the student is still a dependent of the remaining biological parent, not the stepparent.")

 

 
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