TN 32 (08-23)

GN 00304.025 Circumstantial Evidence of Death

A. Policy for circumstantial evidence of death

When there is no preferred or secondary evidence of death and the body is still missing, try to establish the death based on circumstantial evidence. The amount of evidence needed to establish death as the inevitable conclusion from all the circumstances of the disappearance depends on the facts developed.

NOTE: There is no prescribed amount of time that must pass before we can establish a death based on circumstantial evidence.

B. Procedure for establishing death based on circumstantial evidence

1. Steps for establishing death based on circumstantial evidence

Take the following steps when establishing death based on circumstantial evidence:

  1. a. 

    Take a claim immediately to protect benefit rights, even if it appears benefits are not payable now.

  2. b. 

    Do not certify payment until we receive proof of death of the missing person.

  3. c. 

    Prepare a special determination to support the award or disallowance action.

  4. d. 

    Cross-refer claims involving more than one disappearance.

  5. e. 

    Obtain any prior denied claim that we could not establish death:

    • Information from that claim may be useful in the current claim, and

    • In most cases, we can reopen the prior claim, per GN 04020.040, Unrestricted Reopening - Death of NH Established by Reason of Unexplained Absence for a Period of 7 Years or by Location of Body — Policy Principle.

2. Evidence-body not recovered

The amount and type of evidence in any case depends on judgment. Obtain the following, as appropriate:

If evidence consists of…


Statements of the claimant and persons with knowledge about the missing person

Obtain statements on the SSA-795 or SSA-723-F4 (Statement Regarding the Inferred Death of an Individual by Reason of Continued and Unexplained Absence), which provide the following information, as appropriate:

  • identification of the person making the statement;

  • the date, time, place, and circumstances, where the missing person was last seen;

  • information about pertinent evidence or knowledge, its source and basis;

  • information about the continued absence from their residence, place of employment or business, and places customarily frequented;

  • information about any search for the missing person, including search of death records;

  • information about any reasons (or lack of reasons) which might have led the missing person to falsify their disappearance, such as financial, family, or mental problems;

  • remarks and actions of the missing person before the disappearance;

  • names and addresses of family members or friends that the missing person would likely contact; or

  • opinions as to whether death was the probable result of the circumstances where the missing person was last seen, or whether survival was likely.

Letters or notes left or sent by the missing person that may have a bearing on the disappearance

Obtain information necessary to show that the missing person may have written such evidence, as letters or notes.

Insurance investigations

If available, obtain information about:

  • any paid life insurance policies carried on the missing person; and

  • the facts and date of death established by the insurance company's investigation.

Investigations conducted by Federal, State, or local agencies

Document attempts to locate the missing person conducted by other agencies, e.g., Reports of searches by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Coast Guard, or police.

Newspaper reports

Obtain reports about the person's disappearance or any search for the body, which may provide information.

Information about others who disappeared at the same time

Gather enough evidence about the identity of others involved to permit an evaluation of the likelihood of a planned disappearance.

Report of Casualty From Military

Issue Form DD-1300 (Report of Casualty) declaring the missing person dead after a search. Show the “casualty status” as either “Death” or “KIA” (killed in action). We do not need to corroborate with other evidence. Proof of death reported on Form DD-1300 is acceptable.


If the DD-1300 shows that the remains are still missing, use it to establish the fact of death, but not the date of death. Unless there is evidence establishing a later date, use the date missing (usually cited on the DD-1300) as the date of death.

Presumption of death of an American outside the U.S.

Obtain a Report of Presumptive Death of an American Citizen issued by a U.S. Consul's Office.

3. Special situations for developing evidence of death

Special situations include:

a. Disappearance due to drowning

  • Develop evidence, per GN 00304.025B.2 in this section.

  • Get statements from at least three eyewitnesses. If there were no eyewitnesses, get statements from other people familiar with the disappearance. Document their knowledge of the circumstances and events leading to the disappearance.

b. Obtaining evidence of death when body is not recovered

For procedures in obtaining evidence of death when the body is missing, refer to GN 00410.010C.2.a.

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GN 00304.025 - Circumstantial Evidence of Death - 08/16/2023
Batch run: 08/16/2023