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Survivor Benefits for Police and Firefighter Disability Pensions

Written by Brent Eames

October 29, 2020

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When tragedy strikes, and a first responder dies or becomes permanently disabled, it is crucial to make sure that your loved ones are taken care of now, and into the future after you are gone. While line of duty disability pensions under Article III and Article IV of the Pension Code can provide tremendous benefits for disabled police officers and firefighters who suffer work-related injuries, what happens when the officer or firefighter dies while receiving a disability pension? Will the benefits continue to be paid to his or her family? The answer will depend on a variety of important factors which are laid out in the statute.

For police officers, the pension code provides that surviving family members of a deceased officer who was receiving a disability pension at the time of death can be entitled to survivors’ benefits.  For officers who first became a police officer prior to January 1, 2011, these survivor benefits will equal the same pension benefits to which the police officer was then entitled at the time of his or her death.  For officers who first became officers on or after January 1, 2011, survivor benefits shall be in an amount equal to the greater of (i) 54% of the police officer’s monthly salary at the date of death, or (ii) 66 2/3% of the police officer’s earned pension at the date of death, and, if there is a surviving spouse, 12% of such monthly salary shall be granted to the guardian of any minor child or children, including a child who has been conceived but not yet born, for each such child until attainment of age 18. The code also calls for an increased survivor benefit if the officer suffers a sudden and tragic duty-related death.  If an officer has not begun to receive a retirement pension or a disability pension, and dies as a result of sickness, accident, or injury incurred in or resulting from the performance of an act of duty, the survivor’s benefit shall not be less than 100% of the salary attached to the rank held by the deceased police officer on the last day of service, notwithstanding any provision in the statute to the contrary.

When it comes to family members of deceased police officers who are potentially eligible for survivor benefits, the first in line is the surviving spouse.  Article 1 of the Pension Code defines the surviving spouse as “the spouse of a member at the time of the member’s death”. 40 ILCS 5/1-119(10).  However, notwithstanding this definition, Section 120 of Article 3 of the Code specifically provides that if a police officer marries after the retirement, then the surviving spouse or children of said surviving spouse will not eligible for the survivor’s benefit after the officer’s death. 40 ILCS 5/3-120.  Even though section 120 refers to a retirement pension, reviewing courts have held that this provision applies equally to a disability pension.  So, no matter how long a surviving spouse has been married to a disabled officer, if the marriage occurred after the award of a disability pension, there will be no survivor benefits to the surviving spouse upon the death of the disabled officer.  Additionally, prior to November 15, 1995, if the surviving spouse of a police officer remarried, the new marriage terminated the entitlement to surviving spouse benefits.  However, an amendment to the statute provides that if remarriage occurred after November 15, 1995, the surviving spouse will continue to receive the survivor benefits notwithstanding the new marriage.

If there is no eligible surviving spouse, then the survivor benefit would go in equal shares to the police officer’s unmarried children who are under age 18, or who are dependent because of physical or mental disability. If there is no eligible surviving spouse and no eligible child, the dependent parent or parents of the officer shall be entitled to receive or share such pension until their death or marriage or remarriage after the death of the police officer. Do you have any questions regarding how these laws may impact you or your family? Brent Eames is an experienced police officer injury attorney ready to help.

For firefighters, the pension code confirms that surviving family members of a deceased firefighter who was receiving a disability pension at the time of death can be entitled to survivors’ benefits. The code specifically provides that if a firefighter dies from any cause while in receipt of a disability pension, the surviving spouse will receive a monthly pension of 54% of the monthly salary, and if there is a surviving spouse, to the guardian of any minor child or children including a child which has been conceived but not yet born, 12% of such monthly salary for each such child until attainment of age 18 or until the child’s marriage, whichever occurs first.  Remarriage on or after July 1, 1993 would not affect the surviving spouse’s pension.

For deceased firefighters, the surviving spouse is first in line to receive survivor benefits, but upon the death of the surviving spouse leaving one or more minor children, or upon the death of a firefighter leaving one or more minor children but no surviving spouse, the duly appointed guardian of each such child will receive a monthly pension of 20% of the monthly salary for each such child until the child reaches age 18 or marries, whichever occurs first.  In a case where there is no surviving spouse or dependent children, the deceased firefighter’s dependent parents would be eligible to receive a monthly pension of 18% of the salary. However, in order to qualify, the dependent parent must furnish satisfactory proof that the deceased firefighter was at the time of his or her death the sole supporter of the parent or that the parent was the deceased’s dependent for federal income tax purposes.

An important difference between survivor benefits for police officers and firefighters is that effective January 16, 2004 for firefighters, a surviving spouse is eligible for survivor benefits even if the marriage occurred after the award of the disability pension.  As long as the couple was married for at least one year immediately preceding the date of firefighter’s death, the surviving spouse will remain eligible for all of the benefits which are outlined in the statute even if the marriage occurred after the separation from active service. Having a difficult time getting the benefits you’re entitled to? Brent Eames is an experienced firefighter injury lawyer ready to help.

Do you have questions about survivor benefits or your work-related injury? We are here to help. If you wish to discuss any further aspect of the material contained herein, please contact an attorney at Eames Law Group, Ltd.   

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