Death & Survivor Benefits

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As a VCERA member, death and survivor benefits may be payable to your surviving spouse, minor children, other eligible beneficiary or estate. The type and amount of benefits depend on many different factors and can only be determined after a full review of the decedent’s individual circumstances. Below is an overview of the death and survivor benefits that may be payable upon the death of a member.

Active Member Death

When an active member passes away, the benefits payable will depend on years of retirement service credit and whether the death was job-related or not job-related. Retirement law states that the rights and claims of a surviving spouse or minor children may supersede the rights and claims of another named beneficiary.

Nonservice-Connected Death

When an active member dies for reasons unrelated to employment (i.e., nonservice-connected), the benefits payable to a beneficiary(ies) depend on the member’s years of retirement service credit at the time of death. Benefits may include:

  • Lump-sum benefit: The “basic death benefit” consists of a one-time payment of the contributions and interest in the member’s VCERA account, plus one month’s salary for each completed year of retirement service credit, up to a maximum of six months’ salary. (Salary is based on the average monthly compensation over the last 12 months of employment. Service credit excludes prior public service purchases.)

A surviving spouse may be eligible to elect one of the following two options in lieu of the basic death benefit described above.

  • Monthly retirement benefit: If a member is vested in VCERA (i.e., having at least five years of eligible service credit, including reciprocal service), a surviving spouse may elect a monthly, lifetime retirement benefit equal to 60% of the monthly allowance the member would have been entitled to if he or she retired with a nonservice-connected disability as of the date of death.

If there is no surviving spouse or partner, the monthly benefit may be payable to the member’s minor children until age 18 (continuing to age 21 if they remain unmarried and regularly enrolled as full-time students in an accredited school).

  • Combined benefit: If a surviving spouse is eligible for a monthly benefit, he or she may instead elect to receive a combined benefit consisting of a one-time payment equal to one month of salary for each year of the deceased member’s retirement service credit, up to a maximum of six months’ salary, plus the monthly benefit described above, reduced by the actuarial equivalent of the lump-sum payment.

Service-Connected Death

When an active member dies for reasons related to employment (i.e., service-connected), the benefits payable to a beneficiary(ies) do not depend on the member’s years of retirement service credit or age at the time of death.

  • A surviving spouse may elect a monthly retirement benefit, payable for life, equal to 100% of the benefit that the deceased member would have been entitled to if he or she had retired with a service-connected disability as of the date of death.
  • If a member is killed in the performance of duty or dies as a result of an accident or injury caused by external violence or physical force incurred in the performance of duty, a surviving spouse may be paid an additional monthly benefit for minor children until the age of 18 (or through age 21 if they remain unmarried and regularly enrolled as full-time students in an accredited school). An additional 25% of the basic retirement benefit is paid for one child, 40% for two children, or 50% for three or more children. The benefit may also be payable to the legal guardian of the member’s children.
  • If a safety member is killed in the performance of duty or dies as a result of an accident or injury caused by external violence or physical force incurred in the performance of duty, a surviving spouse will receive an additional one-time, lump-sum payment equal to 12 months of salary based on the deceased member’s monthly compensation at the time of death.

Retired Member Death

At the death of a retired member, there is a one-time benefit of $5,000 payable to the named beneficiary or estate. This benefit may be reduced for retirees with outgoing reciprocity and is not payable upon the death of a non-retiree receiving a monthly benefit or continuance benefit.

An eligible surviving spouse or minor children also may be eligible for a monthly benefit, payable for life, depending on the retirement option elected by the member at retirement. The following survivor benefits are based on an Unmodified Option election and the type of retirement applicable to the deceased member: 

  • Service retirement or nonservice-connected disability retirement: An eligible spouse will receive a 60% continuance of a deceased member’s monthly benefit, payable for life. To be eligible, the spouse must have been (a) married to the member for one year prior to the retirement date or (b) at least age 55 and married to the member for two years prior to the date of death.
  • Service-connected disability retirement: An eligible spouse will receive a 100% continuance of a deceased member’s monthly benefit, payable for life. To be eligible, the surviving spouse must have been (a) married to the member prior to the retirement date or (b) at least age 55 and married to the member for two years prior to the date of death.

If there is no eligible spouse or partner, these “continuance” benefits may be payable to minor children until age 18 (continuing to age 21 if they remain unmarried and regularly enrolled as full-time students in an accredited school).

Deferred Member Death

When a deferred member dies, all accumulated VCERA contributions will be paid to the member’s designated beneficiary or estate. Under no circumstances will the deceased member’s spouse or other beneficiary receive a monthly benefit or continuance from VCERA.

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