Death & Survivor Benefits

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As a VCERA member, death and survivor benefits may be payable to your eligible surviving spouse, minor children, beneficiaries or estate. Death and survivor benefits depend on many different factors and can only be determined after a full review of each member’s individual circumstances. The following is a general description of benefits that may be paid upon the death of a member.

Employee Member Death

When an active employee who is a VCERA member passes away, the benefits payable will depend on years of retirement service credit and whether the death was nonservice-connected or service-connected. Retirement law provides that the rights and claims of a surviving spouse, or minor children may supersede the rights and claims of another named beneficiary.

Employee Member Nonservice-Connected Death

When an active employee who is a VCERA member dies and the death is not service-connected, the benefits payable to survivors or beneficiaries are dependent on the accumulated service credit at the time of death.

Lump-Sum Benefit

The basic death benefit consists of a one-time payment of the contributions and interest in the member’s retirement 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 public service credit 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

For a nonservice-connected death, if a member has at least five years of eligible vesting retirement service credit, including reciprocal service credit, a surviving spouse may elect a monthly lifetime retirement benefit equal to 60% of the monthly allowance the member would have been entitled to had he or she retired with a nonservice-connected disability as of the date of death.

If there is no surviving spouse, this benefit may be payable to minor children, including stepchildren living with the member, until the age of 18, or through 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 retirement 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 deceased member’s retirement service credit, up to a maximum of six month’s salary, plus the monthly benefit described above, reduced by the actuarial equivalent of the lump-sum payment.

Employee Member Service-Connected Death

For a service-connected death, regardless of years of service, a surviving spouse may elect a monthly lifetime retirement benefit equal to 100% of the monthly benefit a member would have been entitled to, had he or she 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 allowance for minor children, including stepchildren living with the member, until the age of 18, or through age 21 if they remain unmarried and are regularly enrolled as full-time students in an accredited educational institution. An additional 25% of the basic retirement allowance 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 a 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’ salary based on the 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 may be eligible for a monthly benefit, depending on the retirement option elected at retirement.

If an Unmodified Retirement Option was elected:

Retiree Death (Service Retirement or Non-Service Disability)

An eligible spouse will receive a 60% continuance of a member’s monthly retirement benefit payable for life. To be eligible under this option, the spouse must have been married to the member one year prior to the retirement date, or the spouse must be at least age 55 and married to the member two years prior to the date of death.

Retiree Death (Service-Connected Disability)

An eligible spouse will receive a 100% continuance of a member’s monthly retirement benefit payable for life. To be eligible under this option, the surviving spouse must have been married to the member prior to the retirement date or the spouse must be at least age 55 and married to the member two years prior to the date of death.

If there is no surviving spouse, these unmodified continuance benefits may be payable to 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.

Death benefits may be prorated with reciprocal systems if reciprocity was established while in service.

Deferred or Separated Employee Death

If you die while in deferred retirement status, your accumulated retirement contributions will be paid to your designated beneficiary or estate. However, in such circumstances there is no survivor’s continuance to a qualifying spouse, as there would be if you were receiving a monthly benefit.