How do your state’s survivor death benefits compare?

by Sandie Doptis and Jack Gaffigan

Last year, 150 line-of-duty deaths were recorded. What are the individual states doing for their law enforcement officers?

Most officer-down incidents occur in departments that have never lost an officer in the line of duty. They typically are unaware that most states provide to survivors special public safety death benefits and full four-year college scholarships within their respective university systems. These state benefits are in addition to the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program survivor benefit administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component agency of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

As a result, departments readily support anyone offering to raise funds for the survivors. Private fundraising can be problematic, though, because many of the new charities that come into existence when an officer is down seldom mention that state and federal financial survivor benefits are available. They often intimate that their charities are the only option. More striking is that the funds they distribute to the survivors are barely enough to cover survivors’ living expenses for more than a year or two at best.

This article focuses solely on state death benefits, and in particular the onetime, lump-sum death benefit — if the state has one — payable to the survivors of an officer killed in the line of duty. It is important to note that most states provide additional benefits available to the survivors beyond the one-time payment through workers’ compensation and retirement fund provisions.

Of the state benefits reviewed by the Badge of Honor Memorial Foundation, 35 states include a lump-sum death benefit. The amount ranges from $25,000 to $500,000, with Texas leading the nation.

Disclaimer: The material contained on survivor benefits is based on a scan of public documents, not legal research. We have made every effort to be accurate and timely, but errors may exist. The material is advisory only and should not be cited as evidence or proof that a benefit exists or that our facts are accurate. Always consult the decedent’s department for benefits assistance, or a benefits attorney. If, in the course of your own research, you see errors of fact, or new benefit information, please pass this information along to the Badge of Honor Memorial Foundation.

Several states that have no lump sum offer substantial workers’ compensation benefits in lieu of the lump sum benefit, with California leading the country for its CalPERS members, and those numbers vary depending on the number of dependents involved.

Most states additionally will pay a pension benefit through the officer’s departmental retirement system, although those vary substantially. And most states additionally provide workers’ compensation to the member’s survivors. Some states pay workers’ compensation for the life of the spouse. Child benefits can continue to 23 years of age in some states, if the child is still a dependent. Workers’ compensation benefits typically are based on years of duty. The amount of the benefit varies widely. Differences are:

  • Time limitations (fixed number of weeks)
  • Some benefits terminate if the spouse remarries
  • Fixed distribution percentages regarding children
  • Some benefits payable until death

Additional benefits for survivors can include:

  • Health insurance
  • Funeral benefits
  • Some states offer total exemption of the homestead from all “ad valorem taxes”
  • College for spouse and children

The National Badge of Honor Memorial Foundation (BOHMF) program focuses on Public Safety Education. Our training workshops are designed to assist the survivors and departments of officers who have been killed in the line of duty to obtain all statutory benefits that may be available to the survivors and to train law enforcement departments how to establish a death protocol program, including a death protocol manual.

This training prepares departments with the full spectrum of assistance from caring for the family of the fallen from the moment of notification to through the funeral to filing for federal, state and local benefits the survivors may be entitled to. Obtaining these benefits can be a daunting application process involving legal terminology and requirements for documentation and statutory deadlines.

This training is provided through our POST-certified workshops, entitled, “Officer Down. Are You Prepared? Is Your Department Prepared?” and is geared to command staff and internal departmental trainers. The workshops, which are available at no hard cost, focus on our “Agency Casualty Assistance Guide,” which details a review of the protocol for a line-of-duty death. The guide is available on the foundation website,  

Officer Sandie Doptis is education committee chairwoman for the Badge of Honor Memorial Foundation. She is retired from Washington, D.C., Police Department’s Financial and Cyber Crimes Unit. Doptis is a frequent lecturer for federal, state and local public safety agencies on casualty and estate planning. John “Jack” T. Gaffigan is executive director of the Badge of Honor Memorial Foundation. Gaffigan retired as a sergeant from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department after a 36-year career. He is a regional secretary for the International Police Association. 

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