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Family Benefits

Benefits for Survivors of Federal Civilian Employees Who Die in the Line of Duty

Survivors of Federal civilian employees may be eligible for some or all of the following benefits

Public Safety Officers’ Benefits, administered by the Department of Justice


The death benefit is payable to a qualified survivor of a Federal employee in addition to death benefits payable to the survivor from the Civil Service Retirement System, the Federal Employees Retirement System, and Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Program under subchapter I of chapter 81 of title 5, United States Code.


Unpaid Salary and Leave Owed to Deceased Employee

When a Federal employee dies in service, his or her survivors will receive a lump sum payment covering the deceased’s final pay and unused annual leave. This lump sum is paid by the employing agency under the same order of precedence as the other payments described. Seasonal wildland firefighters are included in this definition.

Death Gratuity Payment

PL 104-208 allows the head of the department or agency to authorize a death gratuity of up to $10,000. This amount for burial costs and out-of-pocket expense may be paid to the personal representative of any Federal employee who dies from an injury sustained in the line of duty. While the payment is discretionary, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) encourages all department and agency heads to make full use of this authority. This also includes an agency employee who dies after separation from service if death resulted from an injury sustained in the line of duty on or after August 2, 1990. Seasonal wildland firefighters are included in this definition.

Section 651 of this law also specifies that the amount paid under these authorities may not be reduced by any other amounts, including other benefits payable under the Federal workers’ compensation program.

The gratuity, when combined with certain other payments, may not exceed $10,000. The other payments that must be considered are:
  • up to $800 payable by the Department of Labor to a surviving spouse or children for funeral and burial expenses of a Federal employee who died as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty;
  • $200 payable by the Department of Labor for reimbursement of the costs of termination of the deceased employee’s status as a Federal employee;
  • any amount paid under Public Law 103-332 to the representative of any employee of any department or agency with appropriations from a Department of Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act who is killed in the line of duty.


The Federal Employees’ Compensation Act is administered by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs of the U.S. Department of Labor. It provides compensation benefits to civilian employees of the United States for disability or death of an employee resulting from personal injury sustained while in the performance of duty or to employment-related disease.


The Office of Personnel Management administers both the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). These systems only cover full-time employees. An eligible survivor of a Federal civilian employee killed in the line of duty may qualify for a recurring CSRS or FERS monthly survivor annuity.


Beneficiaries of employees covered under the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) Program are entitled to Basic insurance death benefits. Family members must report the death to the human resources office of the deceased’s agency. The following information should be included:
  • Deceased employee’s full name
  • Deceased employee’s Social Security Number
  • Date of death
The Basic insurance amount is equal to an employee’s annual salary, rounded up to the next thousand-dollar amount, plus $2,000. (A higher amount is payable if an employee was under age 45 at the time of death.) If an employee elected Option A (standard optional insurance) and/or Option B (additional optional insurance), beneficiaries will receive those death benefits also. Option A coverage is $10,000. Option B comes in 1-5 multiples of an employee’s salary. In addition, Basic insurance and Option A have accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D) benefits. However, there is no AD&D coverage with Option B. Accidental death benefits for Basic insurance benefits are equal to the Basic insurance amount; accidental death benefits for Option A are $10,000. These benefits are payable in addition to regular death benefits. If the Federal employee had assigned ownership of the life insurance policy, it shall be paid according to a particular order. If the Federal employee did not assign ownership and there is no valid court order, the benefits are paid in the following order:
  • First, to the beneficiary designated by the Federal employee;
  • Second, if there is no such beneficiary, to the widow or widower;
  • Third, if none of the above, to a child or children, with the share of any deceased child distributed among descendants of that child (a court will usually have to appoint a guardian to receive payment for a minor child);
  • Fourth, if none of the above, to parents of the deceased in equal shares or the entire amount to the surviving parent;
  • Fifth, if none of the above, to the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate;
  • Sixth, if none of the above, to the deceased’s other next of kin as determined under the laws of the State where the deceased lived.
Life insurance benefits are not considered taxable income to recipients for income tax purposes. Life insurance benefits are paid in addition to any workers’ compensation, Social Security, or Federal retirement pension benefits.


If a Federal civilian employee dies while enrolled for self and family coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program, all eligible family members will continue to be covered under FEHB as long as at least one family member is entitled to an annuity as a survivor. Eligible survivors are entitled to the same benefits and Government contribution as active and retired employees enrolled in the same plan. The survivor annuitant’s share of the premium normally is deducted from the annuity payments. The survivor needs to take no action. The change in enrollment will be processed by the employee’s former agency and OPM. FERS survivors may be entitled to continue their FEHB coverage even if they will not receive a monthly survivor annuity benefit. Spouses who are entitled to receive the FERS Basic Employee Death Benefit and child survivors whose FERS survivor annuity benefits are reduced by the amount of Social Security benefit payable, may continue their health benefits enrollment by payment of premiums directly to OPM. Eligible family members include a spouse who was married to the Federal civilian employee at the time of death and unmarried dependent children under age 22. This includes:
  • a legitimate child
  • an adopted child
  • a stepchild, foster child, or recognized natural child who lived with the deceased in a regular parent-child relationship
  • a recognized natural child for whom a judicial determination of support has been obtained, or to whose support the employee made regular and substantial contributions.
  • an unmarried disabled child, regardless of age, if the disability occurred before age 22.


Survivor Benefits

Social Security will pay survivor benefits to a surviving spouse and dependent children. For the spouse to qualify, he or she must be at least age 60, or between the ages of 50 and 59 and disabled, or any age and caring for a child under the age of 16 or a disabled child. Children may qualify for benefits if they are under age 18 (or under age 19, if in high school) or disabled. Dependent parents and former spouses may also qualify for survivor benefits. The amount of the benefit depends on the deceased employee’s Social Security earnings and the number of survivors eligible for benefits.

Lump Sum Death Payment

A lump sum of $255 is payable to a surviving spouse provided the deceased employee and the spouse were living together at the time of death, or the surviving spouse is entitled to survivor benefits. If there is no surviving spouse, the lump sum is paid to children who are eligible for benefits. Otherwise, the lump sum is not payable.


Public Safety Officers’ Educational Assistance Program

This Department of Justice program provides educational assistance to children and spouses of law enforcement, fire and emergency public safety officers killed or disabled in the line of duty. Available only to those survivors who have received benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program listed under one-time death benefits. The benefits may be used solely to defray educational expenses, including tuition, room and board, books, supplies, and other education fees. Covers all eligible survivors of public safety officers killed or permanently disabled on or after January 1978. For more information, contact: PSOB Bureau of Justice Assistance 810 7th Street, NW Washington, DC 20531 Phone: (888) 744-6513

National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Sarbanes Scholarship Program

This program offers educational assistance to spouses, children, and stepchildren of firefighters honored at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland.


Associated Airtanker Pilots

To aid families of fallen tanker pilots, AAP has established a memorial fund. Proceeds are presented directly to the families.
AAP Memorial Fund
Newhart Bookkeeping
711-D Healdsburg Avenue
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Wildland Firefighter Foundation

The Wildland Firefighter Foundation provides emergency support services to the families of wildland fallen firefighters. It offers emergency grants, grief counseling, advocacy, and other services.

Wildland Firefighter Foundation
3800 Development Avenue
Boise, Idaho 83705
Phone: (208) 336-2996

Public Safety Officers’ Benefits

A unique effort of the U.S. Department of Justice; local, state, tribal, and federal public safety agencies; and national organizations, the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) Programs provide death and education benefits to survivors of fallen firefighters, law enforcement officers, and other first responders, and disability benefits to officers catastrophically injured in the line of duty. The PSOB Office at the Bureau of Justice Assistance is honored to review the nearly 700 claims submitted each year on behalf of America’s fallen and catastrophically disabled public safety heroes and their loved ones. Visit for details regarding PSOB’s death, disability, and educational assistance programs.