Survivor Benefits & Beneficiaries

Relief associations may authorize in their bylaws payment of survivor benefits to a surviving spouse, surviving children, or designated beneficiaries of deceased volunteer firefighters. If a relief association chooses to offer survivor benefits, the order of eligibility for the benefits is defined by state law.

The survivor benefit must be paid to the surviving spouse of the deceased firefighter. If there is no surviving spouse, the benefit must be paid to the surviving children. If there is no surviving spouse and there are no surviving children, the survivor benefit must be paid to the designated beneficiary and, if no beneficiary was designated, the benefit must be paid as a death benefit to the estate if the deceased firefighter was active or deferred.

Relief associations therefore cannot recognize a beneficiary designation if a firefighter has a surviving spouse or surviving children. There is one exception, however, for firefighters without surviving children. If a firefighter has no surviving children, the firefighter’s surviving spouse may waive, wholly or partially, the spouse’s entitlement to a survivor benefit. The waiver must be in writing. If the surviving spouse has waived entitlement, the survivor benefit may be paid to a designated beneficiary.

Finally, for members of a defined-contribution plan, or a defined-benefit lump-sum or monthly/lump-sum combination plan where the member has elected a lump-sum benefit, a trust created under Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 501B, may be a designated beneficiary.

Additional information about calculating survivor benefits, survivor supplemental benefits, and the order of eligibility for collecting a survivor benefit can be found in our Statement of Position on this topic.

We have noted some confusion regarding the definition of the term “surviving spouse.” The definition of the term “surviving spouse” was removed from Chapter 424A of Minnesota Statutes in 2010. To avoid creating a conflict with the way that term is currently used in probate proceedings, the term should not be defined in a relief association’s bylaws. 

A sample designation of beneficiary form is also available.

Published last in the May 2017 Pension Newsletter