Many factors affect death benefits. It's not possible to know exactly what’s payable until we receive and review all of the required documents after you notify us of a death.
Benefits listed below may be payable.
Use our retirement estimate calculator to estimate your future retirement benefits and benefits to your loved ones upon your death. Benefits payable upon the death of an active member depend on:
- Date of separation from employment
- Eligible beneficiary
- Employer's contract with CalPERS
- Job classification
- Member's age
- Whether they were eligible to retire at the time of death
- Years of service
Benefits apply to state, school, and public agency employees (unless indicated otherwise). For more information on benefits payable, view your member benefit publication.The following benefits may be payable:
- The Basic Death Benefit is the return of member's contributions and interest through the date of death. In some instances, there may be an additional one-time payment based on the member's earnings.
- Group Term Life Insurance offers a lump sum payment of $5,000. In some instances, there may be an additional one-time payment based on the member's earnings (schools and public agency employees are not eligible).
- The Limited Death Benefit is a return of member's contributions and interest through the date of death. This benefit will not be paid if medical information proves the member was too ill to work from the date of separation from employment through the date of death; regular death benefits will be paid instead.
- The 1957 Survivor Benefit is a monthly allowance to an eligible surviving spouse, registered domestic partner, or minor child equal to half of the highest service retirement benefit payable had the member retired on the date of death. A minor child is eligible for this benefit until they reach 18 years old or marry, whichever comes first.
- The 1959 Survivor Benefit is a monthly allowance to an eligible surviving spouse, eligible registered domestic partner, unmarried children under age 22, unmarried disabled children over 22 whose disability began prior to age 22, or dependent parents. This benefit is paid in addition to any other benefit, except for the Special Death Benefit. This allowance is paid if the member was enrolled in the 1959 Survivor Benefit Program and was not covered by Social Security.
- The Pre-Retirement Option 2W Benefit is a monthly allowance to an eligible surviving spouse or eligible registered domestic partner. The allowance is calculated as though the member retired from service on the date of death and chose Option 2W (schools not eligible).
- The Special Death Benefit is a monthly allowance to an eligible surviving spouse, eligible registered domestic partner, or unmarried child under age 22 equal to half of the member's average monthly salary for the last 12 or 36 months, regardless of the member's age or years of service credit. This benefit is paid to survivors of safety members whose death is job related. The benefit may be paid to survivors of non-safety members killed by another person while performing their official duties. If the death is due to a violent act, the benefit may be increased up to 75 percent of the average salary, depending on the number of surviving children. In some instances, the member's stepchild may qualify for the benefit.
Health benefits are automatically canceled when the member dies. A surviving beneficiary can re-enroll for health benefits if both of the following conditions are met:
- The survivor was eligible for enrollment in a CalPERS health plan prior to the member's death.
- The survivor will receive a continuing monthly death benefit payment.
If health benefits are canceled and the beneficiary is not eligible to continue coverage, beneficiaries may be eligible for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) health coverage. Certain qualifying events determine eligibility for COBRA. Check with the member's personnel office or contact us for information on how to apply.
If the member was separated from employment for more than four months for reasons unrelated to their health, they are considered an inactive member and the Limited Death Benefit will be the only benefit paid. If they left CalPERS to join another California public retirement system, there may be additional benefits paid from CalPERS, so the total benefit paid by both systems will equal the amount that would have been paid if all the service was with CalPERS.
No death benefits are payable if the member separated from CalPERS employment and terminated their membership by withdrawing or refunding all their contributions.
State Second Tier Members
Benefits are not payable upon the death of a State Second Tier member if they were not vested (had less than 10 years of service credit) at the time of death, their separation from employment was prior to death, and they did not contribute any dollar amounts to CalPERS. Because of the Pension Reform Act of 2013, all State Second Tier members, including classic members, began paying retirement contributions to CalPERS, effective July 1, 2013. If the member contributed dollar amounts to CalPERS, or was vested and separated within four months of death, our regular death benefits are paid. If separation was more than four months before death, and medical information can substantiate the member was too ill to work, our regular death benefits are paid, whether or not the member paid retirement contributions to CalPERS.
Benefits payable upon the death of a retired member depend on:
- Eligible beneficiary
- Former employer's contract with CalPERS
- Marital status
- The option they chose at retirement
- If the Option 1 Balance was chosen at retirement, any unused member contributions in their account are paid in a lump sum. Member contributions are usually depleted 10-12 years after retirement.
- The Pro Rata Payment is a lump-sum payment for the allowance due for the month of death, prorated through the date of death. If the Purchasing Power Protection Allowance (PPPA) was paid, it is not prorated since this is paid in advance.
- The Retired Death Benefit amount varies based on the former employer.
- If the retiree elected the Temporary Annuity benefit until a specific age and dies before receiving all of the payments, the balance is paid in a lump sum.
- The Lifetime Option is a monthly allowance to the designated beneficiary if the retiree chose Option 2, 2W, 3, 3W, or 4 at retirement.
- The monthly payment typically continues to the designated beneficiary if the retiree received a monthly Purchasing Power Protection Allowance (PPPA) payment.
- Survivor Continuance is a monthly allowance paid if there is an eligible survivor and if the retiree's former employer contracted for the benefit.
If the surviving beneficiary of a retired member is eligible for continued health coverage, CalPERS will re-enroll them in their health benefit plan when the death benefit is paid. Enrollment will be retroactive to the first of the month following the date of death. This also applies for dental benefits if the member or retiree was entitled to receive them.
The taxable portion of the Basic Death Benefit, Retired Death Benefit, Option 1 balance, and Temporary Annuity balance is subject to a mandatory 20 percent federal tax withholding rate.
The taxable portion of the lump sum death benefit can be rolled over to an individual retirement account (IRA) to avoid federal income tax withholding. Spouses can roll over to a traditional IRA and non-spouse beneficiaries can roll over to an inherited IRA.
If you received a benefit, we will mail you a Form 1099-R at the beginning of the year that lists the amount you were paid in the previous tax year. You are responsible for reporting the benefit to the IRS with your personal income taxes.
The monthly death benefit allowances below are reported to tax authorities annually on a Form 1099-R:
- Pre-Retirement Option 2W
- 1957 Survivor Benefit
- 1959 Survivor Benefit*
- Alternate Death Benefit
The taxable portion of the amount paid each year is calculated under the same tax rules that apply to a service retirement.
*The 1959 Survivor Benefit is fully taxable and may be subject to a mandatory 20 percent federal withholding, if the allowance will be paid to a spouse for less than 10 years. The benefit can be rolled over to an IRA to avoid federal income tax withholding.Retirees
The allowance is treated as income. Unless the beneficiary requests otherwise, income tax will be withheld based on the rate of a married person with three exemptions.
- 1959 Survivor Benefit Program
- Health Eligibility & Enrollment
- Long-Term Care
- Social Security Administration
Forms & Publications
- CalPERS Special Power of Attorney (PUB 30) (PDF)
- COBRA Continuation of Coverage (Active Members) (PDF)
- COBRA Continuation of Coverage (Retirees) (PDF)
- Direct Deposit Authorization (PDF)
- Retired Member Death Benefits (PUB 31) (PDF)
- Tax Withholding Election (PDF)
Frequently Asked Questions
- When will the beneficiary receive payment of the lump sum death benefit?
Payment is usually issued within 8 to 12 weeks after we receive all the required documents, including the final payroll form from the member's employer and the beneficiary's completed death claim application.