Article 3 of the Illinois Pension Code governs the benefits available to police officers serving in municipalities with more than 5,000 but less than 500,000 residents. Article 3 defines the benefits available to police officers upon retirement, disability, or death. The provisions of Article 3 also delineate the benefits available to spouses, children, and parents of police officers eligible for benefits. A common question we receive from clients is what happens to pension benefits if an officer receiving benefits under Article 3 dies? Who receives the survivor’s benefits? Keep reading to learn more from top injury attorney for police officers, Brent Eames, about a recent change in the law, and how it could impact your pension benefits.
Section 3-112 of the Code provides that upon the death of a retired police officer receiving pension benefits, such officer’s surviving spouse is entitled to the pension the officer was receiving prior to death. Further, if the police officer dies on or after January 1, 2001, prior to receiving the retirement or any disability benefits, and his or death is the result of “sickness, accident, or injury incurred in or resulting from the performance of an act of duty”, 40 ILSC 5/3-112(e) the surviving spouse of such officer is entitled to receiving the benefits in the amount of full salary attached to the rank held by the police officer at the time of death. The reviewing courts have interpreted the code to confirm that this rule also applies to officers who receive disability pensions even though the code references a retirement.
Prior to the recent amendment passed to Section 3-120 of the Code, if a police officer receiving pension benefits remarried subsequent to retirement, then the surviving spouse and children of such officer were not entitled to receive the survivor’s pension benefits after the officer’s death. Given the young age that many officers are forced to receive their pension due to a disability, this produced many unfair and unreasonable results. Scenarios existed where an officer could be married for 50 years, but if the marriage occurred after the award of a disability pension, then the surviving spouse would receive no benefits regardless of the length of the marriage.
In order to cure this unfairness, on May 13, 2022, Public Act 102-0811 was signed into law. This Act amended Section 3-120. Now, the law provides that a subsequent remarriage of a police officer does not disqualify the officer’s surviving spouse from receiving a survivor’s pension if the police officer and the surviving spouse were married for at least 5 years prior to the officer’s death, and the surviving spouse is 62 years of age or older. However, under the amended version of the Code, the surviving spouse’s benefits shall not be paid for more than 15 years. Although many still may find these rules to be unfair in many circumstances, it is obviously much better than the prior rule which represented a complete bar to any payments whatsoever.
It is important to mention, that the amendment to Section 3-120 did not affect the provisions pertaining to the remarriage of the surviving children of the deceased police officer as well as provisions about the remarriage of the surviving spouse. In particular, upon the marriage or remarriage of the surviving children or the dependent parent of the deceased police officer, no survivor’s benefits shall be paid to them. The remarriage of the surviving spouse that occurred after November 15, 1995, does not affect the surviving spouse’s eligibility for survivor’s benefits.
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The content of this blog is intended for informational purposes only and does constitute or establish an attorney-client relationship, nor constitute legal advice. If you wish to discuss any further aspect of the material contained herein, please contact attorney for first responders, Brent Eames, at Eames Law Group, Ltd.