This guide is designed to familiarize you with the benefits to which eligible survivors of public employees, who were members of Massachusetts contributory retirement systems, are entitled.  The contents do not affect the contractual rights between a system and its members and, in the case of any conflict, Chapter 32 of the Massachusetts General Laws and the regulations promulgated by the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC) shall govern.

This guide reflects changes and amendments to the law through July 1, 2015.  This guide is applicable to persons who become members prior to April 2, 2012*.

To gain a basic understanding of each subject area, please read all the questions and answers for that area.  Officials of your retirement board are available to further explain the law and to counsel you about your rights and benefits.

For procedures applicable to public employee retirement generally for those who became members of a retirement system prior to April 2, 2012, please refer to Massachusetts Public Employee Retirement Guide for those Who Became Members Prior to April 2, 2012.  For information about your possible eligibility for a disability retirement, please refer to PERAC’s Guide to Disability Retirement for Public Employees (Regardless of the Date of Membership).

*Note: Persons who were members of a retirement system before April 2, 2012 and took a refund for their contributions after terminating from service, will be subject to the rules in place for those becoming members on or after April 2, 2012 if they return to public employment after that date, regardless of whether the member redeposits the funds that he or she withdrew upon termination


Membership in a contributory retirement system is mandatory for nearly all Massachusetts public employees who are regularly employed on a full-time basis. Membership status for public employees is defined in two ways in Chapter 32 of the Massachusetts General Laws: "member-in-service", and "member-inactive."

Any member who is regularly employed in the performance of his or her duties is considered a member-in-service. Member-in-service status continues until death or separation from service by reason of retirement, resignation, failure of reelection or re-appointment, or removal or discharge from office or position.

Members-in-service become members-inactive when they:

  • Retire and receive a retirement allowance; or
  • When their employment has been terminated and they are entitled to any present or potential retirement allowance or a return of accumulated payroll deductions; or
  • When they are on an authorized leave of absence without pay which extends for more than a year and which is for a reason other than retirement board duties or mental or physical incapacity for duty.

Massachusetts contributory retirement systems offer several types of survivor benefits to their members:

  • Survivor benefits that are based on a member selecting Option B or C upon retirement for superannuation; (Survivor benefits are not payable under Option A.)
  • Survivor benefits for members-in-service who die prior to retirement;
  • Survivor benefits for inactive members;
  • Survivor benefits for accidental disability retirees;
  • Survivor benefits for firefighters, police officers, and corrections officers who are killed or who sustain injuries under certain circumstances, which result in death while in the performance of their duties.

The amount of benefits payable in any particular instance may depend on a number of factors including the length of the member's service, the amount of the member's salary, the eligibility of the member's immediate family members, and the cause and date of the member's death.

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