A Survivor’s Double Tragedy

Steve Hostetter, Local 2819, WSCFF Retiree Association Board shares this story about LEOFF 2 options.

I recently learned about a brother firefighter who died of cancer shortly after retiring. Sadly, we’ve all heard this too-familiar story. What we don’t hear about is the second tragedy his spouse suffered and that she lives with every day.

Our brother and his wife chose not to take a survivor option for his pension when he retired. She went from having several thousand dollars a month deposited into their bank account from his pension check to receiving nothing.  This was the bulk of their income and forever changed her financial standard of living when he passed. It is not recoverable.

For those of you unfamiliar with LEOFF 2 Survivor Options, this is a choice you must make when you retire. In my opinion, it is one of the most difficult decisions. You will have to choose one of the following options:

  • Option 1 – Single Life: No survivor option – when you die your survivor receives nothing.
  • Option 2 – Joint and 100% survivor: Your monthly pension check is significantly reduced, but if you die before your spouse, they continue to get the same benefit for their lifetime.
  • Option 3 -Joint and 50% survivor: Your pension is reduced, not as significantly as with Option 2, but if you die first, your survivor gets 50% of your benefit.
  • Option 4 – Joint and 66.67% survivor: Your pension reduction and survivor benefit are in between Options 2 and 3.

The pension reduction for a survivor option benefit is significant. That’s a fact. But the alternative, as in this case, can be devastating. Forty-two percent of LEOFF 2 firefighters choose Option 1 – no survivor option, which leads me to believe there will be many more “double tragedy” stories in our future. Don’t let it be yours.

Choosing a survivor option is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. It requires very specific consideration regarding factors such as a spouse’s retirement income, other investments, net worth, family debt, health, and several more. Please consider consulting a fiduciary financial planner when making this choice and err on the side of caution when it comes to taking care of your family’s financial future. It will be hard enough to survive without you.

In the process of writing this article, I got to know our brother’s widow. She is very kind and was more than willing to share her story to help future retirees and their families weigh out their survivor option choices. She also asked me to encourage you all to get every available screening for early cancer detection and to take early signs of cancer seriously. 

You can find complete survivor option information on the DRS website I also share more in-depth thoughts (not professional advice) on the subject in a video at here.

Be well,

Brother Steve Hostetter