The NFL’s pre-retirement death benefit for widows and survivors

I was extremely proud to see the NFL Alumni Association and its Executive Director, George Martin take the lead in addressing the problem of NFL widows being denied survivor benefits if their husband died before Aug. 4, 2012.  I wrote about this issue back on January 25, 2012 in an article entitled: NFL Legacy Benefit leaves widows and beneficiaries on the sidelines

As you know, Mr. Martin invited Sylvia Mackey to speak on this issue at the Super Bowl press conference.  

The NFL Alumni will continue to advocate on behalf of our deceased alumni and the wives and families that cared for them up until they passed.  We will not rest in peace until this issue is adequately addressed by the NFL and NFLPA. They both negotiated and agreed to the terms of this benefit in the CBA, so they both need to collectively rectify this problem. 

During the time leading up to the Super Bowl Press conference, I received a number of emails from wives regarding survivor benefits and there was some confusion about the benefits that are available for wives and beneficiaries for players that die before they take their pension, so I thought it might be helpful to review this benefit. 

These benefits are part of the Bert Bell Pete Rozelle Retirement Plan and are typically much larger than the Joint and Survivor Annuity and the other elections that beneficiaries receive if their husbands die after they have started receiving their retirement benefits. 

It is important to remember that as soon as a former player takes his pension, this pre-retirement Death Benefit is no longer available for their wife or beneficiary. This is one of the reasons I recommend that players think carefully before taking early retirement.     

If a player dies before he begins receiving his Bert Bell Pete Rozelle Retirement Plan benefits, the following Death Benefits are available: 

The Widows and Surviving Children’s Pre-Retirement Death Benefit

For vested players who earned credited seasons from 1977 through 1981, a minimum benefit of $6,000 a month is paid for 4 years and for players who played from 1982 and thereafter, a minimum benefit of $9,000 a month is paid for 4 years. 

At the end of 4 years, the payment reverts back to $3,600 a month for the rest of the wife’s life, or until she remarries, and then to surviving children, if any, who are eligible. The cutoff date for children is 19 years of age (23 if in college, or continuously if the child is mentally or physically incapacitated). Again, this baseline amount will increase in 2014 and 2018. 

The benefit is equal to 50% of a player’s benefit credits, but not less than $3,600 a month. A player would have to be receiving a monthly pension that is over $7,200 a month in order for them to get more than $3,600 a month. In the current CBA, the $3,600 amount goes up to $4,000 on January 1, 2014 and $4,400 on January 1, 2018. 

There is also an alternative death benefit – the “Spouse’s Pre-Retirement Death Benefit” available to players that have at least one hour of service after August 23, 1984.  It’s less than the “Widows and Surviving Children’s Benefit”, but it pays a widow even after remarriage.  

These pre-retirement death benefits are good to have, but the NFL and NFLPA still need to do something for the wives and beneficiaries of players that passed away before August 4, 2011 and were not included in the survivor benefits under the Legacy Plan.

They Can do it, the question is…..Will they do it?  

If they don’t, then they need to take the word “Legacy” out of the name of this benefit.


About Jeff Nixon

Jeff was a first team consensus All-American from the University of Richmond in 1978. He is 7th in NCAA history with 23 career interceptions. Played for the Buffalo Bills 1979-1984. Led the team with 6 interceptions in Rookie Year. Holds Bills record for 4 takeaways in a single game - 3 interceptions and a fumble recovery. Tied Bills record with four consecutive games with an interception. After 5 knee surgeries Jeff retired from pro football in 1985. He worked for 13 years (1988-2000) as the Youth Bureau Director for Buffalo and Erie County. He has worked for the past 11 years as the Youth Employment Director for Buffalo. Plays guitar and was voted best R&B guitar player by Buffalo Nightlife Magazine in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Posted on March 21, 2012, in NFL Alumni News. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Speaking of the “Legacy Benefit”, is there any chance that we will be paid before the end of the century?

  2. andrew stewart

    george martin in my opinion has done nothing for the retired players or the players fighting to receive there disability,I have called his office several times and has never heard from him.This is a sham when is he going to really do something for the retired players and there families.Thats what I want to see action not talk

  3. Michael C. McCoy

    Has anyone heard what percentage will be give to widows and how long the benefit will last? We have heard the benefit will “be give for a short time” we have not a written word. I a happy the widows are going to receive the legacy benefit, they are us and we will be there some day due to our husbands diagnosis.

  4. i have been calling the office in baltimore about election forms.i am devorced.i am told that they can;t send it until the courts reveiw it.i know that my x eife will get a portion of it.i already been recieving my retirenent and she gets some of question is why is it taking so long.the only answer i get is it is in the court and from what i read in this news letter they have not started reveiwing these cases yet.i got tired of calling the office and thats the answer i get,and a hangup.
    Carl Hairston

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