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Home / Blog / The Death Gamble Revisited – Different Than Pension Options


By Richard Alles, Deputy Chief FDNY, Ret.

Although the term “Death Gamble” has been mentioned in firehouse kitchens all over the City, many members are confused as to what this term actually means. The “Death Gamble” is a benefit available to active firefighters with over 20 years of service, and to members who have retired with over 20 years but who have not yet been finalized. It is paid out if an active member with over 20 years of service dies, or if a retiree who is under a partial pension dies before his pension is finalized. It is paid to a designated beneficiary as a lump sum, or it can be paid as an annuity if the beneficiary chooses the annuity. The election must be made by the beneficiary within 60 days of the date of death. The amount of the annuity is determined by the age of the recipient. It’s called a “gamble” because no one knows how long the beneficiary is going to live. If the beneficiary is young and lives for a long time, then obviously, it would have been the correct decision to choose an annuity. If the beneficiary is much older, or dies shortly after the firefighter, then it would have been smarter to have elected the lump sum payment.

It’s important to note that the “Death Gamble” is not a “Pension Option.” In a previous edition of our newsletter I had explained the various pension options available to a member upon retirement. Simply stated, a pension option is an arrangement whereby a retiring firefighter selects a reduced retirement allowance in exchange for the payment of a benefit to their beneficiary or estate upon their death. A pension option can be chosen by a retiring firefighter either at retirement or at finalization. Once chosen it cannot be changed. There are several pension options available and the two most popular options for married retirees are Option 2 “joint and 100% survivor,” and Option 3 “joint and 50% survivor.” The retiree receives a reduced monthly lifetime allowance. Upon the death of the retiree, the option allows the named beneficiary (normally his/her spouse) to receive either 100% or 50% of the member’s reduced pension allowance for life. Only one beneficiary is named, and the designated beneficiary may not be changed once the member is finalized.

These issues are discussed at the monthly FDNY pension seminars (normally the first Tuesday of each month) and held in the auditorium of 9 Metro Tech. While our two superb fire unions should always be your first source for information, our law firm is always happy to speak with any member who may want a free second opinion to help you figure out which option is best for you and your family. The age of your children and balance of your mortgage are just two important factors which determine which option might be right for you and your family.

Please feel free to call us if you want me to clarify these issues. It’s always my pleasure to do so.

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