People in California know what a menace wildfires can be on the west coast. Many people probably recall the tragedy that occurred in Yarnell, Arizona, when 19 firefighters on the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew perished while fighting a blazing wildfire earlier this summer. The story became national news as firefighters and citizens mourned the brave crew, but now the victims' families have a fight of their own.
It turns out that the city of Prescott, Arizona, is refusing to pay pension and healthcare benefits to the families of 12 of the deceased firefighters. The city, which employed these men, is claiming that they were part-time employees, and therefore not eligible for these survivor benefits. The widow of one of these firefighters is challenging this claim, stating that her late husband did in fact work full-time hours and that the city is just trying to save a few bucks by cutting her and her four children out of the benefits they deserve. Under Prescott's benefits for families of deceased full-time employees, the family would receive over $300,000 in addition to other financial benefits.
The firefighter's widow has taken her battle to social media in hopes of garnering support for her cause, but it remains to be seen whether this tactic will be successful. Obviously people can empathize with her situation, but the city may also be legally unable to retroactively award these benefits to a person who was not classified as a full-time employee at the time of his death.
Sadly, tragedies strike regardless of whether people have taken care of estate planning obligations, highlighting why people, especially those with families, should have wills, life insurance policies and other estate planning documents settled so that they can rest assured their heirs are taken care of after they are gone.
Source: USA Today, "Battle for benefits by hotshot's widow intensifies," Robert Anglen and Kristina Goetz, Aug. 6, 2013