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OPM Contact: Jo-Ann Chabot
The Director of Human Resources for the Department of [xxx]
requested an advance opinion concerning the distribution of a
gratuity payment under section 651 of Public Law 104-208 (Omnibus
Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997), 110 Stat. 3009, 3368-69
(September 30, 1996). Section 651 authorizes the head of any
federal department or agency to pay a death gratuity to "the
personal representative (as that term is defined by applicable
law)" of a civilian employee of the department or agency who died
from an injury sustained in the line of duty on or after August 2,
The Secretary of [xxx] authorized payment of the gratuity to the
personal representatives of [xxx] employees who lost their lives as
a result of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on
April 19, 1995. [xxx] thereafter sent letters to each prospective
personal representative requesting that he or she submit a
notarized affidavit certifying that he or she was the personal
representative of the deceased employee. On October 21, 1997, the
widower of a [xxx] employee whose death resulted from the bombing
of the Murrah Building signed an affidavit indicating that he was
the personal representative of his deceased wife and had the signed
affidavit notarized. [xxx] received his affidavit on October 28,
1997, six days before he died on November 3, 1997. Although his
affidavit had been forwarded to the [xxx] processing office for
payment, [xxx] had not issued the gratuity payment prior to his
death. [xxx] advises that no children resulted from the marriage of
the deceased Federal employee, her parents also survived her, and
her widower had children from a previous marriage.
The Director of Human Resources wants to know whether [xxx]
properly may issue the gratuity payment to any other individual
and, if so, whether the gratuity should issue to the deceased
employee's parents or the estate of her widower. The Director of
Human Resources also wants to know the order of precedence for
payment, if anyone is entitled to be paid.
Section 651 of Public Law 104-208 specifies that gratuities will
be paid to the deceased employee's personal representative, "as
that term is defined by applicable law." Assuming that the deceased
employee was a resident of Oklahoma, the laws of that state would
apply. Under Oklahoma probate law, "personal representative
includes [an] executor, administrator, administrator with will
annexed, conservator, guardian and persons who perform
substantially the same function under the law governing their
status and includes a successor personal representative appointed
to succeed a previously appointed personal representative." 58
Okla. Stat. Ann. 11 (West, WESTLAW through end of 1997 1st Reg.
Sess.). According to Oklahoma law, the district courts of that
state have jurisdiction over probate matters such as granting and
revoking letters testamentary and letters of administration, as
well as ordering and regulating all distribution of property or
estates of deceased persons. 58 Okla. Stat. Ann. 1 (West, WESTLAW
through end of 1997 1st Reg. Sess.). Assuming that the deceased
employee's widower had been appointed as her personal
representative under Oklahoma state law, [xxx] may issue the death
gratuity to an individual who can show that, under Oklahoma state
law, he or she has been appointed as the successor of the deceased
employee's personal representative. [xxx] may desire to contact the
deceased employee's parents to notify them of the existence of the
death gratuity as well as for information on whether any individual
has been appointed to succeed the deceased employee's personal
representative and whether an executor or administrator has been
appointed for her widower's estate. Before issuing the death
gratuity, [xxx] also may desire to notify the executor or
administrator of the widower's estate concerning the existence of
the death gratuity and to advise that the gratuity will be issued
to the successor of the deceased employee's personal