FERS Survivor Benefits

 

When most people think of FERS survivor benefits - they think of the survivor annuity.

But you should know that there are actually many different survivor benefits in the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS).

FERS has several items with survivor benefit options or important beneficiary designations that you should know about, including:

  • FERS Survivor Annuity or Pension
  • FEHB Health Insurance
  • FEGLI Life Insurance
  • FERS Supplement (in some cases)
  • Last FERS Paycheck
  • Social Security
  • TSP - Thrift Savings Plan account

Let's cover the primary FERS survivor benefit - the Survivor Annuity:

 

FERS Survivor Annuity / Pension

When you retire, you have the option of providing a survivor annuity.

This means that when you die, your survivor will continue to receive a portion of your pension every month.

There are three different survivor annuity options you can choose...

  1. Full FERS Survivor Annuity - 50% of Your Pension
  2. Reduced FERS Survivor Annuity - 25% of Your Pension
  3. No Survivor Annuity

If you are married, you will need your spouse's written permission to choose anything other than the full survivor annuity.

It's important to make sure you know about all your options before you make your selection.

Let's take a closer look at each choice:

1. ) Full FERS Survivor Annuity Option

The first thing you need to know about the "full" survivor annuity benefit is only 50% of your regular monthly pension.

Because it is called the "full" survivor benefit - some people think this means their survivor continues to get the full pension - but this is not the case.

If you choose the full FERS survivor annuity option - your survivor will receive 50% of your monthly pension after you pass away.

There is a cost to this benefit. In most cases, it is 10% of your regular monthly pension.

This is a permanent reduction to your FERS pension. The 10% will be deducted from your retirement pension each month until you pass away.

It doesn't matter if you pass away 1 year, or 100 years after you retire: each month, your pension will be reduced by 10%. When you die, your survivor will receive 50% of your pension for the rest of their life. 

Example of Full FERS Survivor Annuity

For easy numbers, let's say your regular monthly FERS pension was $1,000.

You select the full FERS survivor annuity benefit at retirement, so your pension is reduced by 10%. In our example, your pension would be reduced by $100. You would now receive $900 each month.

When you pass away, your survivor will get 50% of your regular monthly pension - which would be $500 a month.

Quick Look:
Your Regular FERS Pension (before reduction) = $1,000/month
Cost of Survivor Benefit (10% reduction) = $100/month
Monthly Pension You Receive in Retirement = $900/month
What Survivor Will Receive After You Pass Away = $500/month

***If your survivor is someone other than your spouse - your cost may be higher than 10% - but the benefit amount to your survivor would be the same.***

2.) Reduced FERS Survivor Annuity Option

You can also choose to offer a reduced survivor benefit. With this option, your survivor will receive 25% of your monthly pension after you pass away.

In most cases, the cost for this benefit is 5% of your regular FERS pension.

Again - this reduction to your FERS pension is permanent. 5% will be deducted from your retirement pension every month until you pass away. When you die, your survivor will receive 25% of your pension for the rest of their life. 

Example of Reduced FERS Survivor Annuity

Let's continue with our example where your regular monthly FERS pension was $1,000.

At retirement you select the reduced survivor annuity benefit, so your pension is reduced by 5%. In this example, your pension would be reduced by $50. During retirement - you would now receive $950 each month.

When you pass away, your survivor will get 25% of your regular monthly pension - in our example $250 a month.

Quick Look:
Your Regular FERS Pension (before reduction) = $1,000/month
Cost of Survivor Benefit (5% reduction) = $50/month
Monthly Pension You Receive in Retirement = $950/month
What Survivor Will Receive After You Pass Away = $250/month

***If your survivor is someone other than your spouse - your cost may be higher than 5% - but the benefit amount to your survivor would be the same.***

3.) Choosing No FERS Survivor Benefit

You also have the option not to choose any survivor annuity. If you are married, you will need your spouse's permission to make this choice.

I generally don't recommend people choose No Survivor Annuity - unless you are in a unique situation where you don't have a survivor.

But for most people, it makes sense to consider a Full or Reduced FERS Survivor Annuity Benefit.

Even if your spouse doesn't need the money - there are important reasons to consider offering a survivor benefit. 

What If My Spouse Doesn't *Need* the Money?

Even if you don't think your spouse will need the money - you should still consider offering a survivor benefit.

The biggest reason is... Health Insurance.

If your spouse is not receiving a survivor annuity benefit - they will not be eligible for FEHB health insurance after you die.

Even if your spouse is on your FEHB plan during retirement - once you die - if your spouse is not receiving a survivor annuity they will lose their health insurance.

For this reason - I recommend that most Federal Employees consider offering *at least* the reduced survivor annuity.

Even if your spouse won't need the money - having health insurance will still be very important. Especially when you consider that they may not even be able to get any other health insurance due to age or health condition. 

Making Changes *After* Retirement

You make your choices for survivor annuity benefits when you file your retirement paperwork.

But what if you change your mind later?

You have a 12 month after you retire to make changes to your survivor annuity choices. After that time has passed - you will only be allowed to make changes in the event of marriage/divorce or death of the survivor.

Important Information for Divorce/Re-Marriage

If you have been divorced or re-married, you will need to pay close attention to your survivor benefit options.

Each situation is different: I have seen cases where the Federal Employee was required to provide full survivor benefits to their former spouse - and cases where no survivor benefits were required.

You can list both your former spouse and current spouse as your survivors - but you'll need to pay special attention to who receives what amount.

OPM will only pay out the amount specified for each survivor annuity option.

Let's say you elected the full survivor benefit at retirement. The most that OPM will pay is 50% of your monthly pension. So if you have two survivors listed - you will have to decide how to split the 50%.

For an example - say your FERS retirement pension was $1,000 a month. You elect the full survivor annuity of $500 a month. You can have your former spouse and current spouse listed as survivors - both of them do *not* get $500 - you have to decide how to divide the $500 between them.

And really - the court may have already 'decided' this for you. If you are required to provide a full survivor benefit to your former spouse - there is nothing left for your current spouse to receive.

You will want to refer to your court documents. Consult your attorney if you have any questions about what is required for your situation.

Who Counts as a Survivor?

If you are married, your spouse is your survivor.

But if you are not married, or your spouse has passed away - your children can also qualify to be your survivor.

In order for someone to qualify as a survivor - they must have an 'insurable interest' in you. So you can't make your brother, sister, cousin, neighbor, or friend your survivor just because you want to.

When anyone other than a spouse is your survivor, OPM will look at the age difference between you and your survivor. The younger your survivor - the higher your cost to provide a survivor annuity benefit.

The Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Spouse

One of the most important things you can do for your spouse is to make sure they will be taken care of if you pass away.

This means...

  • Taking care of all of your beneficiary designations - RIGHT NOW
  • Having a will/trust in place
  • Having enough money saved to take care of survivors
  • Having all of your financial documents in order
  • Establishing a relationship with a financial planner that you *both* like and trust

Even if you're uncomfortable discussing these matters - you owe it to your loved ones to ensure they will be taken care of even after you're gone. 


Are You Getting the Most Out of Your Benefits?fers retirement program

As a federal employee, you have one of the best benefits systems out there. But as you know - there are lots of exceptions, caveats and details to keep track of.

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