Federal Employees News Digest

Informed Investor: Understanding the federal government’s survivor benefits - Part I

Many federal employees are not aware of the many benefits they are entitled to as a result of their government service. These benefits have an impact not only on themselves, but upon their death these benefits will affect their loved ones as well. Just as employees must take care of their families while they are working, they must plan for their family’s welfare upon their death.

This is the first in a series of columns examining the benefits that survivors of deceased employees and annuitants are entitled to—including survivor benefits for deceased employees and annuitants covered by the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System. This week’s column discusses survivor annuity benefits available to spouses and former spouses of deceased CSRS employees.

For a survivor annuity to be paid, a deceased CSRS employee must have: (1) completed at least 18 months of creditable civilian service; and (2) died while subject to CSRS deductions. “Death in service” occurs either when: (1) an applicant for disability retirement dies before final separation by the employing agency; or (2) an applicant for immediate retirement dies before the commencing date of the CSRS annuity, even though separation has occurred.

For a survivor annuity to be paid to a spouse—a same-sex spouse or opposite-sex spouse—the spouse must meet one of the following requirements:

• The surviving spouse and the employee must have been married for at least nine months; or

• A child was born of the marriage. A child includes: (1) a child born posthumously to the deceased spouse; (2) a child born to the deceased employee and the spouse before they were married; or (3) a child of a prior marriage between the deceased employee and spouse.

Furthermore, there can be no court order awarding the total survivor annuity to a former spouse. If a former spouse was awarded part of the total survivor annuity, the surviving spouse will receive the remainder. If the former spouse loses entitlement to the survivor annuity; for example, due to death or remarriage before age 55, then the surviving spouse is eligible to receive the full survivor annuity.

Amount of CSRS survivor annuity benefits to a spouse. A spousal survivor CSRS annuity is equal to 55 percent of the annuity computed as if the employee had retired on a disability retirement as of the date of death. In particular, a surviving spouse receives 55 percent of the higher of a guaranteed minimum, which is equal to the lesser of: (1) 40 percent of the deceased employee’s high-three average salary; or (2) the regular CSRS annuity obtained after increasing the deceased employee’s length of service and the date he or she would have been age 60.

Effect of refunded contributions and nondeduction (temporary) service. If a deceased CSRS employee withdrew any of his or her CSRS contributions to the CSRS Retirement and Disability Fund and therefore owes a redeposit, no credit is given in the computation of the CSRS survivor annuity benefit unless the surviving spouse makes a full redeposit. A full redeposit includes withdrawn CSRS retirement contributions and accrued interest.

If a CSRS-covered employee has any nondeduction service—temporary service in which the employee did not contribute to the CSRS Retirement and Disability Fund—then:

• If the nondeduction service was performed before Oct. 1, 1982, the nondeduction service is fully creditable for computation purposes. If the full deposit—equal to 7 percent of wages plus interest—is not made by the surviving spouse, then the amount of the annuity earned by the employee will be permanently reduced by 10 percent of the amount owed.

• If the nondeduction service was performed after Sept. 30, 1982, the nondeduction service is not used for service credit in the computation of the survivor benefit unless the surviving spouse makes a full deposit.

CSRS survivor annuity duration. A CSRS survivor annuity commences on the day after the employee’s death. The survivor annuity to a widow or widower terminates on the last day of the month preceding the month the widow or widower: (1) dies; or (2) remarries before age 55. If the surviving spouse remarries before age 55 and was married for at least 30 years to the deceased CSRS employee, the survivor annuity will not terminate.

Responsibilities of a surviving spouse. Upon the death of a CSRS employee the surviving spouse must: (1) complete form SF 2800 (Application for Death Benefits)  and attach any forms and/or evidence as the application or circumstances requires; (2) attach a certified copy of the employee’s death certificate; (3) attach a certified copy of the deceased employee’s and spouse’s marriage certificate and send to either: (a) the deceased employee’s employing agency if the agency has not forwarded the employee’s records to OPM; or (b) OPM Retirement Operations Center, P.O. Box 45, Boyars, PA 16017-0045 if the employing agency already has forwarded the deceased employee’s records.

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Edward A. Zurndorfer Certified Financial Planner
Mike Causey Columnist
Tom Fox VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service
Mathew B. Tully Legal Analyst

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