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Survivor Benefits

Under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), retiring employees can elect to have their annuities reduced to provide survivor benefits for a current or former spouse or for certain other persons. See Chapter 3, Section 4, for information about the types of survivor annuities, benefits for children, death benefits when no one is eligible for a survivor annuity, and how to apply for retirement and survivor benefits; see Chapter 3, Section 6 for information about survivor benefits for disability retirees who die. (Note: Survivors of employees who die in service after having met certain minimum service requirements also are eligible to receive certain benefits; see Benefits Upon Death in Service in Chapter 8, Section 4). OPM publications providing detailed policies and procedures in various situations are at www.opm.gov/retirement-services/publications-forms/pamphlets

Note: While eligibility to provide for survivor benefits applies to same-sex spouses (and to their children for children’s survivor benefits, if otherwise eligible; see Survivor Benefits for Children in Chapter 3, Section 4) it does not apply to domestic partnerships, civil unions, or other arrangements not formally recognized as a marriage, nor to common law marriages. 

Survivors of retirees (and of active employees) also have certain rights under Social Security (see Chapter 3, Section 9), the Federal Employees Compensation Act (see Chapter 5, Section 5), the Thrift Savings Plan (see Chapter 6, Section 4), and government-sponsored insurance benefit programs (see Chapter 2).

Changing the Survivor Election for Your Spouse After Retirement 

If you are married at retirement, you may change your decision not to provide a survivor annuity or you may increase a survivor annuity amount elected, but you must make a payment (see below) if you do not do so within 30 days after the date of your first regular monthly payment. Your new election must be made in writing (Standard Form 2801 for CSRS, 3107 for FERS) to: Office of Personnel Management, Retirement Operations Center, P.O. Box 45. Boyers, PA 16017-0045. The forms are available by writing to that address, calling (888) 767-6738 or at www.opm.gov/forms

Your first regular monthly payment is the one OPM has determined to be payable on a recurring basis (not on an estimated or adjustment one). If you change your election to anything less than the maximum survivor benefit, you must get your spouse’s consent to the election, in writing, or request that OPM waive the spousal consent requirement if the spouse’s whereabouts cannot be determined.

Beyond that initial period, you can only change your election, in writing, within 18 months after the beginning date of your annuity. If you make that change in that time, you must pay: a deposit representing the difference between the reduction for the new survivor election and the original survivor election; plus a percentage of your annual annuity. Under FERS, this percentage is 24.5 percent of your annual annuity (at retirement) if you are changing from no survivor benefit to a full (50 percent) survivor benefit, and 12.25 percent if you are changing from none to a partial (25 percent) benefit or from a partial benefit to a full benefit. Under CSRS, this percentage is 24.5 percent of the amount of the increase from the original base to the new survivor base. That increase can be in any amount up to a full (55 percent) survivor annuity. Interest on the deposit must also be paid, chargeable at the same rate used for other retirement system deposits and redeposits (see the Interest Rates table in Chapter 3, Section 3). The election should be filed at the address above. 

Electing Survivor Benefits Following Marriage After Retirement

If you marry after retirement, you can elect a reduced annuity to provide a survivor annuity for your spouse using the pertinent form as described above, but only if you request the benefit within two years of the date of the marriage. 

To be eligible for a survivor benefit in this circumstance, the spouse must have been married to you for at least nine months before your death, or, if married less than nine months, be the parent of a child born to the marriage, or your death must have been accidental. You may elect either a full survivor annuity or a partial survivor annuity. (Note: If you remarry the same person you were married to at retirement and that person consented to either no survivor annuity or a partial survivor annuity, you cannot elect a survivor annuity greater than the amount provided in your original election.)

If you elect to provide a survivor annuity, there will be two reductions in your annuity. One will be the standard reduction to provide the survivor benefit; the reduction depends on whether you have elected to provide a full survivor annuity or a partial survivor annuity (see General Types of Survivor Annuities in Chapter 3, Section 4). The reduction to provide the survivor benefit will be eliminated if your marriage ends. 

The other reduction in your annuity is a permanent actuarial reduction to pay the survivor benefit deposit. The deposit equals the difference between the new annuity rate and the annuity paid to you for each month since retirement, plus 6 percent interest. The reduction is determined by dividing the amount of the deposit by an actuarial factor for your age on the date your annuity is reduced to provide the survivor benefit. The actuarial reduction will not be eliminated from your annuity if your marriage ends. For more information on actuarial reductions, see Chapter 3, Section 7. A request for information about survivor annuity benefits or signed, written elections of survivor benefits should include the retiree’s full name and CSA number, should include a copy of the marriage certificate, and should be sent to Office of Personnel Management, Retirement Operations Center, P.O. Box 45, Boyers, PA, 16017-0045.

See Chapter 2 for information about coverage for a spouse who becomes newly eligible under insurance programs, including options for you to change your enrollment in health insurance and dental and vision insurance on the basis of experiencing a qualifying life event. You further may wish to change your beneficiary designations for life insurance, lump-sum retirement death benefits, and the Thrift Savings Plan. The marriage will not make your spouse the beneficiary under those programs if you previously designated the benefits to someone else and do not change the designation. 

Electing Survivor Benefits for a Former Spouse if Your Marriage Terminates After Retirement

If your marriage terminates after retirement, you can elect a reduced annuity to provide a survivor annuity for your former spouse, but only if you contact OPM to request the benefit within two years of the date of the termination of the marriage. You may elect either a full survivor annuity or a partial survivor annuity. However, if at your retirement your then-spouse consented to either no survivor annuity or a partial survivor annuity, you cannot elect a survivor annuity greater than the amount provided in your original election. The same reductions are applied as those for marriage after retirement as described above.

For more information on survivor benefits for former spouses, see Chapter 7, Section 2. 

Changing an Insurable Interest Annuity Election for a Current Spouse to a Regular Survivor Annuity Election

If a former spouse’s court-ordered survivor annuity will prevent your current spouse from receiving a survivor annuity that is sufficient to meet his or her anticipated needs, you may elect an insurable interest annuity for your current spouse at retirement. (See Chapter 3, Section 3 for information about insurable interest annuities.) If the former spouse later loses entitlement to the court-ordered survivor annuity for one of the reasons described below, you can request that the reduction in your annuity to provide the insurable interest annuity be converted to the regular survivor annuity reduction. Your current spouse would then be entitled to the regular survivor annuity. 

Termination of the Reduction in Your Annuity to Provide a Survivor Benefit

Current Spouse—The reduction in your annuity to provide a survivor annuity for your current spouse stops if your marriage ends because of death, divorce, or annulment.

Former Spouse—The reduction in your annuity to provide a survivor annuity for a former spouse stops: if the former spouse remarries before reaching age 55 or dies; or if required by a court order. (Modifications to the court order issued after you retire do not affect the former spouse survivor annuity.)

Insurable Interest—The reduction in your annuity to provide an insurable interest annuity stops if the person you name to receive the insurable interest annuity dies or if the person you name is your current spouse and you change your election because a former spouse has lost entitlement to a survivor annuity. The reduction also ends if, after you retire, you marry the insurable interest beneficiary and elect to provide a spousal survivor annuity for that person. If you marry someone other than the insurable interest beneficiary after you retire and elect to provide a survivor annuity for your spouse, you may cancel the insurable interest reduction at that time.

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