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Retirement Services Survivor Benefits

 

Overview

Information for Our Survivors and Loved Ones

Please accept our condolences on the loss of your loved one. The information provided below will help guide you through the process of reporting the death of a federal employee or retiree and applying for any potential death benefits that may be payable.

How to Report the Death of a Federal Employee/Retiree

We offer several options on how to report a death. You can do one of the following:

  • Complete an online Report of Death form.
  • Email retire@opm.gov
  • Call our Retirement Information Office at 888-767-6738 Monday through Friday during the hours of 7:40 am and 5:00 pm EST/EDT.

What you need to report:

  • Retiree/employee’s name.
  • Any information you may have, such as the retiree/employee’s date of birth, social security number, claim number and address.
  • Names and addresses of the survivors so that we may send out information regarding potential death benefits that might be payable.

If this is the death of a current federal employee, please contact the employing agency and report the death directly to them as well.

What Happens After Reporting the Death

Retirees

After reporting the death to OPM, our office will create a claim number for the deceased and send out an “invite packet” to the survivors. This packet will include the following:

Employees

If the death was that of an employee, the employing agency at the time of death will provide the survivors with an “invite packet” and should work with the survivors on providing OPM with the necessary information.

What Should You Include with your Application for Death Benefits?

There are some documents that we require applicants to submit to process an Application for Death Benefits. If you can provide these documents with your application, it will eliminate the need to request these documents later in the process. In addition to a complete application, you should include the following:

  • Proof of death that shows the date and cause/manner of death. We cannot accept a pending death certificate.
  • Proof of termination of any marriage. Submit a copy of final divorce, annulment, or death certificate with your application.
  • If you are the widow/widower, include a copy of your marriage certificate.
  • If you are a child of the deceased, include a copy of your birth certificate showing both of your parents’ names.
  • If you are a court-appointed administrator, executor or other official of the estate of the deceased, include a copy of the appointment with a raised seal.

What to expect after submitting your application?

Once OPM has received a complete application, the claim will be assigned to a specialist for processing in the order in which it was received. If the claim involves the death of an employee, it will be assigned to a specialist once OPM has received the death package from the employing agency and payroll office. If additional information is needed to process the claim, the specialist will reach out directly to the survivor(s) and/or agency. Once the specialist has all documentation needed, they will process the claim accordingly.

If I’m eligible, how will I receive my payment?

On your application for death benefits, there is a section that asks you how you would like to receive your payment. If you are receiving a one-time lump sum benefit, payment may be sent via hard copy check or direct deposit. If you are receiving a monthly benefit, the Department of Treasury requires that federal payments be sent via electronic funds transfer (EFT). There are only three exemptions that would allow for a paper check: if the recipient is over 90 years old, if the recipient lives more than 50 miles from an ATM, or if recipients are unable to manage their own finances.

What Types of Survivor Benefits May Be Payable by OPM?

  • Monthly Annuity
    • A monthly annuity may be payable to a current spouse, former spouse (if a retiree elects this benefit or if it is awarded by court order), a minor child, disabled dependent and/or student. Creditable service and length of marriage requirements must also be met.
  • Lump-Sum Credit
    • If there is not and will not be anyone eligible for a monthly survivor annuity, a lump-sum of any remaining retirement deductions may be payable. If an annuitant has exhausted all their retirement deductions, accrued annuity for the number of days they lived in the month they passed (minus any health benefit or life insurance premiums) may be payable.
  • Basic Employee Death Benefit (FERS ONLY)
    • If an employee dies with at least 18 months of creditable service, a current spouse or former spouse (if awarded in a court order) may be entitled to the Basic Employee Death Benefit.

Annuitant Planning for Future

Survivor Annuity Elections

If annuitants are married at the time of retirement, they must provide maximum survivor benefits to their spouses unless their spouses consent to an election of less than a maximum survivor annuity. An annuitant elects a survivor annuity for a spouse at retirement on the retirement application and an election results in a reduction to the annuitant’s monthly annuity for purposes of paying for the cost of the survivor annuity amount elected.

Under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) an annuitant may elect from the following survivor benefits:

  • Maximum Survivor Annuity
    • If you elect this option, your annuity will be reduced by 10%. Your spouse’s annuity upon your death will be 50% of the unreduced earned annuity.
  • Partial Survivor Annuity
    • If you elect this option, your annuity will be reduced by 5%. Your spouse’s annuity upon your death will be 25% of the rate of the unreduced self-only annuity. If you are married at retirement, you must have your spouse’s consent to elect less than a maximum survivor annuity benefit.
  • No Survivor Annuity
    • If you elect this option, there will be no reduction to your annuity. However, no survivor annuity will be paid to your spouse upon your death and any health benefits will cease. If you are married at retirement, your spouse must consent to an election of less than a maximum survivor annuity benefit.
  • Insurable Interest Annuity
    • You may elect an insurable interest annuity on behalf of anyone who can show they have a financial interest in your continued life.
    • If you elect this option, you must be healthy and willing to provide medical evidence. Disability annuitants cannot elect this option.
    • Your annuity will be reduced based on the age difference between the retiree and the person who has an insurable interest in you – anywhere from 10 to 40%. Upon your death, this person will receive 55% of your reduced annual benefit.
  • Former Spouse Survivor Annuity
    • You may elect a reduced annuity to provide a former spouse survivor annuity within two years of divorce. You may elect either 25% or 50% of your self-only annuity, and your annuity would be reduced accordingly to pay for the cost of this benefit.
    • A court order may also award a former spouse a survivor annuity benefit.
  • Survivor Annuity for a New Spouse (post retirement)
    • If you marry after retirement and have been married for at least 9 months, you can elect a reduced annuity to provide a survivor annuity for your new spouse. You must make this election within 2 years of the date of your marriage.
    • The election of a survivor annuity for a post-retirement spouse will result in two reductions in your annuity. One reduction will be the regular reduction to your annuity to pay for the cost of the survivor benefit after your election becomes effective. The other reduction is the deposit you must also pay to make this election. The deposit represents the amount your annuity would have been reduced had your survivor election been in place from your annuity commencing date to the date your survivor annuity election becomes effective, plus interest. The law requires OPM to collect the deposit by applying a permanent actuarial reduction to your annuity. When you contact OPM we will send you a statement describing these costs.

 

Under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) an annuitant may elect from the following survivor benefits:

  • Maximum Survivor Annuity
    • If you elect this option, your annual annuity will be reduced by 2.5 percent of the first $3,600, plus 10 percent of the annuity over $3,600. Your spouse’s annuity upon your death will be 55% of the unreduced annuity. If you are married at the time of retirement, you cannot elect less than the maximum survivor annuity without the consent of your spouse.
  • Partial Survivor Annuity
    • If you elect this option, you may elect 55% of any amount (must be less than your annual annuity). The annuity will be reduced according to the amount elected. You must have your spouse’s consent to select this option.
  • No Survivor Annuity
    • If you elect this option, there will be no reduction to your annuity. However, no survivor annuity will be paid to your spouse upon your death and any health benefits will cease. You must have your spouse’s consent to choose this option.
  • Insurable Interest Annuity
    • If you elect this option, you must be healthy and willing to provide medical evidence. Disability annuitants cannot elect this option.
    • Your annuity will be reduced based on the age difference between the retiree and the person who has an insurable interest in you – anywhere from 10 to 40%. Upon your death, this person would receive 55% of your reduced annual benefit.
  • Former Spouse Survivor Annuity
    • You may elect a reduced annuity for a former spouse. With this election, you can elect up to 55% of your unreduced annuity. Your annuity would be reduced accordingly.
    • A court order may also award a former spouse a survivor annuity benefit.
  • Survivor Annuity for a New Spouse (post retirement)
    • If you get married after retirement and have been married for at least 9 months, you can elect a reduced annuity to provide a survivor annuity for your new spouse. You must make this election within 2 years of the date of your marriage.
    • The election of a survivor annuity for a post-retirement spouse will result in two reductions in your annuity. One reduction will be the regular reduction to your annuity to pay for the cost of the survivor benefit after your election becomes effective. The other reduction is the deposit you must also pay to make this election. The deposit represents the amount your annuity would have been reduced had your survivor election been in place from your annuity commencing date to the date your election becomes effective, plus interest. The law requires OPM to collect the deposit by applying a permanent actuarial reduction to your annuity. When you contact OPM we will send you a statement describing these costs.

 

Time Limits for Changing a Survivor Annuity Election Made at Retirement

  • You may request, in writing, to change a current spouse survivor annuity election made at retirement no later than 18 months from your annuity commencement date.
    • You may change your election not to provide a survivor annuity for your spouse at retirement.
    • You may increase your election of less than maximum survivor annuity for your spouse.
    • However, you may not reduce the survivor annuity elected at retirement.
  • If you are married after retirement, you must be married for 9 months before your spouse is eligible for survivor benefits (or must have children born of the marriage). You have up to two years after your marriage date to elect survivor benefits for your spouse.
    • A post-retirement marriage will result in two reductions in your annuity if you elect to provide the survivor benefit. One will be the reduction to provide the survivor benefit. The other will be a permanent actuarial reduction to your annuity to pay for the costs of a deposit. When you contact OPM we will send you a statement describing these costs.

 

Designation of Beneficiary Forms

Make sure to keep your designation of beneficiary forms up to date. This will ensure the proper receipt of your benefits. To keep your designation valid, please sign and date, have two witnesses who are not designated, and avoid corrections, erasures, and alterations. Completed Designation of Beneficiary Forms should be mailed to Office of Personnel Management, Retirement Operations Center, PO Box 45 Boyers, PA 16017. Below are the applicable Designation of Beneficiary Forms for the lump-sum benefit

  • Standard Form 3102 – Designation of Beneficiary Form for the Federal Employees Retirement System
  • Standard Form 2808 – Designation of Beneficiary Form for the Civil Service Retirement System

Benefits Payable Upon the Death of a Federal Employee

An employee is anyone who was still on the agency’s employment rolls at the time of death even if they had applied for disability retirement and their pay had already stopped.

  • Monthly Survivor Annuity
    • A monthly survivor annuity may be payable to the following:
      • A spouse, if an employee who died in service is survived by a spouse who
        • Was married to the employee for an aggregate of at least 9 months (the nine-month requirement does not apply if the death was accidental); or
        • Was the parent of a child born of the marriage (including one born posthumously or out of wedlock if the parties later married) and the employee had
          • Under FERS, at least 10 years of creditable service (18 months of which must be civilian service); or
          • Under CSRS, at least 18 months of creditable civilian service.
      • A former spouse, if a qualifying court order expressly awards a survivor annuity to the former spouse prior to the employee’s death.
      • A child, if an employee with at least 18 months of creditable civilian service is survived by
        • Unmarried dependent children up to age 18
        • Unmarried dependent children from age 18 to 22 if attending an accredited educational institution full-time.
        • Unmarried, disabled dependent children over the age of 18 (certified as such by the Social Security Administration) if the disability occurred before age 18.

        Note:

        The combined benefit of all the children is reduced by the total amount of child insurance benefits that are payable under Title II of the Social Security Act for the same month to all children of the deceased based on the total earnings of the deceased. In many cases, FERS children’s benefits are reduced to $0.

  • Lump-Sum Benefit
    • If an employee dies and there is no possible survivor annuity payable based on their death, the retirement contributions remaining to the deceased person’s credit in the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund, plus any applicable interest, are payable. If a lump-sum benefit is payable, it is paid to the first person eligible under the following order of precedence:
      1. The beneficiary designated by the deceased in writing which is signed and witnessed and received at their employing agency prior to death.
      2. The spouse of the deceased employee.
      3. Children of the deceased employee (or descendants of deceased children).
      4. Parents of the deceased employee.
      5. Court appointed executor or administrator of the deceased employee’s estate.
      6. Next of kin of the deceased according to the laws in the deceased person’s domicile at death
  • Basic Employee Death Benefit (BEDB) – Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) Only
    • Payable to a spouse if the employee who dies had at least 18 months of creditable civilian service and is survived by a spouse who—
      1. Was married to the deceased for an aggregate of at least 9 months (the nine-month requirement does not apply if the death was accidental); or
      2. If the deceased federal employee was the parent of a child born of the marriage (including one born posthumously or out of wedlock if the parties later married).
    • Payable to a former spouse, if a qualifying court order expressly awards the former spouse a survivor annuity benefit prior to the employee’s death, and the former spouse was married to the deceased for a total period of at least nine months and did not remarry before reaching age 55.
    • The BEDB is equal to 50% of the employee‘s final salary (or average salary, if higher), plus $15,000 (increased by Civil Service Retirement System cost-of-living adjustments beginning December 1, 1987). The $15,000 has increased to $37,055.54 for deaths after December 1, 2021.

Benefits Payable Upon the Death of a Former Employee

A former employee is anyone who was no longer on an agency’s employment rolls at the time of death and had not yet qualified for retirement benefits. Under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), the deceased employee’s retirement deductions are payable. Please see “Lump-Sum Benefits” below. There is not a monthly survivor annuity payable to a surviving spouse upon the death of a former employee covered under CSRS.

  • Monthly Survivor Annuity – Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) Only.
    • A monthly survivor annuity may be payable to the following:
      • A spouse, if the former employee dies with at least 10 years of creditable service (5 years of which must be creditable civilian service), and if the spouse was married to the deceased at the time of their separation from Federal civilian service, and
        • Was married to the deceased for a total period of at least nine months (nine-month requirement does not apply if the death was accidental); or
        • Was the parent of a child born of the marriage (including one born posthumously or out of wedlock if the parties later married)

        Note:

        The survivor annuity benefit begins on the date the deceased former employee would have been eligible for an unreduced annuity, unless the survivor chooses to have it begin at a lower rate on the day after the employee’s death. The former employee would have been eligible for an unreduced annuity at age 62 with a minimum of 10 years of creditable service and less than 20 years of service, at age 60 with 20 or more years of service, or at the deceased employee’s minimum retirement age (MRA) with 30 or more years of service.

        Minimum Retirement Age
        If born in: Your MRA is:
        Before 1948 55 years
        1948 55 years, 2 months
        1949 55 years, 4 months
        1950 55 years, 6 months
        1951 55 years, 8 months
        1952 55 years, 10 months
        1953–1964 56 years
        1965 56 years, 2 months
        1966 56 years, 4 months
        1967 56 years, 6 months
        1968 56 years, 8 months
        1969 56 years, 10 months
        After 1969 57 years

        Instead of a survivor annuity, the eligible spouse can elect to receive a lump-sum payment of the retirement deductions remaining to the deceased person’s credit in the retirement fund.

      • A former spouse, if a qualifying court order expressly awards a survivor annuity to the former spouse prior to the employee’s death.

        Note:

        No monthly benefits are payable to children of deceased former FERS Employees if the death occurs after the employee has separated from Federal employment and before retirement.

  • Lump-Sum Benefit – CSRS and FERS
    • If a former employee dies and there is not and will not be a survivor annuity payable based on the former employee’s death, the retirement deductions remaining to the deceased former employee’s credit in the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund, plus any applicable interest, is payable. If a lump-sum benefit is payable, it is paid to the person eligible under the following order of precedence:
      1. The beneficiary designated by the deceased in writing which is signed and witnessed and received at the former employee’s employing agency prior to death.
      2. The spouse of the deceased.
      3. Children of the deceased former employee (or descendants of deceased children)
      4. Parents of the deceased former employee.
      5. Court appointed executor or administrator of the deceased former employee’s estate.
      6. Next of kin of the deceased former employee according to the laws in the deceased person’s state of domicile.

Benefits Payable Upon Death of a Retiree

A retiree is anyone who had been separated from an agency’s employment rolls and has met all the requirements for retirement (including having filed an application for retirement benefits). An individual who was eligible for an immediate retirement when the individual separated from Federal service but postponed applying for benefits to avoid an age reduction, is deemed to have applied for retirement beginning the first of the month after death. Benefits due, in this instance, are those based on the death of a retiree.

Please be advised that you may receive a reclamation notice for payments received after death. The reclamation notice will provide you with instructions on how to proceed if necessary.

  • Monthly Survivor Annuity
    • May be payable if a retiree dies who, at retirement, elected to provide a monthly survivor annuity for:
      • Their surviving spouse and/or former spouse.
      • A person having an insurable interest in the retiree.
      • A spouse acquired after retirement.
      • A former spouse for which a qualifying court order expressly awards a survivor annuity.
    • May be payable to a child if the retiree is survived by:
      • Unmarried dependent children up to age 18.
      • Unmarried dependent children from age 18 to 22 if attending an accredited educational institution full-time.
      • Unmarried, disabled dependent children over the age of 18 (certified as such by the Social Security Administration) if the disability occurred before age 18.

      Note:

      The combined benefit of all the children is reduced by the total amount of child’s insurance benefits that are payable under Title II of the Social Security Act for the same month to all children of the deceased based on the total earnings of the deceased. In many cases, FERS children’s benefits is reduced to $0.

  • Lump-Sum Benefit
    • If a retiree dies, a lump-sum benefit equal to the annuity due the deceased but not paid before death may be payable.
    • If no survivor annuity is payable based on the retiree’s death, the balance of any retirement deductions remaining to the deceased retiree’s credit in the Fund, plus any applicable interest, is payable. o If a lump-sum benefit is payable, it is paid to the first person eligible under the following order of precedence:
      1. The beneficiary designated by the deceased in writing which is signed and witnessed and received at their employing agency or OPM prior to death.
      2. The spouse of the deceased.
      3. Children of the deceased (or descendants of deceased children).
      4. Parents of the deceased.
      5. Court appointed executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate.
      6. Next of kin of the deceased according to the laws in the deceased person’s state of domicile at death

Continuation of Health Benefits

  • Surviving Spouse
    • A surviving spouse can continue Federal health benefits coverage if there is a monthly survivor benefit or a Basic Employee Death Benefit payable to the surviving spouse and the Federal employee or retiree was enrolled in a self and family or self plus one health benefits plan on the date of death.
  • Former Spouse
    • A former spouse of a deceased Federal employee/retiree can receive Federal health benefits coverage under certain conditions. Generally, you may apply for health benefits coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program if:
      • You are currently receiving or have future entitlement to a former spouse survivor annuity or a portion of the former employee’s retirement benefits; and
      • You were covered as a family member in a Federal Employees Health Benefits plan at any time during the 18 months preceding the termination of your marriage; and
      • Your marriage terminated while your former spouse was employed or retired from the Federal government; and
      • You have not remarried before age 55.
  • Children
    • A child of a deceased employee/retiree can receive Federal health benefits coverage if the following conditions are met:
      • The child must have been an eligible family member of the deceased; and
      • The child must be under the age of 26 (unless the child is incapable of self-support because of a disability that occurred before age 26); and
      • The deceased employee or retiree must have been enrolled in a self and family or self plus one health benefits plan at the time of death (or the child is covered under a self and family enrollment of a former spouse); and
      • There must be a survivor entitled to monthly recurring survivor annuity benefits or the Basic Employee Death Benefit.
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