Learn more about survivor benefits and retirement
FAQs and answers about survivor benefits and federal retirement.
Questions and answers
The types of benefits payable are:
- Current spouse survivor annuity
- Former spouse annuity that is voluntarily elected or awarded by a court order in divorces granted on or after May 7, 1985
- A one-time lump sum benefit
Under FERS, a basic employee death benefit may be payable to the surviving widow, widower, or former spouse of an employee who dies while employed.
If you retire under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), the maximum survivor benefit payable is 55 percent of your unreduced annual benefit.
If you retire under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), the maximum survivor benefit payable is 50 percent of your unreduced annual benefit.
In the event of your death, you can make one of the following elections:
- No survivor benefit
- A partially reduced annuity
- A fully reduced annuity
These elections provide the following benefits to your survivor spouse:
- No survivor benefit
- A full or partial annuity for a spouse
- A full or partial annuity for a former spouse
- A combination of a full or partial annuity for a spouse and for a former spouse
Here are things you should consider when making an election:
- Your spouse's future retirement benefits based on his or her own employment
- Other sources of income
- Whether the other sources of income are protected against inflation with cost-of-living adjustments
- Your spouse's need for continued coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefit program
There's an opportunity to increase survivor benefits within 18 months after the annuity begins. However, this election may be more expensive than the one you make at retirement.
Monthly annuity payments to a surviving spouse generally continue for life unless your spouse remarries before age 55. If your spouse was married to you for at least 30 years, he or she can continue receiving benefits when there is a remarriage before age 55 that occurred after January 1, 1995.
You can only make your survivor benefit elections for current and/or former spouses when you retire, or based on a qualifying event after retirement. The application for retirement provides detailed information and instructions about these elections. If your marriage ends after you retire, you must contact us to tell us that you want to elect to provide a survivor benefit for a former spouse. We'll send the necessary information and forms to you to complete to determine eligibility and make the election.
If you get married after retirement, you can elect a reduced annuity to provide a survivor annuity for your spouse. You must make this election within 2 years of the date of your marriage.
Under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), you can elect any portion of your annuity (from 55 percent of $22.00, which results in a $1.00 per month survivor annuity, up to 55 percent of your unreduced annuity) as a basis for the survivor benefit payable in the event of your death.
Under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), a full benefit is 50 percent of your unreduced annual basic annuity and a partial benefit is 25 percent of your unreduced annual basic annuity.
If you remarry the same person to whom you were married at retirement, you cannot elect a survivor annuity greater than the one you elected at retirement.
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 first reduction depends on the amount you elect for the survivor annuity.
Your annuity is also reduced by a permanent actuarial reduction equal to the difference between the new annuity rate with the survivor benefit and the old one without the survivor benefit since your retirement, plus 6 percent interest. In most cases, the actuarial reduction amount is less than 5 percent of your annuity. The actuarial reduction continues even if the marriage ends.
When you contact us, we'll send you a statement describing the cost of the election and ask you to confirm your election.
If you're in good health and you retire for reasons other than disability, you can elect to provide a survivor annuity to someone with an insurable interest. You can elect to provide an insurable interest benefit and the maximum survivor benefit for a current spouse or an ex-spouse (your annuity would be reduced for both benefits). Spousal consent is not required to name an insurable interest if you've elected a maximum survivor annuity for your current spouse. However, if you're married and elect an insurable interest benefit for your current spouse, spousal consent is required because your current spouse must waive their right to normal survivor benefits.
If you elect an insurable interest benefit, you're responsible for arranging for and paying the cost of any medical examination required to show you're in good health. A report of the medical examination should be included with your retirement application.
You can elect to provide an insurable interest annuity only for someone who has an insurable interest in you. "Insurable interest" is an insurance term that applies to someone who would reasonably expect to derive financial benefit from your continued life. For survivor benefit election purposes, an insurable interest is presumed to exist if you name any of the following persons a beneficiary of the insurable interest:
- A spouse
- An ex-spouse
- A blood or adopted relative closer than first cousins
- A person you're engaged to be married to
- A person you're in a relationship and living with that would constitute a common-law marriage in a jurisdiction that recognizes common-law marriages
If the person named is not one of the above, then you will be required to submit affidavits with your retirement application from one or more persons with knowledge of the individual's insurable interest. The affidavits must establish:
- The relationship between the named beneficiary and you
- The extent to which the person named is dependent on you
- The reasons why the person named might reasonably expect to derive financial benefit from your continued life
The benefit is provided by reducing the retiree's annuity. This means the retiree's monthly annuity payment will be less than the full amount had they not elected to get the provide an insurable interest survivor benefit.
Here's how the reduction to provide an insurable interest benefit is calculated:
- If the person named is older, the same age, or less than 5 years younger than the retiree, the reduction is 10 percent
- If the person named is 5 but less than 10 years younger than the retiree, the reduction is 15 percent
- If the person named is 10 but less than 15 years younger than the retiree, the reduction is 20 percent
- If the person named is 15 but less than 20 years younger than the retiree, the reduction is 25 percent
- If the person named is 20 but less than 25 years younger than the retiree, the reduction is 30 percent
- If the person named is 25 but less than 30 years younger than the retiree, the reduction is 35 percent
- If the person named is 30 or more years younger than the retiree, the reduction is 40 percent
The insurable interest automatically ends if the insurable interest dies, if you marry the insurable interest and elect to provide a spousal benefit, or if the named person is your spouse and you change your election to provide a spousal survivor benefit.
Maybe. You could get a monthly payment if your spouse elected a reduced annuity to provide the benefit. To qualify for the monthly benefit, you must have been married to the retiree for at least 9 months. A survivor annuity may still be payable if the retiree's death occurred before 9 months if the death was accidental or there was a child born of your marriage to the retiree.
A court order awarding a former spouse a survivor annuity may prevent us from paying you the portion of the annuity awarded under the court order. However, if otherwise eligible, you can receive the complete annuity if the former spouse loses eligibility for benefits.
If no survivor annuity is payable upon the retiree's death, any remaining portion, representing either the remaining annuity and/or retirement contributions not paid to the retiree, is payable to the person(s) eligible under the order of precedence.
Maybe. You could get a monthly payment under a court order. A former spouse must also have been married to the deceased employee for at least 9 months.
If the employee died while covered under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), then you could get a monthly payment if your spouse completed at least 18 months of creditable civilian service. To qualify for the monthly benefit, you must have been married to the employee for at least 9 months.
If the employee died while covered under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), then you could get a basic employee death benefit and a monthly payment. To qualify for the basic employee death benefit, your spouse must have completed at least 18 months of creditable civilian service and you must have been married to the employee for at least 9 months. To qualify for the monthly payment benefit, your spouse must have completed at least 10 years of creditable service (18 months of which must be creditable civilian service) and you must have been married to the employee for at least 9 months.
For both CSRS and FERS, a survivor annuity may still be payable if the employee's death occurred before 9 months if the death was accidental or there was a child born of your marriage to the employee.
If a former spouse was awarded part of the total survivor CSRS or FERS annuity, you'll receive the remainder. If the former spouse loses entitlement because of death or remarriage before age 55, you can receive the full annuity.
If the employee's death was job-related, workers' compensation benefits may also be payable.
If you were enrolled in a self and family plan at the time of your death and a monthly survivor benefit is payable, then your spouse and eligible dependents can continue your health insurance. If a monthly benefit is not payable, your spouse and eligible family members will have a one-time opportunity to enroll in private health coverage with the insurance provider.
Under the CSRS offset program, a survivor annuity for your spouse is calculated in the same way as a survivor annuity would be calculated based on full CSRS coverage. However, under CSRS offset, your spouse's annuity may be reduced if he or she is eligible for Social Security benefits based on your federal service. If he or she is not eligible for social security benefits, the civil service annuity is not reduced.
Maybe. Unmarried children (generally under age 18) who are dependent on the retiree can get monthly payments. We consider the child dependent if there is proof that the deceased made regular and substantial contributions to the child's support.
We consider a child dependent if he or she meets one of the following conditions:
- Was born within marriage to the retiree
- Is an adopted child who meets all of the following conditions: the child lived with the deceased retiree, the deceased filed a petition to adopt the child, and the child was adopted before the retiree's death or by the surviving spouse after the retiree died.
- Is a stepchild or recognized child born out out-of-wedlock who was living with the retiree in a parent and child relationship when the retiree died
- Is a recognized child born out-of-wedlock for whom a judicial determination of support has been obtained
Full-time students ages 18 to 22 may also be eligible for an annuity. However, the child must also meet all other requirements applicable to qualify for a child's annuity.
A monthly survivor annuity may be payable to a former spouse after the death of the employee or annuitant if it is provided by a court order or the annuitant's election.
If the survivor annuity is based on an annuitant's election, the amount is determined in the same way as the amount due to a current surviving spouse. However, if the employee has remarried, then this election can only be made if the current spouse consents to it.
The amount of a court-ordered survivor annuity is based on the court order. A court order may provide the maximum survivor annuity, a lesser amount, or a fraction of the maximum survivor annuity.
Your agency's HR office will review the election opportunities with you to provide benefits after your death to your husband or wife, ex-spouse, or another person you designate as having an insurable interest in your continuing life. If you don't elect to provide for a monthly benefit after your death, your survivor won't be able to continue coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program. You HR advisor will also cover the requirements that each survivor must meet to qualify.
When making an election to provide a benefit after your death, you must obtain your husband's or wife's written consent to provide less than the maximum benefit allowed. To designate an insurable interest, you must have a physical examination at your own expense.
Your agency's HR office is the best place to start. They can provide personalized assistance and they have your employment records.
Yes, but not under your family enrollment. There are two possible options for your former spouse to remain enrolled. First, all former spouses are eligible for a Temporary Continuation of Coverage enrollment that lasts for 36 months. Second, former spouses eligible for a monthly court-ordered benefit (either a portion of your monthly benefit, or a survivor benefit upon your death) are eligible for former spouse federal health insurance.
The appropriate application for death benefits under the CSRS or FERS must be filed with an original signature to OPM. Your survivor should include the following relevant documents with the application:
- A certified copy of the death certificate
- If not already on file, a copy of your marriage certificate
- Copies of birth certificates of eligible children
- A certified copy of any divorce decree, and property settlement agreement, that occurred on or after May 7, 1985
No, your income from employment with the government or any other employer will not affect your spousal survivor annuity. The income of a child may affect some types of child benefits.
Under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), a retiree can elect to provide less than the maximum survivor benefit. A partial survivor election is based on 55 percent of the annual base amount you choose. For example, if you choose a survivor base of $3,600, then the benefit will be 55 percent of $3,600, which would be a survivor benefit of $1,980 per year or $165 per month. By law, you must attach the form Spouse Consent to Survivor Election (SF-2801-2) to your CSRS application. The form must be signed by your spouse in the presence of a notary.
Under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), individuals can elect a partial survivor benefit which is based on 25 percent of one unreduced annual base annuity. Your spouse must complete and attach Spouse Consent to Survivor Election (SF-3107-2) to your application.
If you're married when you retire and you chose not to provide a spousal survivor benefit, you must obtain your spouse's consent to the election. The consent form, which is part of the application for retirement benefits, must be completed in the presence of a notary public or other official authorized to take oaths.
The spousal consent requirement may be waived if it's shown that the spouse's whereabouts cannot be determined. A request for a waiver must also include one of the following:
- A judicial determination that the spouse's whereabouts cannot be determined
- Affidavits by the employee and two other persons, at least one of whom is not related to the employee, attesting to the efforts made to locate the spouse and the inability to do so. The employee should submit other documentary evidence, such as newspaper stories about the spouse's disappearance.
The spousal consent requirement can be waived based on exceptional circumstances if the employee presents a judicial determination that exceptional circumstances warrant a waiver. The order must state the following:
- That the state that the case before the court involves a federal employee who is retiring
- That the employee's spouse was given notice and an opportunity to be heard in the matter
- That the court considered 5 USC 8339(j)(1) and 5 CFR 831.618(b) as it relates to a waiver of the spousal consent requirements for a married Federal employee to elect an annuity without reduction to provide a survivor benefit to a spouse at retirement
- That the court finds that exceptional circumstances justify waiver of the spousal consent requirement
Survivor annuity payments are payable through the end of the month prior to the date of the event which caused the loss of eligibility. For example, if a remarriage occurred in April, benefits would end on March 31.
Survivor annuities payable to widows, widowers, and former spouses end if the survivor remarries before age 55 and was not married for at least 30 years to the deceased employee or annuitant. Widows, widowers, and former spouses who remarry after they reach age 55 continue to be eligible for survivor annuity benefits. The survivor annuity for a former spouse who is entitled because of a court order ends if the terms of the court order are satisfied. Insurable interest annuities are payable for the life of the survivor.
If an annuity to a surviving spouse ends for a remarriage, it can be restored if the remarriage ends. Before the benefit can be restored, the survivor must pay back any lump sum payment of retirement contributions, if applicable. If you want your current spouse annuity restored, write to us and include a copy of the decree of divorce, annulment, or death certificate. Former spouse benefits that end because of a remarriage can never be restored.
Annuity benefits for children end when the child reaches age 18, marries, or dies. Survivor annuities are payable through the end of the month prior to the date of the event which caused the loss of eligibility. For example, if the child turns 18 on June 29, benefits would end on May 31.
Benefits for student children stop at the end of the month before the month when the student child experience one of the following:
- Turns age 22
- Gets married
- Stops attending school
- Transfers to a school that is not recognized
- Changes to less than full-time school attendance
- Enters military service or a government service academy
- Fails to submit self-certification of full-time school attendance
You must contact us immediately if any of the above events occurs in order to minimize the potential for an overpayment of benefits. Include your claim number and a copy of any appropriate record such as a marriage certificate.
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