The federal government offers several programs to help meet the needs of survivors of civil servants. During their life, the Deceased was able to elect one of two retirement plans: the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). Each system provides slightly different benefits for survivors.
The following is a brief summary of the CSRS and may not apply to every survivor.
When a civil servant enrolled in the CSRS plan passes away, the eligible survivors––including former spouses and dependent children––can receive a monthly annuity payment. (Lump sum payments are not available.) To be eligible, the Deceased must have elected to have survivor benefits and must have been married to the widow/widower for at least nine months prior to death. The nine month requirement does not apply if the widow/widower had a child with the deceased or if their death was accidental.
Some survivors can receive both Social Security and CSRS Survivor benefits, but the CSRS benefit may be reduced. Employment does not affect whether or not an annuity benefit is received or its amount, subject to one exception: “If you are a widower whose annuity is based on the service of a Federal employee who died before retiring and before January 8, 1971, your annuity will stop if you accept employment that enables you to support yourself.” (Source: Information for Survivor Annuitants, OPM, 1999). For more information, please contact the United States Office of Personnel Management Retirement Operations Center (OPM).
Children cannot be prevented from receiving CSRS payments and will receive them even if the surviving spouse is not receiving payments. (Children must be unmarried, under 18 and be considered dependent.) Other provisions effecting children:
Full information about CSRS survivor benefits should be obtained from the United States Office of Personnel Management Retirement Operations Center (OPM) at 1-888-767-6738.
Depending upon your role in the Deceased’s life, benefits vary by relationship:
Survivor annuities always end when the survivor passes away. If the benefit was granted based on a court order to a former or surviving spouse, the benefit will end when its terms have been fulfilled. Benefits to widows or widowers end if they remarry before age 55 and if they were not married to the Deceased for at least 30 years. The survivor’s benefit can be reinstated if the remarriage ends in divorce. If the surviving spouse remarries after age 55, the benefits continue. Former spouses whose marriage to the survivor ended due to divorce, and whose benefit ended due to remarriage are never eligible to have the benefit restored.
Survivor annuity payments are subject to both federal and state taxes. The United States Office of Personnel Management Retirement Operations Center (OPM) withholds federal taxes at the three withholding allowances rate unless informed otherwise. Let them know if you need to adjust withholdings to avoid under or overpaying taxes. The annuity may also be claimed as income for legal obligations such as child support or alimony. Similarly, if funds are owed to the federal government either by you or the Deceased, annuity payments can be withheld.
A general power of attorney is insufficient to cash someone else’s annuity checks. You must have a specific power of attorney called SF232 in order to do so. Other issues such as guardianship or conservatorship [internal link to conservatorship section] can be taken care of by speaking or writing to the OPM office. The checks should be returned to OPM with an explanation and a request to have the guardian or conservator listed as payee with a copy of the court order.
If the survivor was enrolled in the “self and family” health benefit plan, health insurance will continue for the survivor and their family members. Enrollment will be transferred into the survivor’s name and premiums will be deducted from the annuity. If the survivor is the only person eligible for health benefits after the death of the Deceased, coverage will be changed to “self only” which is less expensive.
Coverage is for life unless you remarry or cancel your enrollment. As with the annuity payments, if the remarriage ends, you are then eligible to receive benefits again.
According to the United States Office of Personnel Management Retirement Operations Center (OPM):
Former spouses may be eligible for health benefits coverage under the spouse equity provisions of Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program if:
Former spouses have 60 days to apply for benefits once they have been notified that they are entitled to them or if the marriage is terminated. If you are a former spouse receiving an annuity or your marriage ended after the employee retired, you must apply to the government for health benefit coverage. The cost of the premium is also withheld from your annuity, unless the annuity doesn’t cover the full cost in which case you can change to a less expensive plan or simply pay the excess fees.
In addition, the OPM states:
Former spouse benefits will continue for life unless you:
Children are also eligible for health coverage as long as they meet the requirements for dependent children. Similar to other programs:
FERS survivor benefits provide a basic employee death benefit and/or monthly annuity payments. This annuity is subject to state and federal taxes as well as debts owed to any private individual or the government. Facts about the benefit:
Please Note: There are other specific guidelines for FERS survivor benefits; contact the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Retirement Operations Center at 1-888-767-6738 to learn more.
The CSRS and FERS retirement plans provide multiple continuing benefits for survivors. The plan applicable to you is reliant upon the type of plan the Deceased chose and whether or not they elected to make payments to their insurance for survivor benefits. There are specific limitations placed on many aspects of the plan, so it’s important to be fully informed about what conditions apply and how that may impact your eligibility for certain benefits. All of this can seem confusing, so don’t hesitate to contact the OPM (1-888-767-6738) with any questions or concerns.
The United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA): 1-800-827-1000 www.va.gov
Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWP): 1-866-4-USA-DOL www.dol.gov
Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS): 1-800-321-1080 www.dfas.mil
Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA): 1-800-321-1080 www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/
Social Security Administration: 1-800-772-1213 www.ssa.gov
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