Those anticipating making a withdrawal from their Thrift Savings Plan accounts after retirement need to remember that the law gives certain rights to your spouse, including a separated spouse. These rights currently apply to accounts of more than $3,500; they will apply to accounts worth more than $200 when the TSP changes its computer system, probably later this year.
If you are a married FERS participant, your spouse must waive his or her right to a survivor annuity if you choose a withdrawal method other than a joint life annuity with your spouse, with 50 percent survivor benefit, level payments, and no cash refund feature. If your spouse does not waive his or her rights to the prescribed annuity, you cannot withdraw your account by any other method. If you do not elect the prescribed annuity or obtain your spouse’s waiver by the date on which you are required to withdraw, the TSP must purchase a joint and survivor annuity for you and your spouse with your TSP account.
If you are a married CSRS participant, the TSP must notify your spouse before you withdraw your account, stating which annuity option you have chosen.
The TSP will prosecute any participant who denies (or attempts to deny) his or her spouse these rights by, for example, not stating marital status correctly at the time the request is made, forging the spouse’s signature, or falsifying the spouse’s address.
Under certain circumstances, including when the spouse’s whereabouts are unknown, an exception may be granted to the spouses’ rights requirements. To apply for an exception, complete Form TSP-16, Exception to Spousal Requirements, and submit it with the required documentation to the TSP Service Office at the address on the form. The criteria for a claim on the basis of exceptional circumstances are strict. The fact that there is a separation agreement, a prenuptial agreement, a protective or restraining order, or a divorce petition does not in itself support a claim of exceptional circumstances.