Expert's View

“Cui bono?” It’s an old Latin phrase that means, “Who stands to gain?” Do you know who will benefit from your Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) policy or Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) account? It’s always important to know the answer to that question, but it’s never seemed more relevant than in the days following Hurricane Katrina and the memorial services in remembrance of 9/11.

Think about it. When did you last check to see who would benefit if you were to die? If you’re like many federal employees, you designated your beneficiaries when you first entered government and you haven’t checked back since. If that’s the case, you need to go to your servicing personnel office and look in your Official Personnel File (OPF). Then you can make sure that those you designated then are still the ones you want to receive the benefits in the event of your death.

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I’ve known too many cases where the names in the OPF were not the one(s) the deceased would have picked if he were still alive. This is particularly true of FEGLI. That’s because you were covered by that on the first day you entered government service. If you haven’t changed your designations since, the name(s) you put down (or their heirs) will be the one(s) who will get those benefits, not the ones you would want to get them today.

To change a previous FEGLI designation, you’ll need to fill out a Standard Form 1823. The form for changing a TSP designation is the TSP-3. Both forms are available from your personnel office or you can download them by going to OPM’s web site at www.opm.gov and clicking on Federal Forms in the lower left hand corner or TSP’s website at www.tsp.gov and clicking on Forms & Publications.

Now, if you never filled out a designation of beneficiary form for either FEGLI or the TSP, the benefits usually will be distributed according to what’s called the standard order of precedence: Your spouse; your child or children in equal shares, with the share of any deceased child distributed among the descendents of that child; your parents in equal shares or the entire amount to the surviving parent; the duly appointed executor or administrator of your estate; and, finally, your next of kin under the laws of the place you were living at the time of your death. Of course, if you are divorced, what happens to those benefits may have been settled by a court order – or not. It’s up to you to find out which.