Expert's View

Over the last two weeks, I wrote about the things that newly hired employees need to consider when making decisions about their federal life and health insurance. At the time, I mentioned that when certain life events occur there are opportunities to join those programs, or to make changes to existing coverage.

Let’s focus on the four most common of these life events—marriage, the birth of a child, divorce or death—starting with this week marriage.

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Health insurance

Assuming that you are already enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program, you can change your coverage whenever your personal situation changes. For example, if you get married, you can change from Self Only to Self Plus One. If you were enrolled in Self Plus One to cover a dependent child and you get married, you can change to Self and Family. You’ll also be able to change your enrollment from one plan or option to another.

If you are an employee who isn’t enrolled in the FEHB program you can enroll during the annual Open Season each fall. You also get that option if you get married; you’ll have to make that change from 31 days before your marriage to 60 days after it. Otherwise you’d have to wait until the next open season.

The form is at www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/sf2809.pdf.

Note: If you are a retiree who wasn’t enrolled in the FEHB program when you retired, you can’t do that now. Sorry, but that’s the law.

Life insurance

If you are a current employee, upon marriage you may newly enroll in FEGLI and may elect optional coverages (or increase existing optional coverages) up to the maximums. (Note: Open seasons in FEGLI are rare; the only other way into FEGLI as someone not currently enrolled would be to apply subject to the kind of underwriting that is common when purchasing life insurance.)

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Just as is true of the FEHB program, a retiree can’t newly enroll in the FEGLI program nor can a retiree increase coverage due to a life event such as marriage. Retirees can only reduce or cancel existing coverage. Sorry, but once again that’s the law.

An enrollee may wish to file a new FEGLI designation of beneficiary form upon marriage. This is done by filling out a Standard Form 2823, which can be downloaded at www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/sf2823.pdf. (Note: If you have no designation of beneficiary on file, your spouse would be the first beneficiary under a standard order of precedence that would be used.)

Survivor annuity

At retirement, an employee is required by law to provide a survivor annuity for a spouse unless the spouse consents in writing to a lesser amount, or none. The maximum is 50 percent of the annuity amount before the reduction to provide for a survivor benefit under FERS and 55 percent under CSRS. The only partial annuity option under FERS is a 25 percent amount, while under CSRS partial annuities may be elected in dollar amounts ranging down to $1 a year.

If marry after you retire, the decision about providing a survivor annuity is up to you. However, if you don’t, be sure to let your spouse know that. I’ve encountered too many cases where someone’s shock at losing a spouse is compounded by learning that there won’t be a survivor annuity.

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