Expert's View

Life events such as getting married, divorced or a new child impact your federal employee benefits. But what happens to those benefits when you die? Let’s take a look.

Survivor annuity


If you were married when you die and had at least 18 months of creditable civilian service, your spouse will be entitled to a survivor annuity. That annuity will be based on a percentage of the annuity you were entitled to (or receiving) when you died. For CSRS, that’s 55 percent; for FERS, it’s 50 percent.

However, if you are a retiree whose spouse agreed to a lesser annuity amount (or none at all), that decision would control what happens. The same is true for any employee or retiree when a court order has determined that all or a portion of that annuity must be paid to a former spouse.

An eligible surviving spouse of a FERS employee is also entitled to a basic death benefit, plus 50 percent of the employee’s final salary (or high-3, if that’s greater). In 2018, that death benefit is about $33,000.

Health insurance

If you were enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program and elected self plus one or self and family coverage, the person or persons who shared in that enrollment would be entitled to the same benefits and government share of the costs as any current or retired employee enrolled in the same plan. The premiums would be deducted from his or her annuity payment unless that payment was too small to cover them. In that case, arrangements could be made with OPM so that your survivor could to pay them directly.

If you weren’t enrolled in the FEHB program, the coverage would end with your death. It would also end for any otherwise eligible survivors if you were enrolled in the self only option.

Life insurance


If you were covered under the Federal Employee’s Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) program and have a Standard Form 2823, Designation of Beneficiary, on file, any benefits will be distributed to those you named on the form. If you didn’t do that, the proceeds will be distributed according to the standard order of precedence:

• first, to a surviving spouse;

• second, if none, to your child or children, with the share of any deceased child distributed among the descendents of that child, if any;

• third, if none of the above, to your parents in equal shares or in its entirety to the lone survivor;

• fourth, if none of the above, to the executor or administrator of your estate; and

• fifth, if none of the above, to your next of kin as determined under the laws of the state where you lived.

Other insurance


If your spouse or any eligible family member was enrolled in the Federal Long-Term Care insurance program when you die, that enrollment can continue as long as the premiums are paid. Note: The opportunity to enroll in the FLTC program for the first time would be limited to a family member who is receiving a survivor annuity.

Any member of your family who was covered by your enrollment in the Dental and Vision Insurance program can continue that coverage. Further, anyone receiving a survivor annuity can enroll in the program.

Thrift Savings Plan

When you die, any money you have in your TSP account will be paid out in the standard order of precedence spelled out above, unless you filed a valid TSP-3, Beneficiary Election form. If you did, your designation(s) would be honored.

If your survivor spouse is the beneficiary, he or she can keep the account open and enjoy the same management and withdrawal rights that you did. On the other hand, any other beneficiaries will have to close out the account. They can do that by either taking a withdrawal or transfer the money to an individual retirement account (IRA) or other qualifying retirement savings plan.