Expert's View

Image: Leigh Prather/

Over the last two weeks I’ve written about the difference between the retirement benefits of CSRS and FERS employees, and the special benefit arrangements made for those who are covered by CSRS Offset. Today I want to spell out the benefits that are provided to the spouses of federal employees and retirees.

Survivor death benefits before retirement: FERS
If you are married and covered by FERS, your spouse’s benefit would depend on how long you’ve been employed. If you’ve been on the job for at least 18 months but less than 10 years, your spouse would receive a lump-sum payment of $37,055 in 2022, plus a lump-sum payment that is the greater of either one-half of your annual basic pay or one-half of your “high-3.”

If you have 10 or more years of service, your spouse would receive all of the above, plus a survivor annuity equal to 50 percent of what you would have received if you had retired on the day you died. Any unmarried children under the age of 18 would also be eligible for survivor benefits—age 22 if they are still in school. There isn’t any age restriction on them if they were incapable of self-support because of a disability that occurred before age 18 and they are unmarried.

Survivor death benefits before retirement: CSRS
If you are married and covered by CSRS, your spouse will receive 55 percent of the annuity you would have received if you were retired when you died. Any children who meet the criteria spelled out under FERS would also be eligible for survivor benefits.

Note: The FERS and CSRS survivor annuities for both spouses and children are increased annually by cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs).

Survivor death benefits after retirement
You are required by law to provide a full survivor annuity for your spouse. The only exceptions are if 1) your spouse agrees in a notarized writing to a lesser amount or none, or 2) there is a court order assigning your survivor benefit to a former spouse.

Under FERS rules, you can elect a survivor annuity that equals either 50 percent or 25 percent of your annuity. The reduction in your basic annuity for a FERS full survivor annuity is exactly 10 percent. For a partial FERS annuity, it’s reduced by 5 percent.

Under CSRS rules you may elect a survivor annuity ranging from $1 per year up to 55 percent of your basic annuity. To pay for that benefit there would be a reduction in your base annuity. If you elected the maximum amount, your annuity would be reduced by approximately 10 percent.

The survivor annuity you elect will be increased by annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) and will continue to be paid for the life of your survivor unless he or she remarries before age 55. That annuity will be increased by any COLAs you received since you retired. From then on, the survivor annuity will be increased by any future COLAs, as would those for your eligible children.

Life insurance and the Thrift Savings Plan
In addition to any survivor annuities your spouse may receive, he or she will be entitled to the proceeds of your Federal Employee’s Group Life Insurance and Thrift Savings Plan account, unless there is a court order that assigns these benefits to someone else or you had designated them toward someone else.

Health benefits
If your spouse receives a survivor annuity and was covered under either the Self Plus One or Self and Family option of your Federal Employees Health Benefits plan when you died, he or she and all eligible children can continue that coverage. If the annuity amount is less than the premiums required, your spouse will be able to make payments directly to OPM to cover the cost.

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