Expert's View

Image: Vinicius Tupinamba/

Recent articles in this space have stepped through the retirement process maze, describing your role, your agency’s role, and OPM’s role. We’ve also described the changes you can make between the time you decide to retire and that brief period after you receive your first full annuity payment. Let’s finish the series with the ultimate question – death: What happens to your benefits when you die after retiring?

If you were married when you retired, you were required by law to designate your spouse as your beneficiary. Unless your spouse agreed in a notarized writing to waive that right, he or she will receive the survivor annuity guaranteed by law.


If you were enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program and elected the self plus one or self and family option, your spouse and any eligible dependents will continue to be covered by that program. If you had Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance coverage, the proceeds will go to those you designated. The same is true of your Thrift Savings Plan account, if you had one that was still open when you died. Depending on your Social Security coverage, survivor benefits may also be payable, as will a one-time $255 death benefit.

If you haven’t designated any beneficiaries, whatever can be passed on will be distributed according to the standard order of precedence:
• to your widow or widower; or, if none
• to your child or children with the share of any deceased child being distributed among descendants of that child; or, if none
• to your parents in equal shares or the entire amount to the surviving parent; or
• to the executor or administrator of your estate; or, if none
• to your other next of kin as determined under the laws of the state where you lived.

If you are satisfied to have your death benefits paid in the order listed above, you don’t have to file any designations of beneficiary. However, if you’ve done that, check to see if you feel the same way you did when you filled out the forms. There have been cases where new, unmarried employees designated their parents to receive the benefits and forgot to change it when they got married or when they had children.