Reg Jones Expert's View

Last week, I wrote about two “what ifs” that may occur early on in the retirement process. What if I change my mind about retiring? And, what if I want to change my mind about providing a survivor annuity? This time, I want to explore two post-retirement “what ifs?”

What if I elected a survivor annuity and my spouse dies?

If that happens, you’ll have to notify OPM and provide them with a copy of your spouse’s death certificate. You can start the process by calling OPM at (888) 767-6738 TDD (800) 878-5707. The benefits specialist you talk to will lead you through the steps you need to take and send you the necessary forms. Once you have completed the process, your annuity will be restored prospectively to what it would have been if you hadn’t elected a survivor benefit.

What if I want to elect a survivor annuity for a new spouse?

You can do that. And the rules are the same as those for electing or changing an election that I wrote about last week. In short, if it is more than 30 days from the date of your first regular monthly payment, but less than 18 months from the beginning date of your annuity, you’ll have to request the change in writing.

You’ll have to pay a one-time payment representing the difference between the old and new election amounts. This one-time payment also includes a percentage of your annual benefit. The percentage is 24.5 percent of your annual benefit if you are changing from no survivor benefit to a full survivor benefit or 12.25 percent if you are changing from no survivor benefit to a partial one. Interest on the deposit must also be paid.

Now, if you marry outside that window, the same rules apply but because time has passed the cost of electing a survivor annuity increases. That’s because you’ll pay 6 percent interest on the difference between what you were actually paid for each month since retirement and the new annuity rate. The reduction is determined by dividing the amount of the deposit by an actuarial factor for your age and the date on which your annuity is reduced to provide the survivor annuity.

In either case, your election letter must include your claim number, the amount of your new survivor election, and your spouse’s name, social security number, date of birth, and a copy of your marriage certificate. Send it to: OPM, Retirement Operations Center. P.O. Box 45, Boyers, PA 16017.

Next week, I’ll write about one more “what if?” That will end this series unless you have more questions.