Previous articles covered the impact of life events on benefits: marriage, having a child, separation, annulment or divorce, and death. They generated a lot of interest, including some commenters who said it would help their understanding of the benefits to have the information organized by benefit rather than by event. So this series will focus on the benefits, starting with survivor annuities and then moving on to health insurance and life insurance.

Marriage
If you are an employee who is getting married, you’ll want to notify your personnel office. If you filled out a Standard Form 2808 (CSRS) or 3102 (FERS) when you were first hired and designated someone else to receive any benefits in the event of your death, you can change that designation when you get married.

The rules are different for retirees. That’s because the decision to provide a survivor annuity is entirely up to you. You can change your original designation of beneficiary or leave it as it is. Copies of the designation forms are downloadable online at www.opm.gov/forms. In other words, if you marry after retirement you do not need to elect a survivor benefit.

Divorce
As noted above, if you are a current employee, you are required by law to provide a survivor annuity for your spouse. The same is true for those who were married when they entered retirement. Unless your former spouse has been granted a portion of your annuity in a divorce decree, the requirement to provide a survivor annuity ends when your annulment or divorce is final. If your annuity hasn’t been apportioned, you’ll need to let your agency know (or OPM if you are a retiree) that you are no longer married. If it has been apportioned, your ex-spouse will have to properly file the paperwork with OPM to preserve his or her rights.

Death
If you are an employee who was married when you die and you 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 on the day you died. For CSRS survivors that’s 55 percent; for FERS 50 percent.

Note: An eligible surviving spouse of a FERS employee (who had a minimum of 10 years service) 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 just above $33,000.

If you are a retiree who was married when you entered retirement, the rules are the same, unless your spouse agreed to a lesser annuity amount (or none at all). If you married after retirement, whether any survivor benefit will be payable depends on whether you elected a survivor annuity for him or her at that time.