If you die while employed by the federal government and are married, your spouse will be entitled to a survivor annuity if four conditions are met.
First, you must have been employed under either CSRS or FERS at the time of your death. Second, you must have completed at least 18 months of creditable civilian service. Third, your spouse must have been married to you for a least nine months in total before your death, or be the natural parent of your child, or your death must be accidental. Fourth, you must not be subject to a court order granting that survivor annuity to a former spouse.
CSRS survivor annuity benefit
Your survivor spouse will be entitled to a guaranteed minimum annuity, which is 55 percent of the lesser of the following two amounts:
• 40 percent of the average of your highest three consecutive years of average pay (your high-3); or
• the amount your annuity would have been if you had continued working until age 60 at the same high-3.
Note: The guaranteed minimum doesn’t apply if the spousal annuity based on your actual service is greater. Then your spouse would receive 55 percent of your earned annuity.
FERS survivor annuity benefit
Your survivor spouse’s annuity benefit will depend on your years of service. If you have more than 18 months of creditable civilian service but fewer than 10 years of service when you die, your spouse will receive:
• a lump sum payment (currently about $32,300), plus
• a second lump sum payment equal to the greater of
– 1/2 of your basic pay at the time of your death, or
– 1/2 of your high-3 average salary, whichever is larger
The money may be taken in a single payment or spread out over 36 monthly installments.
If you have 10 or more years of service, your spouse will receive the benefit above plus a survivor annuity equal to 50 percent of your base annuity under FERS.
Note: If you are a FERS employee with a CSRS component in your annuity, your spouse will receive 50 percent of the combined CSRS and FERS benefit.
Under both systems, if your survivor spouse remarries before age 55, the survivor annuity terminates. However, it may be restored if the remarriage is ended through annulment, divorce or the death of the new spouse.
Cost of living adjustments
In addition to your survivor spouse’s survivor annuity, he or she will be entitled to annual COLAs in the same amount as those provided to eligible federal employees.
Next week I’ll explain the annuities available to the survivor spouses of retired federal employees.