If you are a CSRS employee, your spouse will receive 55 percent of the annuity you would have received if you were retired when you died. If you have any unmarried children under the age of 18, they will also be eligible for survivor benefits. That age limit is extended to age 22 for those who are still in school. There isn’t any age limit if they were incapable of self support because of a disability that occurred before age 18 and they are unmarried.
If you are covered by FERS, your spouse’s benefits would depend on how long you’ve been employed. If you’d been on the job for at least 18 months but less than 10 years, your spouse would receive a lump-sum payment (of about $35,000 in 2021), plus a lump-sum that is the higher of either one-half of your annual basic pay or one-half of your highest three consecutive years of average salary (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 children who meet the criteria spelled out under CSRS would also be eligible for survivor benefits.
Under both systems, you could elect to provide no survivor annuity, with your spouse’s consent, but upon your death your spouse would be ineligible to remain in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, unless separately eligible due to his or her own federal employment.
The survivor annuities for both spouses and children are increased annually by cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs).
By law you are required to provide a full survivor annuity for your spouse, unless he or she agrees in a notarized writing to a lesser amount or none at all. That’s assuming that there isn’t any court order assigning that survivor benefit to a former spouse.
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 latter benefit, your base annuity would be reduced by approximately 10 percent.