Retirement & Financial Planning Report

A survivor annuity is payable to your child or children even if you didn’t elect a survivor annuity for your spouse. However, there are important limits to bear in mind.

As a rule, your child must be unmarried, dependent, and under 18 years of age. This includes:
• an adopted child,
• a stepchild if the stepchild lived with you in a regular parent-child relationship,
• a recognized natural child, and
• a child who lived with and for whom a petition for adoption was filed by you and who is adopted by your surviving spouse after your death.

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The age 18 limit is waved if your child is
• between age 18 and 22 years of age, unmarried, dependent on you, and a student regularly pursuing a full-time course of study or training or
• incapable of self-support because of a mental or physical disability incurred before age 18, as long as he or she remains both incapable of self-support and unmarried (more on this next week).

Although the rules governing the annuity payments to children are the same for deceased CSRS and FERS employees and retirees, if you were a CSRS-Offset or FERS employee or retiree, your child’s annuity payments will be reduced by the amount of any Social Security benefit payable based of your Social Security-covered federal service.

In 2021, if your child has a living parent who was your current or former spouse at your death, the benefit is the lesser of about $550 per month per child or $1,650 per month divided by the number of eligible children. If your child has no living parent who was married to you, the benefit is the lesser of $660 per month per child or $1,980 per month divided by the number of eligible children. These numbers will go up slightly for 2022 due to an inflation adjustment.

If a parent you were married to dies before your child’s benefit ends, the annuity is increased from the former rate to the latter. Benefits may also be adjusted for other reasons. For example, if they are being paid to more than three children and the annuity for one of them ends for any reason (such as passing an age cutoff), the annuities of the remaining children are increased prospectively.

The survivor annuity to each qualified child begins the day after your death and ends on the last day of the month before the one in which the child loses eligibility under the rules described above (or dies, if sooner).

In most cases, the survivor benefits for children end at age 18. Although they can be extended to age 22 if the child is a student regularly pursuing a full-time course of study or training, there is only one circumstance in which they can be continued for the life of a child. That’s when an unmarried child is incapable of self-support because of a physical or mental disability incurred before the age of 18.

In order for a child to be approved for an “incapable of self-support” benefit, OPM will need information about the child’s education, employment (if any), and residence. In addition, the child’s doctor must provide information about the child’s medical condition. The information needed is listed in OPM Form RI 25-43, available at www.opm.gov/forms.

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OPM will also accept a copy of a letter from the Social Security Administration awarding benefits to the child if it finds that he or she is incapable of self-support because of a physical or mental disability incurred before age 18.

A disabled child’s survivor benefit is the same as a non-disabled child’s benefit.

However, the benefit for the children of deceased FERS or CSRS Offset employees or retirees is reduced by the amount paid to the child or children by the Social Security Administration.

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