Retirement Policy

A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court underscored the importance of keeping beneficiary designations up to date in federal benefit programs, saying those designations govern the payment of benefits even if they might not be what the person most recently intended.


The case involved a federal employee’s coverage under the FEGLI program. He made a designation in favor of his wife but did not change that when he later divorced and then remarried. On his death, benefits of some $125,000 were paid to the ex-wife.

His surviving wife sued under a state law designed to give benefits to the surviving spouse in such a situation. She noted that he had designated her as the beneficiary of his retirement survivor benefits.

But the Supreme Court, in Hillman v. Maretta, said the federal law governing FEGLI overrides any state laws that would cause payments to be made in a different way than what is on the FEGLI designation.