Know Which Survivor Benefits Apply to You-Part 1

Nov 14, 2016

A federal employee learning about survivor benefits

survivor benefits

Survivor benefits are difficult to understand and frankly, may not be thought of very often. However, that could be a mistake. Not choosing a beneficiary in the case that something happens to you may cause delays in the distribution of benefits. This could cause undue hardships to loved ones that you leave behind. In this two-part series, we’ll explain which survivor benefits are available and how they can affect your loved ones. This post will focus on which survivor benefits are available and the eligibility of them.

For current federal employees, survivor benefits are automatic. In the case that you die while employed, your beneficiaries will receive the benefits. On the other hand, for retirees, benefits must be elected at retirement. Children’s benefits are automatic in all cases.

Basic Death Benefit

Surviving Spouse

If an employee dies with at least 18 months of creditable civilian service, a survivor annuity may be paid out if:

  • The surviving spouse was married to the deceased for at least 9 months.
  • The death was accidental.
  • There was a child born of the marriage to the employee.

The spouse may be eligible for a Basic Employee Death Benefit equal to 50 percent of the employees’ final salary plus $32,326.58. *This number is as of December 1, 2015, and is based on COLA’s. 

Former Spouse

The Basic Death Benefit may be payable to a former spouse, if there is a qualifying court order on file at OPM, provided that the marriage was at least 9 months in length and the surviving spouse did not remarry before the age of 55.

Monthly Survivor Benefits

Surviving Spouse

If a FERS employee dies, recurring monthly payments may be made to the surviving spouse if the deceased employee completed at least 10 years of creditable service, 18 months of which must be civilian. To qualify, the surviving spouse must have been married to the employee for at least 9 months. If the death occurred before that 9-month mark, benefits may still be payable if,

  • The death was accidental.
  • There was a child born of the marriage.

Former Spouse

Monthly payments can only be made provided there is a court order stating so and the marriage met the 9-month requirement.


Any unmarried children that are dependent upon benefits may receive them until they reach age 18, marry, or die. Benefits can continue after the age of 18 so long as the child is a full-time student at a recognized school. In this case, benefits would stop at age 22. A child is considered dependent if there is proof the deceased made regular and substantial contributions to the child’s support.

When Benefits Begin

  • Widow/Widower—survivor annuity begins on the day after the employee/retirees’ death
  • Former Spouse—based on the court order; this begins to accrue on whichever day of the following is later, 1. The day after the employee/retirees’ death. 2. The first day of the second month after OPM receives a certified copy of the court order along with any necessary supporting documentation.
  • Children—the survivor annuity begins to accrue on the day after the employee/retiree’s death.

Obviously, there are many options to choose from. Some of these benefits need to be elected after retirement and some do not. Knowing the differences and requirements for each can help make life easier on loved ones. Next post will look at these, and more benefits, in greater detail.

Additionally, if you are a federal worker who has been injured and can no longer perform your job duties, these benefit elections may apply to you too. If you are eligible or think you may be, for a medical disability retirement, please give us a call at 877-226-2723, or fill out this inquiry form. We can schedule you for a FREE consultation and discuss your specific situation further.

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