Will Your Spouse Get a Survivor’s Benefit?

Will your spouse get a survivor’s benefit from your civil service annuity? In same cases, you may be surprised to find that the answer is “no”. A group has asked OPM to notify all Civil Service Retirement System participants about a provision that is unknown to many and that could result in a spouse not getting this important benefit.

Federal workers who are covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) may not realize that, if they leave the federal government to work in the private sector and they die before applying for their CSRS pensions, their spouses and ex-spouses will not get a survivor’s benefit.

In a letter sent to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Pension Rights Center urged Acting Director Kathie Ann Whipple to notify all CSRS participants of this little-known provision.

“Over the years we have heard from widows [of former federal employees] who learned that they have no survivor annuity only after the death of their spouses,” reads the letter. “Because participants in CSRS are not covered by Social Security, these pension benefits are, for many of these women, the primary or only source of retirement income.”

The letter continues, “While the law is clear that there is no pre-retirement survivor annuity from CSRS for former employees, OPM can ensure that CSRS workers and their spouses are aware of this rule…It is essential that CSRS employees have this information when making decisions that could have such a significant impact on their families.”

In the 110th Congress, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced a bill that included a provision to grant spouses and former spouses of CSRS participants survivor benefits regardless of when the employee left federal service. The provision would have ensured that CSRS participants would have the same protections as participants in the newer Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), and in private sector pension plans. The Center is hopeful that similar legislation will be introduced in the new Congress.

The Pension Rights Center is a nonprofit consumer organization committed to protecting and promoting retirement security. The Women’s Pension Project focuses specifically on the retirement security of women.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47