What Should Your Surviving Spouse Do About Your Work-Related Benefits When You Die?

If you are the spouse of a federal employee who has passed away, what do you need to do with regards to the benefits? And if you are a federal employee, what should you do to make sure your spouse is prepared if you die? This is a list of steps to take should this unfortunate event take place.

As tempting as it is to come up with an exhaustive checklist for this topic (I’m a dedicated checklist person!), there’s really only one thing your surviving spouse needs to do when you die: contact whoever was “paying” you at the time of your death and let them know you’ve died. This holds true for whoever your primary survivor is, whether it’s a spouse, adult child, partner, etc.

If you’re still working, the “paying” party would be your employing office (either your supervisor or HR). If you’re retired, the “paying” party would be OPM.

The professionals in those offices will provide guidance and forms based on current requirements at the time of your death. They will walk the survivor(s) through the process of completing and submitting claims for work-related benefits such as CSRS and FERS (survivor annuity or lump sum payment) and federal life insurance. They will initiate (or advise on) changes to the federal health insurance enrollment, as needed. They will also provide current contact information for the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) and Social Security.

Still working?

Ask at work to find out who should be contacted at your employing office, then provide that contact information to your anticipated primary survivor.

Already retired?

Your survivor should notify OPM Retirement Services as soon as possible:

  • By calling 1-888-767-6738 (1-888-7OPM-RET);
  • By sending an email to retire@opm.gov

Whoever calls OPM should have the deceased’s full name and CSA or Social Security Number handy.

In the long run, whether you died while still working or already retired, your survivor(s) will have to deal with TSP and Social Security directly.

  • TSP: Your survivor(s) can contact TSP directly any time after your death. If a full withdrawal has already been initiated, the method of withdrawal selected will determine how any remaining TSP funds will be paid out. If a full withdrawal has not begun, your beneficiaries will have options based on their “status” (spouse, children, etc.). Your survivors can call the TSP at 1-877-968-3778.
  • Social Security: If it is believed that Social Security benefits might be payable either now or in the future, survivor(s) can call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or go to their website at https://www.ssa.gov/ for information or to apply for benefits. Walk-in visits may still be accepted at some local Social Security offices but calling ahead for an appointment (use the number above) is recommended.

One last tip: Your survivors may need to request certified copies of death certificates even before they talk to anyone at your former workplace or OPM. My recommendation (based on more than 30 years of handling death cases) is to request at least five (5) certified copies, and I would encourage your survivor(s) to request ten (10). Many organizations still require a hard copy certified death certificate, and it’s easiest to get them up front and have them available.

About the Author

Ehren Clovis retired from federal service after a career as a Benefits Specialist. She dealt with the employees of many federal agencies, and acquired broad knowledge and experience with federal benefits, including the special retirement provisions for federal Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs). Now she presents retirement and benefits training for federal employees through Federal Career Experts, Inc., and counsels individual clients through her home business, Federal Benefits On Call.