What Constitutes an 'Eligible Child' for Survivor Benefits?

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In a recent article on the link between spousal survivor benefits and the ability for a surviving spouse to continue FEHB coverage after an employee/retiree’s death, I mentioned that survivor benefits for eligible children could allow a spouse to continue FEHB coverage even if the spouse was not, in their own right, entitled to continue coverage. Several readers inquired as to what constituted an eligible child; here’s the definition of eligible child for the purpose of receiving a survivor benefit:

  • Dependent;
  • Unmarried; and
    • Under age 18; or
    • Under age 22 if a full-time student; or
    • Any age if disabled and incapable of self-support as the result of a disability that occurred before age 18.

There are two levels of survivor benefits for children. The amount of the benefits is adjusted each year for inflation. The following figures are for 2016.

If one parent is still living, the child will receive the lesser of:

  • $510 per month per child; or
  • $1532 per month divided by the number of eligible children.

If no parent survives, the child will receive the lesser of:

  • $613 per month per child; or
  • $1839 per month divided by the number of eligible children.

A surviving child would also be likely to be eligible for Social Security survivor benefits. Congress, in its wisdom, has defined eligible child differently for different types of benefits and the Social Security definition of eligible child is:

  • Dependent;
  • Unmarried; and
    • Under age 18; or
    • Under age 19 if a full-time student in high-school or below; or
    • Any age if disabled and incapable of self-support as the result of a disability that occurred before age 22.

Social Security children’s survivor benefits are generally larger than FERS children’s survivor benefits and there is a dollar for dollar offset of Social Security children’s survivor benefits against FERS children’s survivor benefits. This normally eliminates any FERS children’s survivor benefit. However, if the child is still a full-time student at any level of education at the age of 19, they will be able to collect the FERS children’s survivor benefit up to the age of 22 as long as they remain a full-time student.

Some of this article was taken from the FERS coursebook that is utilized by Federal Career Experts in pre-retirement seminars that they present for federal agencies. If your agency has not offered a pre-retirement seminar recently, ask them to contact Federal Career Experts and request a proposal.

Agencies can request to have John Grobe, or another of Federal Career Experts' qualified instructors, deliver a retirement or transition seminar to their employees. FCE instructors are not financial advisers and will not sell or recommend financial products to class participants. Agency Benefits Officers can contact John Grobe at [email protected] to discuss schedules and costs.

© 2017 John Grobe. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from John Grobe.

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About the Author

John Grobe is President of Federal Career Experts, a consulting firm that specializes in federal retirement and career transition issues. He is also affiliated with TSP Safety Net. John retired from federal service after 25 years of progressively more responsible human resources positions. He is the author of Understanding the Federal Retirement Systems and Career Transition: A Guide for Federal Employees, both published by the Federal Management Institute. Federal Career Experts provides pre-retirement seminars for a wide variety of federal agencies.

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