Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Survivor annuity for widow

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Q. I’m trying to help a prospective retiree. She is 77 and is receiving a Social Security survivor annuity from her deceased husband. She is in CSRS Offset. The Social Security office seems to be unfamiliar with CSRS Offset and is answering her questions by telling her she’s FERS, which she is not.

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CSRS, survivor annuity and Social Security

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Q. I have two questions about the Reg Jones article in the Feb. 18 Federal Times issue, titled “2013 brings changes to Medicare, survivor benefits” (Page 22).

1) Under death benefits, it says, “under CSRS, if you die while still employed, your widow will be entitled to a survivor annuity.” When I retired in 1995, I signed an agreement to take a reduction in my annuity so that when I die, my wife will get a percent of my annuity. Please explain what is wrong with one of these two statements.

2) Under the same topic, he says, “the spouse will get a survivor benefit equal half of my basic Social Security if I had 10 years of payment.” I fully qualified for a full Social Security benefit; however, the government sees fit to steal most of my earned benefit because I receive an annuity. Please clarify the status.

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FEHB, remarriage and spouse equity

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Q. If a federal government employee gets divorced before retiring and his ex-spouse is covered by FEHB under Spouse Equity, and after retiring the former employee remarries, is he allowed to cover his new spouse under FEHB? In other words, does the fact that his ex-spouse is cover under FEHB by Spouse Equity prevent the former employee from covering his new spouse under FEHB in retirement? On a similar note, what if he divorces after retirement, his ex-spouse is covered by Spouse Equity and then he remarries? Is the new spouse eligible to be covered under the retiree’s FEHB?

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FEHB and spousal coverage in retirement

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Q. I am enrolled in FEHB, but my wife has her insurance under her own employer. When I retire, can my wife switch her insurance to FEHB if she retires three year later and keeps her insurance with her employer until she retires? Does she need to be part of FEHB for five years before I retire?

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CSRS survivor benefit and FEHB coverage

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Q. I am a CSRS employee. I understand that to continue my wife under my Federal Employee Health Benefits, I must elect a survivor benefit of at least $1.

My medical insurance payments will, of course, be taken out of my monthly annuity. Will she be able to continue these payments at the same rate if I die before she does?

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Social Security benefits for survivor of CSRS employee

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Q. I am a retired CSRS employee, not eligible for any Social Security benefits. When I die, will my spouse’s survivor annuity be reduced because she is receiving her own Social Security benefits?

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USPS survivor annuity and Social Security

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Q. My husband died at age 51 in 2000. He worked 28 years for USPS, plus four years in the military, for 32 years (he paid no Social Security taxes for the 28 years in USPS). I have received widow’s death benefit annuity payments since his death, in addition to purchasing the USPS medical insurance plan. I worked full time in the medical profession until his death and have worked part time since 2000. I would like to take my Social Security at age 62 (in 3 years). Am I still eligible to receive the USPS death benefit annuity (and insurance option) once I start collecting my Social Security?

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Spouse’s death and new survivor benefit request

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Q. Consider a retired federal employee who was married and has chosen a spouse survivor benefit at the time of retirement. If the spouse dies and the annuitant remarries:

1. Are further annuity reductions needed to cover the new spouse?

2. Is the nine-month waiting period still required?

3. If the original survivor benefit was less than full, can the benefit be increased (with increased annuity reduction)?

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Money for disabled son once parents die

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Q. I retired under CSRS nine years ago and took the survivor annuity.

Each year, my Notice of Annuity statement identifies the monthly survivor annuity amount payable to my wife upon my death. My wife and I are both in good health.

My only child is 34, has been identified by Social Security Administration as disabled (cerebral palsy) and receives SSDI and Medicare (based on his work history before he became completely disabled). He receives about $1,000 per month.

CSRS Brochure Retirement Facts 5 (October 1997) states that each child with no surviving parent receives $404 per month with COLA until he marries or dies.

The Social Security Administration knows my son receives hospital benefits under Medicare Part A.

OPM knows my son has a permanent disability since he receives other health benefits under my health benefit plan (GEHA).

What is my son entitled to receive when my wife and I die?

1. Does he continue to receive SSDI and Medicare?

2. Does he begin to receive a survivor annuity payment (how much?) and health benefits plan choice? I checked “disabled dependent son” on my retirement application nine years ago.

Since then, I have not been contacted by OPM, nor have I contacted OPM, about a survivor annuity for my son.

I pay the majority of my son’s living expenses/care.

Is there anything I need to do to insure my son receives his entitled benefits?

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Divorce, remarriage and survivor annuity

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Q. I worked in the civil service program for 34 years and retired in 1998. I named my wife as the survivor annuitant.

In August 2005, she and I divorced. Even though the annuity was not mentioned in the divorce documents, I did not change the designation. Now I have been residing with a significant other for more than six years.

I would like to marry this woman and name her as the annuitant for my federal retirement. With no mention of the annuity in the divorce documents, can I make this change? If so, and since I have continually made the monthly adjustment to my retirement for a survivor annuitant, can this change become effective immediately, or must we conform to the nine-month waiting period?

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Survivor benefits in marriage after retirement

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Q. I am a retired federal employee (1999) under CSRS. I got married in March 2012. My wife has little income, so I would like to add her as a beneficiary to my annuity in case I die.

Can this be done, and if so, what would be the costs and reductions in my present annuity?

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Retirement and disability benefits with private contract

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Q. My father is receiving both a disability benefit and a monthly federal pension from CSRS. His wife is in a nursing home and has been on Medicaid since June 2011. Her Social Security is paid directly to the nursing home. She is given only a small amount and the nursing home keeps the remainder.

If my father should pass before her, will the CSRS survivor annuity amount go directly to the nursing home, as well?

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Spouse’s death and taxable benefits

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Q. My husband was killed in a motorcycle accident after working 16 years for the Department of Defense. I have been receiving a survivor’s annuity since his death. Is the annuity part of his retirement that he had accrued, or is this part of a death benefit? I received a death benefit at the time of his death. Is the annuity taxable income? Is the annuity his retirement that he had earned before his death?

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Survivor annuity

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Q. My father who lives in Puerto Rico, is retired from the Postal Service, and is 64 years old. He told me that if he passes, I’m listed to get his pension which would be $1,200 a month, what he gets now. He is not married, and I’m curious if it’s that simple. Am I eligible? Will I get that much? For how long? I am 34.

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Step increases during disability

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Q. I am a veteran of the armed forces and a civilian federal firefighter of Hawaii and have about 13 years government time under FERS.

While on duty in 2010, we were in route in the fire engine and an oncoming vehicle lost control and collided with the fire engine, causing substantial injuries to myself and the crew. The majority of the kinetic energy was absorbed by me because the point of impact was where I was seated.

I sustained injuries to my lumbar area in my lower back and injuries to my left limb, for which I’ve undergone a major back surgery, countless doctors’ visits and therapies, etc. I am still recovering from the injuries and presently on modified light duty at four hours a day, five days a week. I was on total disability for about 2 years and noticed that my retirement investment into my Thrift Savings Plan was at a freeze or standstill, where an injured employee could not invest into their TSP while on leave without pay. I also noticed that while on total disability, an injured employee goes into LWOP status, which human resources said affects your within-grade increases to where you are not entitled to move up in step increases.

Is there a new law that helps with retirement benefits for workers hurt on the job? After intensive research, I stumbled across an article by Stephen Barr dated Oct. 10, 2003, informing that President Bush signed legislation that will help make up any shortfall in retirement benefits for federal employees who are disabled or injured while on the job. It mentions the new law will change the way a federal employee’s benefits are calculated during a disability by increasing the pension benefit provided under FERS to cover any shortfall.

Is there also any new law or standard act that helps with entitlements for step increases for workers hurt on the job? Ever since I was injured on the job in 2010, and because of the injuries I sustained I was on total disability in LWOP status not by choice, the opportunity to move up in step increase passed me over twice. As co-workers who were hired the same day as me moved up in step increase, I was denied. Can you advise?

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Affordable Care Act

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Q. I heard on television that, under the Affordable Care Act, children can stay on your medical plan until age 26, but spouses are not considered dependents. My wife is a few years younger than me and, when I retire next year, will she still be covered under Federal Employees Health Benefits?

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Social Security and survivor annuity

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Q. I retired under CSRS and chose a survivor benefit for my wife.

My wife worked in private industry and contributed to Social Security and started collecting a Social Security pension.

My last letter from OPM said my wife would receive a survivor benefit of $670 per month.

How would the offset provision affect her monthly income in the case of my demise?

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Survivor annuity and Social Security

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Q. I am a CSRS retiree, and I am not eligible for Social Security. I have provided for a full survivor annuity if I die before my wife.

She is self-employed and will be eligible for a Social Security benefit when she retires. Will her Social Security benefit be reduced at that time due to her survivor annuity? Will her survivor annuity be reduced because of her Social Security benefit?

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Survivor benefit for FEHB coverage only

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Q. I am a CSRS-covered employee nearing retirement. My spouse is a nonfederal employee and has been covered under my FEHB family plan for my entire career. I would like to elect a survivor benefit for an amount to cover her future FEHB premiums only. What amount of survivor benefit should I elect to cover her premiums, no more and no less?

A. First, a reminder. By law, you have to elect a full survivor annuity for your spouse unless he or she agrees to a lesser amount or none.

That agreement must be presented to OPM in a signed and notarized declaration of intent.

Assuming that you have such an agreement, it’s up to the two of you to decide how much is enough. You can start by looking at the self-only monthly premium for your current FEHB plan.

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Survivor annuity and insurance

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Q. I’m a 53-year-old CSRS employee with 34 years of service. I may have the option of an early-out in May. I would like to carry my Federal Employees Health Benefits into retirement. I will choose no survivor benefit, but I would like to have my wife keep my insurance after my death. Can I do this?

A. No, you can’t. To be eligible to continue her FEHB coverage, she would have to be covered by the self and family option when you die and be entitled to a survivor benefit. Note: You are required by law to provide a full survivor annuity to your spouse unless she agrees in a notarized writing to a lesser amount or none at all.

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