Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

FERS survivor benefits

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Q. I am revisiting my life insurance needs and want to ensure I understand FERS survivor benefits. I have more than 20 years of 1811 experience, but I won’t turn 50 until next year. If I die before I turn 50, will the survivor annuity be calculated at 10 percent for my first 20 years of 1811 experience or at 17 percent for those years? If I die after I turn 50 but am still employed by the federal government, will the survivor annuity be calculated at 10 percent for my first 20 years of 1811 experience or at 17 percent for those years? If I die before I retire, will my sick leave be added to my years of service for the survivor annuity calculation; if so, will it be 50 percent of my sick leave balance before Jan. 1, 2014, and 100 percent of it after?

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FEHB and change in work status

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Q. I have been a federal employee for 28 years and can retire in two years.

My husband has been a federal employee for six years and will not reach retirement age (62) for 12 more years. I have been carrying FEHB benefits for our family. We have structured life insurance (outside of FEGLI) so that neither of us will have to rely on survivor benefits for income.

I am trying to decide whether to elect the reduced survivor benefit so I can retire with the FEHB benefits for the family or whether we should switch FEHB benefits to my husband. He would sign a waiver for reduced survivor benefits. However, 5 percent of my annuity is substantially more than 5 percent of what his annuity will be. If I terminate FEHB and let my husband enroll in FEHB for family coverage, what happens if he involuntarily loses his job or cannot work until 62? As an annuitant, would I be able re-enroll in FEHB benefits then, or would we be out of health insurance?

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Foreign citizen and FERS, Social Security

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Q. A little over three years ago, I retired under FERS.

I was a widower at the time, so no survivor benefit was being withheld from my pay.

I now intend to remarry a French citizen and will reside here in the states for a time, then move to France. I would like her covered by my Federal Employees Health Benefits, at least while we are in the U.S.

Can I sign up now for a full survivor benefit for her? How much will it cost me? I read somewhere that it costs 10 percent of my current annuity plus the difference between the new annuity and old annuities paid to me for the number of months retired, plus 6 percent interest on that money.

Since she is at least not yet an American citizen, when I die, can she still receive the survivor annuity, whether continuing to reside here or if she returns to France? Would she receive COLAs on her portion of the annuity? If she returned to France, would she be obligated to pay taxes in both countries? Of course, as part of FERS, I also receive a Social Security benefit, based on my length of service and work record. Would a new spouse be entitled as a beneficiary to any or all of my Social Security when I die? She, of course, has never worked here in the states and so has not contributed to Social Security.

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Disability payments and survivor benefits

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Q. After 25 years of service, I was approved for OWCP disability. Now, 15 years later and at age 68, I am still receiving the annuity. If I die still receiving OWCP benefits, will my wife receive survivor benefits from my CSRS service? Should I leave the money in the CSRS or draw it out?

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Part-time service and maximum government pension contribution

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Q. My entrance on-duty date is May 1971, and I was reading that employees stop getting the government contribution to their retirement at 41 years one month. Would this apply for part-time employees? If not (being optimistic), would they factor in the part-time years of service and add on the years to equate to this timeline? For example, for someone who worked 10 years at 20 hours a week, deduct five years and continue contribution till the total 41 years one month are completed. Also, is there a ratio of how many retirees elect to take out an insurance policy on their spouse versus opting to pay for the survivor benefit? I find many elect to do the insurance option due to cost savings.

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Annuity and survivor’s benefit calculation

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Q. I retired from the Department of Housing and Urban Development on Jan. 3, 2007, after working there for 33½ years plus 1½ years of credit for accumulated sick leave. I elected to provide full survivor’s benefits to my wife.

Can I determine what my annuity would have been had I not elected to provide full survivor’s benefits to my wife? I know this information was provided to me before I decided to retire, but I cannot locate those documents.

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Survivor benefits five years after new marriage

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Q. I am a CSRS retiree. I retired in 2007 and remarried in 2008. I have no obligations to any former spouse, etc. I never thought about getting my new wife survivor benefits. Can I still acquire survivor benefits for my wife after all this time? I get nowhere with OPM; either they do not know or they go get me an answer and say they’ll get back to me and I never hear from them again.

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Workers’ compensation rules

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Q. I have been an 1811 status (federal agent) federal employee for 16 years. I have been on leave without pay and receiving workers’ compensation for the past year due to an on-the-job injury.

I have received little if any guidance from my agency’s HR, as the representatives admit they have little or no experience with workers’ comp.

What should I do to maintain the best possible benefits for me and my family if this becomes a long-term/permanent situation and I am not able to return to work? And if I can return to work, how would the time on workers’ comp affect my retirement benefits etc.?

What survivor benefits will my spouse have if I die while on workers’ comp?

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Survivor benefits

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Q. I am a retired federal employee who retired in 2002 under CSRS. I am 80 and single. If I marry a lady who is 70, how much will be taken from my retired pay, and how much will she receive when I pass away?

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Getting survivor benefits early

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Q. My husband is a FERS retiree. He may eventually have to go to a nursing home. Can the nursing home take my designated survivor benefits? He has been retired for more than five years.

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Catch-62 questions

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Q. I retired in 2010 with 40 years of service, including four years of military service (1972-1976) that I did not pay back. While I am 62 and don’t qualify for Social Security yet, I recently received a notice that I now qualify for survivor benefits. Will this affect my CSRS annuity? Second, is the one-time Catch 62 check at age 62 in law or process? My concern is that if it is process, then it could easily be changed because of the budget situation to check every year after age 62 or when you start to draw Social Security if you qualify after age 62.

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CSRS survivor benefits and health benefits

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Q. I am a CSRS employee. Upon retirement, I would like to know what minimum percentage/amount of survivor benefit has to be in effect for my husband to continue to receive health benefits if I pre-decease him. Does the annuity have to be enough to cover the premium? If so, what would happen if the insurance rates increased dramatically over time and the annuity no longer covered 100 percent of the premium? My husband is willing to provide a notarized “less than all” annuity base. The bottom line is that I want to carry only enough survivor benefit to ensure health 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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Government pension offset and windfall elimination provision

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Q. I’m trying to understand how my retirement income will be affected by the government pension offset and windfall elimination provision.

I’m a CSRS Offset employee (55 years old) contemplating retirement in the next year with more than 32 years’ service. I also receive a monthly spousal annuity from my deceased wife’s CSRS service. I understand that when I turn 62, my own CSRS pension will be reduced by whatever Social Security amount I’m eligible for (should be more than 30 years of Social Security earnings), but I just read something indicating that my spousal annuity also might be reduced at age 62 due to the windfall elimination provision. Can you shed light on how this will unfold?

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Remarriage and benefits for new spouse

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Q. I retired in 1997 with a survivor benefit for my wife. She passed away in 2007, and the survivor deduction stopped. I am going to remarry, and I know the first deduction will be the 10-plus percent so I can give my new wife health insurance, but how much of a payback will be deducted, and what percentage can I leave her? I am 71. My retirement is about $67,000.

I am figuring that I will have about a $12,000 deduction when I remarry. I am thinking of getting a separate health insurance policy for my new wife plus giving her a share of my estate when I die. She has children she lives with now, and they would welcome her back.

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Remarriage and deceased spouse’s retirement

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Q. If I remarry, will I lose my husband’s civil service retirement? He passed away almost four years ago, and I receive spousal retirement from him. I am also a civil service retiree and get my own retirement.

A. No, you won’t, unless you remarry before age 55. If you do, your survivor annuity will be terminated. It can be restored if your marriage is dissolved by death, annulment or divorce.

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Federal pension to adult child

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Q. My aunt retired from working with the VA in the dietary department.

When she died a few years ago, everyone was notified and a death certificate was sent. Her senior-aged son received what he believed was her pension passed onto him for a few years until his death.

Unfortunately, the bank has informed us that all finances have been frozen by the government because her now deceased son received money he should not have. I would like to know how we can verify this.

Could his mother not have passed her pension onto her only child? We had an attorney to try and help us, but he said this is what the bank is saying and that is that.

A: Only children under age 18 (or age 22, if a full-time student) are entitled to survivor benefits. If he didn’t fit into that category, all he was entitled to was the unexpended amount of her retirement contributions, if any.

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Insurance after remarrying

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Q. My health insurance is carried by Rural Carrier Benefit Plan because my husband was a rural carrier for 26 years plus military time. He passed away seven years ago, and I receive a portion of his retirement pay. If I remarry, can I continue to carry the same insurance? I am 75.

A. Yes.

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Spousal death and survivor benefit

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Q. My husband of six months passed away in April 2005 while an active federal employee. His will made me the personal representative and his daughter (my stepdaughter) as alternate if I should not wish to be the personal rep. After his death, his daughter said she would be the personal rep because I asked her to since the estate would be given to his three children. After his death, I was told that I had no claim on his FERS account since we were not married for a year. But do his grown children? If not, what happens to the funds that he paid in all those years?

A. Because no one was eligible for a survivor benefit, a lump sum benefit would be payable according to the standard order of precedence, the first two of which are relevant: first, to the beneficiary he designated on a Standard Form 2808 (CSRS) or 3102 (FERS); second, to the widow.

You need to consult an attorney who can make sure the benefits are properly distributed, including any Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance he may have had.

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CSRS survivor benefits and wife, unmarried daughter

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Q. I retired from federal service under CSRS in 2004 with full survivor benefits provided to my spouse following my death. Will my spouse still be able to receive her Social Security benefits at their full value? If my spouse passes on before I do, are there Social Security survivor benefits that pass on to me or our unmarried daughter, who is dependent on us for support?

A. Your spouse would be able to continue receiving her earned Social Security benefit. If she were to die before you, any spousal or survivor Social Security benefit you would otherwise be entitled to would be affected by the government pension offset provision of law. The GPO would reduce any such benefit by $2 for every $3 you receive in your CSRS annuity. Whether your daughter would be entitled to any Social Security children’s benefit would depend on whether she is either unmarried and under 18 (19 if a full-time secondary school student) or was severely disabled before age 22 and remains disabled.

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