RBI Blog

Survivor Benefits: An Anchor for the Ones you Love

survivor benefitsWhat happens to your federal annuity when you die? How does electing a survivor annuity affect FEHB? What are alternatives to the survivor annuity? These are all questions that need to be understood when filling out your retirement paperwork. Deciding whether or not to leave part of your annuity to a surviving spouse is a major decision that has immediate effects on the dollar amount of your annuity. Thankfully, March’s book of the month, Survivor Benefits: An Anchor for the Ones You Love, addresses many of the most important questions regarding leaving a survivor annuity. Below is a brief excerpt that just skims the surface on what the survivor annuity is and why it is so important.


Now let’s assume you don’t die while working and you do get to retire! Your beneficiary will still get a death benefit, but it is different from the one you “missed out on” by living into retirement. All federal retirees are eligible for a survivor annuity option.

This benefit option provides a portion of your annuity to the named survivor upon your death, typically your spouse. Unlike the survivor benefits you qualify for while working, the survivor annuity is not automatic or required. You must make your survivor annuity election at the time you submit your retirement paperwork. You may choose a full, partial, or no benefit based upon your needs. FERS employees may choose to leave their surviving spouse zero percent, 25 percent, or 50 percent.

There is a cost to taking the survivor annuity, which results in a lower benefit amount paid to you. FERS employees who take a 50 percent survivor benefit will have their own annuity reduced by 10 percent, and those who opt for a 25 percent survivor annuity will have their annuity reduced by 5 percent.

The majority of federal employees that we meet, do not realize they have different options when it comes to their death benefits. Consequently, they have not given the options much thought. We encourage you to be a wise consumer here and consider your options before electing this benefit, so that you are confident you are doing what is best for you and your family.


When it comes to deciding whether to leave a survivor annuity, it’s imperative to understand that each situation is unique. Are you single or married? Do you have any life insurance from the private sector already in place? Will your spouse need to be covered under your health insurance should you pass away first? Each retiree has various factors that will come into play when weighing out the pros and cons of the survivor annuity. There is no blanket answer for everyone. Survivor Benefits: An Anchor for the Ones you Love is a book that can help you think through the potential consequences of electing—or not electing—the survivor annuity.