Survivor annuity calculations


Q: My father retired from federal civil service in 1974. At that time, he elected a survivor annuity for my mother with a base of $1,300. Initially, the Office of Personnel Management took out about $175 a month from his annuity for the survivor annuity, and of course this went up annually via cost-of-living adjustments, the same way his regular annuity did.

He passed away in 2009. The OPM has calculated the survivor annuity for my mother, and she is receiving $789 a month net, reduced by $153 for insurance, which leaves $636 a month. Over the 35 years of my father’s retirement, the OPM held out thousands of dollars for the survivor annuity he elected. If he had not elected that survivor annuity, he would have kept those thousands in his pocket. It would have meant more money for them to live on, etc. With thousands held out for the survivor annuity, how can it be that my mother is only ending up with $636 a month net?

A: If your father had not elected a survivor annuity for your mother, they would have had more money to live on, etc. However, unless he invested some of it effectively and beat the odds, your mother would have been left with little or nothing when he died and would have been barred from coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits program. As it is, she is receiving an annuity of $9,468 a year and continues to be covered by the FEHB program. And she will continue to receive an annuity for the rest of her life. With rare exception, such as this year, that annuity will be increased by annual cost-of-living adjustments.


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Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to

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