Survivor benefits


Q. Is the cost of the spousal benefit I elect on the day I retire (approximately 10 percent of my pension) set in stone? Or do I have to pay more each year because the value of my pension is going up due to the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)? (Is it 10 percent of retirement pay on Day 1 and that amount is paid forever, or 10 percent of my pension as it goes up due to COLA?

Is the value of my spousal benefit based on 55 percent of the amount of my high-3 pay at retirement or is it 55 percent of my pension at the time I die which continues to go up each year due to COLA? (If 55 percent of my high-3 at the day I retire is $35,000 but 20 years later my pension is much higher with COLA, and 55 percent of that would be $45,000, which would she receive?

Is spousal annuity taxed?

If I previously had elected full spousal annuity on the day I retire, and later (with my spouse’s approval) decide my wife and I don’t need that much benefit for her after I die because, monetarily things are great, but we would like to now have more in my monthly check, can we reduce the spousal benefit from full to partial with enough to stay eligible and pay for federal employees health benefits?

A. If you elect a full survivor annuity benefit, there will be a permanent one-time reduction in your CSRS annuity of approximately 10 percent. If you die before your spouse, he or she will receive a survivor benefit equal to 55 percent of your original annuity before you elected a survivor benefit, increased by every COLA you received since you retired. Survivor annuities are taxable; however the amount of that reduction is tied to factors that are best explained in IRS Publication 721. Go to to read about CSRS and FERS survivor annuities.

If you elect a full survivor annuity when you retire, you may not change it to a lesser amount for any reason. If you elect less than the full amount, you may only increase the coverage if you do so within 18 months after the beginning date of your annuity. If you do, you’ll have to pay a deposit, plus interest, to cover the difference.


About Author

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


    • The only mandatory deductions is for federal income taxes. All other deductions are optional. When you retire, you’ll have to specify any deductions you want to continue.

  1. Hannelore Gartland on

    If I remarry my ex husband whom I had been married to for 44 years previously will I lose my survivor benefits if he dies before me. I was the beneficiary during our marriage and the divorce decree specifies that I stay the beneficiary. Since my alimony will go away when I marry him again, will the stipulation of my being the beneficiary of the survivor benefits become null and void?

  2. I have two employees that do not want to leave their spouses a survivor annuity, without the spouse signing anything. One is CSRS and the other is FERS. The FERS employee has been separated for two years now and does not want to leave him anything, since she is not legally separated or if she was legally separated, does she have to leave him anything and if they are legally separated can the spouse continue the health insurance. Thanks.

    • Both individuals are required by law to provide a full survivor annuity for their spouses, unless those spouses agree in writing to a lesser amount or none at all. Legal separation would have no affect on the spouse’s entitlement to be covered by an FEHB plan. Unless blocked by the wording of the separation agreement, the insurance holder could change from Self and Family or Self Plus One to Self Only.

      • ok thanks, that is what I thought. Neither one wants to let their spouse know or they will not accept the partial/none. Just wanted to make sure I was telling them correctly.

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