Q: Nobody can seem to give me a straight answer to this question: I’m 59 years old and under the Federal Employees Retirement System, with 18 years of service. I had heart bypass surgery four years ago, and I’m now having complications. Because I have to have 20 years of service to qualify for a pension, it appears that my wife will not get my pension if I die before I hit the 20-year mark, which is 20 months away. However, I have reached the minimum retirement age, so if something happens soon, can my wife get my pension, less 5 percent per year for each year under age 62? I really don’t want to retire under the MRA provisions because I need another year to pay off some debts, but fate may not give me that much time.
A: I’m surprised that no one can give you a straight answer. The law provides that if a FERS employee has at least 10 years of service and dies while still working, his spouse will receive a survivor annuity equal to 50 percent of what his annuity would have been based on his years of service, but without any age penalty. In addition, the spouse would receive a cash payment equal to half his annual base pay on the day he died.