Survivor benefits and COLA


Q. I am CSRS and looking forward to my upcoming retirement in February, but I have some questions regarding survivor benefits. We are going to elect to take out a full survivor benefit annuity for my wife, but we cannot find any reference concerning whether the cost of this annuity will increase with future cost-of-living adjustments or age. We know that the formula for the cost is based on 10 percent of the gross amount at retirement, but we were under the assumption that the initial figure for the cost would not go up regardless of future COLAs.

A. If you elect a full survivor benefit, your basic annuity will be permanently reduced by approximately 10 percent. It isn’t exactly 10 percent because of the formula used: 2.5 percent of the first $3,600 used as a base for the survivor annuity, plus 10 percent of any amount over $3,600.

In the event of your death, a full survivor annuity will provide your spouse with an amount equal to 55 percent of your unreduced annuity — that is, the annuity you would have received before you made the survivor election — increased by any cost-of-living adjustments that are made to retiree annuities following your retirement.


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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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