Denied CSRS survivor benefit


Q.  My spouse of 17 years was a federal retiree covered under CSRS.  We married in 1995 shortly after she retired from the federal government.  She notified OPM of the marriage and received the paperwork to elect for reduced benefits.  She advised me she would fill it out and mail in the required paperwork.  She also changed her health care coverage from self to self and family.  She named me as her life insurance beneficiary and her TSP beneficiary.  We lived together without interruption at the same address from the day of our marriage until her death.  We had no further discussion of the survivor benefits issue until a few months before her death from cancer.  At that time she indicated that I (who am experiencing my own health problems) would be afforded the opportunity by OPM to continue the health coverage and I would be getting a reduced annuity.

When she died I provided a timely notification to OPM and sent in all required paperwork.  I am the sole heir.  A week later her last pension payment was retrieved from her checking account.  I received a $2,500 life insurance payment a month later and access to what was left of her TSP (she accessed it a few years ago when we experienced some financial problems).  This week (almost five months after submitting my claim) I received a lump-sum payment (about $2,400) and a letter advising that my claim for survivor benefits was being denied, as OPM is claiming they had never received any paperwork from her indicating a desire to pay me survivor benefits.

In as much as we had each our own checking accounts and we did not routinely read each other’s mail, I had no knowledge before getting the letter from OPM that any required paperwork had not been submitted by my wife.  I had been under the impression that back in the 1980s legislation had been passed requiring my consent if my wife had decided not to list me as a survivor entitled to benefits, but never received any correspondence from OPM indicating such might be the case.

A.  The provision in law requiring that a current spouse be provided with a full survivor annuity unless the spouse agrees to a lesser amount or none at all, is only required when an employee retires. Because you didn’t marry her until after she had retired, there was no requirement that she provide you with a survivor annuity. Had she elected to do that, her own annuity would have been reduced to pay for that benefit. Since she never made that election, under current law you aren’t eligible for a survivor benefit. Unfortunately, that also means that you aren’t eligible to continue your coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits program.


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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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