Who gets my survivor annuity?


Q. I’m a FERS retiree. If I die and don’t have anyone who would be entitled to a survivor annuity, what happens to the money that I had deducted from my pay while I was working?

A. Any money that had not already been returned to you in annuity payments would be paid out according to the standard order of precedence found in law:
First, to the beneficiary or beneficiaries designated;
If none, to the widow or widower;
If none, to a child or children, with the share of any deceased child distributed among the descendants of that child;
If none, to the parents in equal shares or the entire amount to the surviving parent;
If none, to the executor or administrator if the estate;
If none, to the next of kin as determined under the laws of the state where the deceased lived.
However, it’s important to point out that under current law, the money you receive in your annuity comes first from the contribution you made to the retirement fund. As a result, if you live longer that 18 to 24 months after you retire, there won’t be anything left to go to anyone listed above.


About Author

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


  1. Richard Robinson on

    Then it should not be taxed at all until you withdraw all that you have paid in. It is normally taxed as if about 20% comes from what you paid in (Already taxed) and the remainder is taxed.

    • You are entitled to a civil service survivor benefit when he dies. However, since this is a site that deals with civil service benefits, I don’t know whether you’d be entitled to any VA benefit.

    • If you were married to him before he retired, and if you did not waive survivor benefits at the time of his retirement, and if his annuity was reduced accordingly, then you will be entitled to a civil service survivor’s annuity after his death.

  2. Does anyone know how it works when ex-spouse is listed as the beneficiary to your survivor benefits and your remarry and want to add your new spouse as a beneficiary so they can continue to have access to FEHB in the future? I’m totally unclear and confused on how or what I should do. Thank you!!

    • You should designate your current spouse as your beneficiary; however, unless your former spouse were to die before you, your current spouse would not be entitled to an annuity nor could she continue her coverage under your FEHB enrollment.

      • Thank you…..in my case our divorce decree states she is entitled to my survivor benefits, so I’m not sure I can change that. That is why I was wondering if I can pay additional amount every month for my new spouse to provide survivor benefits as well. If not, how can make sure my new spouse will be able to continue FEHB after my passing. Again, any guidance would be more than appreciated. THANK YOU!!!

        • Unfortunately, you can’t do anything to qualify your current spouse for a survivor annuity nor can you provide FEHB coverage for her if you die.

  3. Virginia Griswold on

    I am a n annuitant – can I designate my daughter as a person with insurable interest to receive this benefit after I die?

    • Unfortunately, no. Annuitants aren’t eligible to elect an insurable interest annuity. Employees are the only ones who can do that.

  4. I’m a FERS employee looking to retire this December and have an ex-wife and current wife. My Court Order Acceptable for Processing (COAP) states that “Pursuant to Section 8341 (h)(1) of Title 5, USC, the former spouse shall be awarded the maximum possible Former Spouse Survivor Annuity under the FERS.” Does this mean that my ex-wife has to be designated as the sole beneficiary of a survivor annuity or can I designate 25% to my ex and 25% to my current wife?

    • According to the court order, your former wife is entitled to the maximum survivor annuity, which under FERS is 25 percent. Your current wife is entitled to nothing. However, even though she isn’t currently entitled to a survivor benefit, you can still designate her as the recipient of one. Then if your former spouse were to die, your current spouse could receive that benefit.

        • The writer of that question had no spouse, so no survivor annuity was payable. Instead, any money that hadn’t been returned to him in his annuity would be distributed according to the standard order of precedence.

          • Sorry for the confusion. I have an ex-wife and remarried 3 years ago. Therefore, under FERS, does my ex-wife get the maximum survivor annuity of 50% or is it divided between the two with 25% going to each?

        • I just spoke with OPM and was told that IF you’d only done 25% survivor benefit rather than the 50%, if you remarry and within 2 years of that marriage, you may give that additional 25% to your current spouse, though it may cost you more depending on when you retired. Is that in fact correct? It could solve a lot of problems for me and no doubt other people. Thank you

          • While you can assign any remaining potion of a survivor annuity to a newly acquired spouse, you have to do that within 60 days not 2 years. If you do make that election, the amount you owe will be calculated from the date of which you made the original election.

  5. So….as I understand it, IF you have a court ordered agreement that your ex-spouse is entitled to your survivor annuity, which have to provide this benefit to them. So that means there is no way to have your current spouse as and annuitant survivor which means should you pass before them, there is NO way to allow them to continue to have access to the FEHB program???? Somehow that does not seem fair to one’s current spouse, if you’re unable to put the current spouse as an annuitant survivor to allow them continued access to FEHB. Is that correct or am I misunderstanding my options here for my current spouse? This is very confusing and any clarity which be extremely appreciated….THANK YOU!!

  6. Dear Sir,
    My husband retired with CSRS in 2010. . He passed 10/17/2020 at 71.
    We adopted a child in 2018 who is now 6. Because I was over 65 and drawing social security, I am able to get monthly social security benefits for the child. We did not even try to get SS benefits based on my husband. The child’s SS is based totally off me only.
    OPM has given me my annuity reduction as a surviving spouse and will pay me monthly even though I draw social security. OPM also gives my son a small amount monthly as a child survivor. I wasn’t expecting that but it sure will help.
    An OPM clerk on a call one day suggested I need to report to OPM that my son gets SS through me even though the SS monthly payment has nothing to do with my husband. Clerk said she’s never run in to or heard of a scenario like this.
    I’ve researched until I’m confused but my understanding is that my sons survivor annuity from CSRS would only be affected had my husband been FERS, but he was not, he was CSRS.
    Could you clarify? I’m very concerned now if I might have to pay back moneys even though OPM made the determination that my son was entitled to a child survivor monthly annuity payment. I was never asked if he received any other benefits.
    I would greatly value you opinion on this scenario.

  7. Carol Nestor on

    Hi! My cousin died while in service as a civilian for Dept of the Army. She had at least 20 years service and was under FERS. She was divorced from her husband in 2004, but they were still together. Their divorce decree states neither is responsible financially for the other. Is her ex entitled to an annuity. He is not remarried and is 59 years old. Thanks for your insight.

  8. I was married for 17 years the court granted me half of his retirement. I never remarried and I’m disabled .
    He just retired I live alone and in need of assistance, things like showering going up stairs . It’s a lung disease and lupus. That’s just to start.
    Is there anyway to Expedite payments

    • Call OPM’s retirement information office at 1-888-767-6738 and talk to one of their benefits specialists. When you do that be sure to have the following information at hand: your full name and date of birth, your ex-spouse’s full name and date of birth, and the court decree ending your marriage.

    • I’m not aware of any; however, such a provision may be included in a a bill dealing with other Postal Service matters. You should check with your member of congress.

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