Survivor Benefit Options for Federal Employees


Choosing a Survivor Benefit: Taking Care of the Ones You Love

While no one likes to contemplate their own death, making sure that your family will be provided for after your passing is an important part of retirement planning. Private-sector employees generally just apply for and buy life insurance and move on, but as a CSRS or FERS federal employee you have special options that must be carefully weighed. Some of the biggest choices about insurance and survivor benefits are still ahead of you.

The federal government provides two kinds of survivor benefits: the basic employee death benefit, and the monthly annuity. These provide some measure of death benefit to a surviving beneficiary.

survivor annuity

Survivor Benefits While Employed
Most federal employees are not aware of their basic survivor benefit because you need only be eligible for the benefit to receive it—no enrollment is required. This is a life insurance benefit for federal employees who die while still in service.

For FERS employees who die while still employed on or after December 1, 2011, the survivor benefit is equal to the higher of: 50 percent of their final salary or their high-three average, plus a lump-sum payment of $30,792. (The amount of the lump payment, put into place in 2011, is subject to change.) This is a one-time payout. In order to be eligible for this benefit, you must have completed eighteen months of creditable civilian service.

If the employee has completed ten years of creditable service by the time of death, the beneficiary will also receive a monthly benefit in addition to the basic benefit. This monthly benefit is 50 percent of the employee’s basic annuity at their death.

If the employee has completed ten years of creditable service by the time of death, the beneficiary will also receive a monthly benefit in addition to the basic benefit. This monthly benefit is 50 percent of the employee’s basic annuity at their death.

This monthly basic benefit for CSRS employees is 55 per-cent of the higher of: their annuity computed under the general formula, or a “guaranteed minimum,” which is the lesser of 40 percent of the employee’s high-three salary or the regular annuity obtained after increasing the deceased employee’s length of service by the period of time between the date of death and the date he or she would have been age sixty.

Survivor Benefit Options in Retirement

Now let’s assume you don’t die while working and you do get to retire! Your beneficiary will still get a death benefit, but it is different from the one you “missed out on” by living into retirement!

All federal retirees are eligible for a survivor annuity option. This benefit option provides a portion of your annuity to the named survivor upon your death, typically your spouse. Unlike the survivor benefits while working, the survivor annuity is not automatic or required. You must make your survivor annuity election at the time you submit your retirement paperwork. You may choose a full, partial, or no benefit based upon your needs. See the charts below for FERS and CSRS Survivor Benefit options and the correlated costs.


FERS Survivor Benefit Options Survivor Benefit Cost to Retiree
50% of retiree annuity 10% of annuity
25% of retiree annuity 5% of annuity
No Survivor Benefit


CSRS Survivor Benefit Options Survivor Benefit Cost to Retiree
55% of retiree annuity ~10% of annuity
Less than 55% of retiree annuity 2.5% of annuity on first $3,600 plus 10% over $3,600
No Survivor Benefit


The majority of federal employees we meet do not realize they have different options when it comes to their death benefits. Consequently, they have not given the options much thought. We encourage you to be a wise consumer here, and consider your options before electing this benefit so that you are confident you are doing what is best for you and your family.

Evaluating Your Retirement Needs:
The first step in planning for a sound financial picture in retirement is having a strong understanding of your Federal benefits.

Allow us to assist as you plan for retirement by requesting a No-Cost Federal Benefits Analysis. We will personally evaluate and discuss your individual requirements and assist you in understanding the retirement benefits available to you through the Federal government.

About Us
Retirement Benefits Institute provides benefits and retirement training to federal employees. Our trainers and sponsors have provided training to thousands of federal employees. The team includes former federal management staff (CSRS & FERS), CPAs, and retirement planners ready to assist you.

Many of our sessions are free of charge to all Federal employees and spouses unless otherwise indicated. Please join us at one of our upcoming training events.

The information contained in this article should not be used in any actual transaction without the advice and guidance of a tax or financial professional who is familiar with all the relevant facts. The information contained here is general in nature and is not intended as legal, tax or investment advice. Furthermore, the information contained herein may not be applicable to or suitable for the individuals’ specific circumstances or needs and may require consideration of other matters. RBI is not a broker-dealer, investment advisory firm, insurance company, or agency and does not provide investment or insurance related advice or recommendations. Brandon Christy, President of RBI, is a registered representative of Christy Capital Management, Inc. (CCM), an Investment Advisor registered with the state of Georgia and in compliance with the current registration requirements of the states in which the firm maintains clients.

Brandon Christy is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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