Posted on Wednesday, 9th April 2014 by

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Updated 2/20/2024

The first part of this series discusses how to ensure your heirs receive what you intended and Social Security’s death and survivor benefits. Part 2 will discuss pre-planning steps that will assist the surviving spouse and children navigate the many challenges that arise when a loved one dies.

The subject matter may seem uninviting but I can assure you that your surviving family members will appreciate your efforts and they will be far less stressed when the inevitable happens. By developing a simple outline of you and your spouse’s preferences now, you can smooth the way for your loved ones even in death.

Establishing the Plan

When I was scheduled for surgery, I updated our survivor’s binder and estate plans for the third time since retiring. This time around I felt it necessary, for the first time, to research and establish our final arrangements.

You often hear horror stories about ex-spouses receiving estate assets because the deceased neglected to update beneficiary forms and gieving survivors are often talked into unnecessary and expensive funeral arrangements. We are all caught off guard when a loved one dies so why not take care of these issues ahead of time.

The Earlier the Better

Gregory, an engineer in his mid 30s, passed away while working at our office back in the 1980s and his wife had considerable difficulty collecting his benefits because he neglected to update his beneficiary forms after they married. We worked with his wife to help her as best we could.

A HR specialist, with first-hand experience in these matters, advised me that “every year we have a spouse and/or children who do not receive certain benefits because the employee failed to update the beneficiaries.”  Everyone should verify that their beneficiary forms are up-to-date or submit a new form to ensure your heirs receive what you intended.

Much of your estate and  assets won’t pass to your heirs through your will.  Assets such as  IRAs, life insurance policies, and annuities including bank accounts that you designated payable or transfer-on-death are distributed to named beneficiaries. If beneficiaries aren’t listed, assets are distributed according to the Federal Order of Precedence.

It’s a good practice to review your beneficiary forms and designations periodically and especially after you marry, get a divorce, and after a child’s birth or the death of a family member.

Other Considerations

Besides a surviving spouse’s annuity and FEGLI insurance payments there are other survivor and death benefits available from Social Security. A surviving spouse or child may receive a special lump-sum death payment of $255 if they meet certain requirements.

Generally, the lump-sum is paid to the surviving spouse who was living in the same household with the employee or annuitant when he or she died. Survivors must apply for this payment within two years of the date of death.

When you die, certain members of your family may be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits. These include widows, widowers (and divorced widows and widowers), children and dependent parents. Your widow or widower may be able to receive the deceased’s full benefit at their full retirement age. The full retirement age for survivors is age 66 for people born in 1945-1956 and will gradually increase to age 67 for people born in 1962 or later.

Reduced widow or widower benefits can be received as early as age 60. If your surviving spouse is disabled, benefits can begin as early as age 50.

Part 2 of this series will discuss final funeral and burial arrangement costs and options. I’m presently preparing our plan and there are many things to consider.  The key is a written plan that outlines your  wishes and you can be as detailed as desired.  I’ll also discuss the National Cemeteries in the next article. Veterans and their spouses are eligible for free burial and internment at 131 cemeteries nationwide.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, and financial information is subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact your benefits coordinator and ask them to review your official personnel file and circumstances concerning this issue. Retirees can contact the OPM retirement center. 

Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM or any federal entity. You should consult with a financial or human resource professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

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