State Employees Retirement System (SERS) Survivorship Options for Former Spouses
Here is an outline of the SERS provisions regarding death benefits. A former spouse’s right to payments during the state employee’s lifetime will not be affected by his/ her marital status (unless the divorce decree states otherwise). The concern only applies to survivor benefits.
- The pre-retirement survivor benefit is a lump sum (as long as the plan has a contributory portion; if no contributions, there is no pre-retirement death benefit).
- If the state employee remarries, no pre-retirement death benefit can be paid to the former spouse. The state employee’s current spouse is the statutory survivor.
- The state employee must fill out a beneficiary designation form for the former spouse to receive a lump sum survivor benefit. Under the state’s current procedures, the domestic relations order in itself is not sufficient. The state employee must request the form from his/ her personnel office.
- Under current rules, the minimum survivor annuity is 50% of the overall monthly pension at retirement (prior to the division by QDRO); the maximum survivor annuity is 100%. The survivor benefit is paid for the life of the named beneficiary, starting at the post-retirement death of the state employee. The employee cannot name more than one beneficiary for the survivor annuity.
- Instead of a life annuity survivor benefit, the state offers 10 or 20 year guaranteed payments. This means the employee will receive payments for his/ her liftieme, with a guarantee of at least 120 or 240 payments. Under this approach, the employee can name more than one beneficiary, but the survivor benefits must be equal shares, such as halves, thirds, fourths, etc. The beneficiaries will then receive a half, third, fourth, etc. of the overall pension for the balance of the 10 or 20 years.
- A employee cannot elect a survivor option until retirement. If s/he has remarried, the state requires the new spouse to sign a waiver so that the employee can name the first spouse are survivor. Hopefully this policy will change, since if survivor benefits have already been awarded to the former spouse by the court, there is no survivor benefit remaining for a subsequent spouse to waive.
- Once the survivor option has been elected at retirement, it cannot be changed. The designation will not be affected by a subsequent marriage.