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Survivor Annuities: The Mechanics
Q: What should a surviving spouse do in the event of the death of an annuitant spouse?
A: The first step is to promptly report the death to the HR Service Center at HRSC@state.gov or 1 (866) 300-7419 (toll free) Return to the State Department any uncashed annuity checks received after the death. The department will enter the death into the annuity system database to place a hold on future annuity payments to the annuitant.
Within 24 to 48 hours, the HR Service Center will fax a report of death to the Retirement Accounts Division in Charleston, send a survivor benefits package to the surviving spouse and, if he or she is eligible to continue health benefits, change FEHB enrollment to reflect the appropriate coverage for the survivor.
Q: When will a survivor become eligible for a survivor annuity?
A: The survivor will be eligible for an annuity the day after the death of the annuitant. However, annuities are paid a month in arrears: the payment received at the beginning of the month is for the previous month. That means that, if the annuitant died at some point during the month, he or she had been entitled to an annuity for that portion of the month when he or she was alive, and the survivor became entitled to a survivor annuity beginning the day after the death of the annuitant.
Q: How does the Retirement Accounts Division handle this allocation?
A: In order to stop an annuity payment the following month and avoid an overpayment, RAD must receive notification of the death of an annuitant by the processing deadline of the 14th of the month.
Q: What happens if notification of death is received after the 14th of the month, the annuity check is not stopped in time, and it is automatically deposited in a joint account?
A: If, upon reviewing its pay records, RAD determines that an annuity payment was made after the death of the annuitant, RAD will notify the Treasury Department. If this happens, according to Treasury regulations, the entire annuity payment for the month in which the annuitant died must be reclaimed.
Treasury begins the reclamation process by requesting a refund from the financial institution where the annuity payments were automatically deposited and taking payment from the account. The financial institution is required to mail a copy of the notice requesting return of funds to the last known address of the account owners. If the annuity payment is not returned to the Treasury within 120 days, Treasury will begin other administrative offset and collection procedures.
Q: When will the survivor begin receiving a survivor annuity?
A: After HR/RET reviews its records and sends an authorization for a survivor annuity to RAD, RAD processes a final payment to the eligible survivor, beneficiary or estate and initiates the survivor annuity. Again, this authorization must be received by the processing deadline (the 14th of the month) in order to make the change in payments effective the following month.
Q: What is a final death benefit?
A: A final death benefit is a payment for the number of days the annuitant lived during the month in which he or she died and was entitled to an annuity. After adjudication by HR/RET, RAD pays the final net annuity payment to the designated beneficiary, which in most cases is the surviving spouse.
Q: Whom should I call if I need an explanation of my survivor payments?
A: You can contact RM/RAD by phone: (843) 746-0538, or (800) 521-2553; or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The HR Service Center, RAD and HR/RET are always available to assist retirees and family members during this very difficult time.