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Survivor Benefits: Dependent Children
Are dependent children entitled to survivor annuities in the event of the death of a parent employee or retiree?
In order to qualify for a survivor annuity under the Foreign Service Act, a child must be financially dependent on an employee or retiree at the time of death. The child must also be unmarried, under age 18, or under age 22 and a full time student (12 credit hours), or over age 18 and incapable of self support because of a disability that occurred before the age of 18. Children who qualify include legitimate children, adopted children, stepchildren who lived with the employee or retiree at the time of death, and recognized natural children. Children are entitled to survivor benefits regardless of whether or not there is a survivor spousal benefit.
How are the benefits calculated and paid out for surviving children?
The benefits are statutorily determined by Section 806(c) of the Foreign Service Act and adjusted each year to reflect the change in the COLA. The amount of benefits depends on the number of surviving children and whether or not there is a surviving spouse. Annuity benefits payable under FERS/FSPS, which reflects full participation in Social Security, are reduced by the amount of Social Security survivor benefits attributable to the deceased parent. Benefits are generally paid to the surviving parent or the person who has the care and custody of the children. If the surviving spouse qualifies for survivor benefits, the children's benefits will be included in the monthly payment sent to the spouse.
An unmarried participant in good health who does not have a former spouse entitled to a survivor benefit can also elect to provide a survivor benefit under Section 806(f). However, this would be very costly, reducing the retiree's annuity by as much as 40%.
Are children's survivor benefits automatically awarded?
No. The surviving parent or person responsible for the eligible children must complete an Application for Death Benefits Form and submit a death certificate to the Retirement Office and a birth certificate for each child. In the case of a permanently disabled child, the parent or guardian must also submit a statement from MED attesting to the child's disability.
FERS/FSPS dependents must also apply for Social Security benefits and provide the Retirement Office with a copy of the award letter. The surviving parent or guardian is also responsible for informing the Retirement Office when the child is no longer eligible for Social Security or annuity benefits. This is particularly important because Social Security benefits can significantly reduce a FERS/FSPS benefit. Since Social Security benefits for children generally end at age 19, the unreduced FERS/FSPS benefit would be fully payable from age 19 to 22 as long as the child is unmarried and a full-time student.
Under what circumstances can a surviving child continue to be covered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan?
A child's health coverage under the FEHBP will continue if the deceased employee or retiree was enrolled in a self and family plan, the child is unmarried, and at least one family member is eligible for a survivor annuity. FEHB coverage will continue until age 22. Health benefits coverage can continue after age 22 if the person is unmarried and is incapable of self support because of a disability that is expected to last more than one year. A child who loses eligibility for coverage may qualify for Temporary Continuation of Coverage under the FEHBP.