Retirement Planning Retirement PlanningRetirement Planning
Advice on how to prepare for life after government.

Who’s Your Beneficiary?

One important tasks in retirement planning is thinking about how you want to designate who will get lump-sum benefits related to your federal service. Beneficiary forms are among the most litigated pieces of paperwork in the federal government. Designations of beneficiaries must be in writing, signed by the designator, witnessed and filed with the Office of Personnel Management, the Thrift Savings Plan or your agency, depending on the type of benefits.

Think back over your federal career. Have any of the following occurred?

  • Marriage
  • Death of a family member
  • Divorce
  • Birth or adoption of a child
If you have experienced any of these events, it is possible that you may need to update your beneficiary designations. The following systems rely on such designations:
  • Civil Service Retirement System: Filed at OPM's Retirement Operations Center in Boyers, Pa., for employees and annuitants.
  • Federal Employees Retirement System: Filed in official personnel folders for employees and at OPM for annuitants.
  • Federal Employees Group Life Insurance: Filed in official personnel folders for employees and at OPM for annuitants.
  • Thrift Savings Plan: Filed at the TSP's service office in Birmingham, Ala.
  • Unpaid compensation (your last paycheck, payment for unused annual leave and anything else the agency owes you but hasn't paid): Filed in official personnel folders.
Case Studies

Beneficiary designations are used to assign who will receive lump-sum payments. They do not affect survivor annuity benefits. Let's look at some examples of how designations of beneficiaries might play out in the real world: Example 1: Sara died, before her retirement, at 51 after 23 years of federal service. She was survived by her sister and brother, who each received 50 percent of the following benefits:

  • $50,000 in TSP contributions (paid as a lump sum).
  • $78,000 in CSRS retirement contributions (represents Sara's 7 percent payroll contribution to the CSRS during her career).
  • $65,000 in basic FEGLI benefits.
  • $1,446 in final salary for the last pay period that she worked, and $7,231 in payments for remaining annual leave.
Consider this: What if Sara recently had married but neglected to update her beneficiaries?

Example 2: John died after being retired under FERS for four years. He was survived by his wife and two dependent children. John had elected maximum FERS survivor's benefits for his wife, providing her with a lifetime benefit equal to 50 percent of his FERS basic retirement benefit. The children also are entitled to separate children's benefits as long as they are dependent. And John's wife and children may be eligible for Social Security widow and children's benefits. John named his wife as 100 percent beneficiary of his FERS, FEGLI and TSP benefits. So in addition to a survivor annuity, she is entitled to:

  • $120,000 in remaining TSP contributions (she transferred this to her IRA to avoid paying taxes).
  • $350,000 in basic and optional FEGLI benefits.
  • $2,500 for the final FERS monthly retirement benefit that John had not lived long enough to receive, since benefits are paid the first of the month after they are earned.
Consider this: What if John was previously married and had never updated his FEGLI beneficiary paperwork to shift benefits to his current spouse? She would not have been entitled to the $350,000 in life insurance.

Order of Precedence

So what happens if you don't have beneficiary designations on file? According to Chris Meuchner, who works in OPM's FEGLI section, it occurs in half of cases involving distribution of lump-sum death benefits. For CSRS, FERS, TSP and unpaid compensation benefits, here is the order of precedence for payment if there is no valid designation on file when you die:

  1. To your widow or widower.
  2. If none, to your child or children in equal shares, with the share of any deceased child distributed among that child's descendants.
  3. If none, to your parents in equal shares or the entire amount to your surviving parent.
  4. If none, to the executor or administrator of your estate.
  5. If none, to your next of kin under the laws of the state where you lived at the time of your death.
Assignment of FEGLI

For FEGLI, you have the option of assigning your life insurance to someone else, giving them ownership and control of your coverage. The money then goes to the assignee or the assignee's beneficiary when you die.

Under such cases, the insurance still covers your life and you must continue to pay for it, but someone else controls the coverage. You may assign your life insurance to an individual, a corporation or an irrevocable trust, but your decision to make such an assignment cannot be changed. (Also, you cannot assign Option C coverage under FEGLI.)

If you have filed form RI 76-10 assigning ownership of your life insurance to someone else, the Office of Federal Employees Group Life Insurance will pay benefits to the beneficiary designated by your assignee, if there is one. If there isn't, the benefits will go to your assignee.

If you did not assign ownership and there is a valid court order on file, the office will pay benefits in accordance with that court order. If there is no valid court order on file, benefits will be paid according to the order of precedence in the chart above.


Designation of Beneficiary forms:

Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance: Designations to a Trust

Chapter 34, Designation of Beneficiary, CSRS and FERS Handbook

To Do

  • If you are satisfied with the order of payment listed above, you do not need to do anything.
  • If you want payment to be made differently from the order listed above, and you have not assigned your life insurance and a valid court order is not on file, you must designate a beneficiary.
  • Remember that you need to take on this task yourself; even a court-appointed guardian or someone with your power of attorney cannot do it for you.
  • If there is a valid court order on file, you may not change or submit a designation of beneficiary unless the person named in the order agrees in writing, or the order is modified.
  • A designation made in any other document is valid only if the document specifies your benefits, is signed by you and otherwise meets the requirements of a valid designation of beneficiary.
  • If you decide to file a designation, be sure it remains accurate and reflects your intentions. You should review your designation periodically, and file a new designation whenever a beneficiary's address changes. If you neglect to update the addresses of the beneficiaries, it may be difficult to locate them to pay the benefit. The government will try for one year to locate a beneficiary before the standard order of precedence is used.
  • Be careful when obtaining a blank beneficiary form from your agency's benefits office. It may be obsolete. It is better to download the latest beneficiary forms online (see the Resources section above).

Tammy Flanagan is the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars. She has spent 25 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits.


Tammy Flanagan has spent 30 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits. She runs her own consulting business at and provides individual counseling as well as online training for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, Plan Your Federal Retirement as well as the Federal Long Term Care insurance Program. She also serves as the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars.

For more retirement planning help, tune in to "For Your Benefit," presented by the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc. live on Federal News Radio on Mondays at 10 a.m. ET on WFED AM 1500 in the Washington-metro area. Archived shows are available on

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.