When you need to get the most out of your benefits: part three

The final installment in a series about dealing with serious situations.

This is the last in our three-part series on federal employees facing serious retirement-related issues. 

I know someone who is retired from federal service out of the Treasury Department whose husband died. He was in the military, retired, then worked as a civilian federal employee. She is lost as far as paperwork and what to do. Do you have a checklist that might help her get organized? In a phone call, she said all of his accounts with the government have been shut off and she can’t get answers. I'd love to be able to help her.

Her agency’s human resources office should provide assistance, but here’s a short list of items she will need to take care of:

As a surviving spouse, she should contact the personnel office of the federal agency where her husband worked. Then she should complete an Application for Death Benefits (SF 3104) and attach any other forms or evidence as her particular circumstances require. She should be sure to attach a copy of her husband’s death certificate and their marriage certificate. Then she should give the application to the personnel office.

She and her husband’s employing agency should also complete the form Standard Documentation and Elections in Support of Application for Death Benefits When Deceased Was an Employee at the Time of Death (SF 3104B). A widow or widower who is claiming benefits for themselves and on behalf of children should only file one application.

She’ll also need to make an official Report of Death to the Office of Personnel Management.

As to the procedures for specific benefits, here are some helpful resources:

A surviving family member or friend can also contact the benefits officer at the deceased employee’s former agency to find out who is responsible for providing assistance. They can also reach the Office of Personnel Management at  888-767-6738, or by e-mail at Phone lines are open Monday through Friday from 7:40 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET. If you have difficulty getting through, try to call early in the morning or late in the evening when the lines are less busy.

Facing this much paperwork and uncertainty at the time of a loved one’s death can be challenging. But for better or for worse, that’s the way the federal system works. If you proceed methodically and get the help you need, the benefits you will receive will hopefully at least provide some peace of mind.