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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Survivor Support

Federal employees might not often stop to consider how their benefits will be disbursed if they die during government service, but there are a range of options available to families of workers who pass away unexpectedly, either on or off the job.

The 1993 Federal Employees' Compensation Act affords continuing benefits to family members of federal workers who die from job-related injuries. Surviving spouses without children will receive monthly payments equal to half of the deceased employee's take-home pay. Families will receive 45 percent of the worker's salary, plus an additional 15 percent for each child, but payouts cannot exceed 75 percent of pay. If the deceased employee had no spouse or children, then surviving parents, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren could be eligible to receive compensation. Benefits will be paid until a spouse remarries, or children become independent adults. The law also allows a one-time payment of up to $800 for funeral and burial costs.

Families of service members killed in the line of duty are eligible for specific benefits. When military personnel die on active duty, during training or within 120 days following the end of their career, if their death is due to a service-related disability, survivors will receive a lump-sum payment of $100,000. The Veterans Affairs Department also pays out a monthly compensation of $1,154 to the surviving spouse and an additional $250 for each dependent child. Families are eligible for up to $1,000 for military funeral costs, or $8,800 if they make private arrangements.

Federal workers should take steps to ensure their families receive the full health, life and retirement benefits they are entitled to in the case of an unexpected death, including those that are not work-related.

John Grobe, president of consulting firm Federal Career Experts, advises all employees to ensure their beneficiary forms are up to date. Life events such as marriage, birth of a child and divorce could change employees' preferred beneficiaries, he noted. Payouts will be based on a standard order of precedence if workers do not designate a beneficiary.

"We often think well, I'll change my beneficiary form, I'll get around to it," said Grobe. "Where it is an issue is a situation of someone dying prematurely while they are still working. They may not have gotten around to it."

Federal Employee Group Life Insurance participants should complete form SF-2823. These benefits are paid either in a lump sum, or through a money market account from which survivors can write checks.

Civil Service Retirement System employees should complete form SF-2808. The survivor benefit for CSRS is 55 percent of an employee's annuity.

Federal Employees Retirement System participants should complete form SF-3102. According to Grobe, beneficiaries under FERS will receive a lump-sum payment, or 36 monthly checks totaling 50 percent of the employee's salary or high-three pay plus nearly $30,000. In addition, if the FERS enrollee had 10 or more years of government service, the survivor will receive 50 percent of the employee's full annuity. Children also are eligible for survivor benefits under FERS, Grobe noted.

To designate unpaid compensation, including annual leave, employees should complete form SF-1152.

Thrift Savings Plan participants should complete form TSP-3, which is kept on file with the TSP.

Though federal employees do not have to designate a beneficiary for coverage received through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, survivors will receive continued benefits if enrolled in a self-and-family option.

Federal workers can check with their human resources office to ensure up-to-date forms are filed in their personnel folders, Grobe said.

"One other thing federal employee should do in preparing their spouse or others is to, as part of the estate plan, have a letter of instructions that informs their spouse or executor what benefits they might be entitled to, where they might be and how to go about applying for them," he said.

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