Survivor Benefit to Children of Deceased Employees or Annuitants – Part 1

Survivor Annuity Benefit Paid to Children of Deceased Employees or Annuitants – Part 1

Edward A. Zurndorfer

A child who meets the eligibility requirements will receive a monthly survivor annuity benefit that is  payable upon the death of  the child’s parent who was prior to passing away a: (1) CSRS or FERS annuitant; or (2) CSRS- or FERS- covered employee who has completed at least 18 months of creditable civilian service as of the day of the employee’s death and died while subject to CSRS or FERS payroll deductions. This column discusses in the child survivor annuity benefit including who is considered an eligible child, when it starts, what a child(s) receives in the form of a monthly annuity, and when the monthly annuity stops .

To qualify for a monthly survivor annuity, the child of a deceased employee or a deceased annuitant must: (1) Have been dependent on the employee at the time of death: (2) be unmarried; and (3) be under age 18 (or age 18 to 22 and a full-time student); or (3) over age 18 and incapable of self-support due to a disability incurred before age 18.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) considers a child under 18 to have been dependent upon the deceased employee or annuitant if the child is:

· A legitimate child. A child born to the deceased employee or annuitant and spouse or ex-spouse if divorced.

· An adopted child. A child whose adoption was in process at the time of the employee’s death may be entitled to a monthly survivor annuity benefit as an adopted child if: (1) The child was living with the employee or annuitant at the time of death; (2) a petition for adoption had been filed by the employee or annuitant prior to his or her death; and (c) the final decree of adoption is subsequently granted to the decedent’s surviving spouse. The person who is applying on behalf of the child must provide a statement that the child was living with the deceased employee or annuitant at the time of death and submit copies of the petition for adoption and the final decree of adoption.

· A stepchild. A stepchild may be entitled to monthly survivor annuity benefits if the child lived with the employee or annuitant in a regular parent-child relationship at the employee’s or annuitant’s death. The person who is applying on behalf of the child must submit an affidavit from himself or herself and two affidavits from disinterested parties. For example, neighbors or close friends who are in a position to know the parent –child relationship. The affidavits should include the following details: (1) Whether the child lived with the deceased in a regular parent-child relationship; (2) the length of time the parent-child relationship existed; (3) whether the deceased exercised parental responsibility and control over the child; and (4) a statement explaining how the affiant  is in a position to know the facts of the case.

· A child born out of wedlock. A recognized child born out of wedlock is considered a dependent of the deceased employee/annuitant if: (1) The child lived with the employee/annuitant in a regular parent-child relationship at the time of the employee’s/annuitant’s death, and the person applying on behalf of the child submits affidavits as described for a stepchild; (2) the child did not live with the employee/annuitant in a regular parent-child relationship but a judicial determination of support was obtained for the child; (3) the Social Security Administration (SSA) awarded benefits to the child based on the earnings record of the deceased, as evidenced by a copy of the SSA’s award letter; or                (4) evidence such as the last Federal income tax return, providing proof of inclusion of the child as a dependent.

A child between age 18 and age 22 is eligible for the monthly survivor annuity or continuation of the monthly survivor annuity benefit beyond age 18 due to his or her status as a student. The child must: (1) Remain unmarried; and (2) regularly pursue a full-time course of study at a recognized education or training institution that certifies that the child is regularly pursuing a full-time day or evening course of resident study or training. OPM Form RI 25-41 (Initial Certification of Full-Time School Attendance) must be submitted  to OPM by the surviving parent or legal guardian when a child age 18 graduates from high school and continues their education on a full time basis.

A recognized education institution is a school that is accredited, has a faculty, and requires study or training to be done at the school. Included are: (1) High schools; (2) trade schools; (3) technical or vocational institutes; (4) business schools; (5) junior colleges; and (6) colleges, universities, or comparably recognized education institutions.

Attendance at any of the following is not qualifying for children’s benefits beyond age 18:                                 

(1) Correspondence schools; (2) elementary or junior high schools; (3) government service academies (US Military, Naval, Air Force or Coast Guard Academy);  or (4) any training program where the trainee receives pay as an employee such as an apprenticeship program. A full-time course of study consists of school attendance of at least 36 weeks per academic year and a sufficient study load to complete the educational or training objective.

For a child who is age 18 or older and incapable of self-support due to mental or physical disability may be entitled to a monthly survivor annuity benefit if the following conditions are met: (1) the child (or adopted child or step child) is a dependent; (2) OPM determines that the child is incapable of self-support because of a physical or mental disability incurred before he or she reached age 18.

The medical conditions that qualify as disabling for annuity purposes generally also qualify for continaution of FEHB coverage.

OPM must be proveded with information from the disabled child’s parent or guardian about the child’s education, any employment and residence. In addition, the child’s doctor(s) must provide information concerning the child’s medical condition on OPM Form RI 30-10 (Disabled Dependent Questionnaire). An alternative to OPM Form 30-10 is a copy of the letter from the Social Security Administration awarding benefits to the child based on SSA’s finding that the child is incapable of self-support because of a mental or physical diability incurred before age 18.

Amount of Monthly Survivor Annuity Benefit

The children’s survivor benefit is a specific dollar amount that is established by the formula in United States Code 8341(e)(2) and increases annually by the amount of the annual CSRS COLA (assuming there is one). The current rates for 2019 are:

Single orphan rate. When the child has a living parent who was married to the deceased employee or annuitant, either at death or at any time prior to death, the benefit payable to that child is: (1) $537 for one or two children or (2) $1,611 divided by the number of eligible children if three or more.

Double orphan rate. When the child has no living parent who was married to the employee or annuitant the benefit payable to that child is: (1) $644 for one or two children, or (2) $1,932 divided by the number of eligible children if three or more.

If a parent who was married to the employee or annuitant dies before the benefit to the child ends, then the annuity to the child is increased from the single orphan rate to the double orphan rate.

OPM pays a child’s monthly annuity to: (1) The parent or other person who hasa care and custody of the child if there is no court-appointed guardian; (2) the guardian, iif one has been appointed by the court; or (3) a child over age 18 upon reqeust by the child or other payee on the claim.

Coordination with Children Social Security Survivor Benefits

If the deceased employee/annuitant was fully insured for Social Security purposes (most FERS-covered employees and annuitants are), then the deceased employee’s/annuitant’s children under age 18 are eligible for children Social Security survivor benefits. If the Social Security monthly child survivor benefit is more than the OPM monthly benefit, then the child will receive the Social Security benefit. But children Social Security death benefits terminate when a child becomes age 18 (19 if the child is still in high school). OPM monthly payments  continue until the child is age 22, if the child is a full-time student between age 18 and 22. Social Security death benefits for children will be discussed in the next FEDZONE column.

Duration of Benefits

A child’s monthly annuity begins on the day following an employee’s or annuitant’s death or, in the case of a posthumous child, on the day folloiwng the child’s birth.

A survivor annuity to a child under 18 ends on the last day of the month preceding the monthin which the child: (1) marries; (2) dies;or (3) becomes age 18.

Even In the case of a child age 18 and attending school, the child survivor annuity ends on the last day of the month preceding the month in which the child: (1) Marries; (2) dies; (3) ceases to be a student; (4) transfers to a nonrecognized school; (5) begins attending school less than full-time; (6) fails to submit proof upon request that he or she is attending school full-time; (7) enters military service; or (8) becomes age 22.

Note the following with respect to the ending date of a child’s survivor annuity benefits when the child is between the ages 18 and 22, and attending school full-time.

• A child whose 22nd birthday falls during the school year, September 1 through June 30, is considered not to have attaind age 22 until July 1.

• A survivor annuity continues during nonschool intervals of not more than five months between school years or terms if the student shows a clear intention to continue as a full-time student at the same or a different school.

• Any child’s monthly survivor annuity that ended because the child was over age 18 and ceased to be a student, may be resumed, or authorized for the first time, if the child becomes a full-time student before age 22.

Parent/Guardian Responsibility

Upon the death of an employee, the parent, legal guardian or person with care and custody of the child should:

• Complete the Application for Death Benefits (CSRS: Form 2800, FERS: SF 3104 & SF 3104B);

• Attach any other forms as required. For example, guardianship papers, medical documents for disabled children over age 18, proof that the child is a natural child, school certification, birth certificate if the child was adopted, born out of wedlock,  or a stepchild of the deceased, etc.

• Include a copy of the Social Security Administration award or denial letter.

In the case of a deceased employee, all records should be sent to the agency. In the case of a deceased annuitant, all records should be sent to OPM’s Record Operations Center at the following address:

Office of Personnel Management, Retirement Operations Center, Attn: Survivor Processing Center, PO Box 45 Boyars, PA 16017

*** Written by Edward A. Zurndorfer, who is a Certified Financial Planner™, Chartered Financial Consultant, Chartered Life Underwriter, Certified Employee Benefits Specialist and Enrolled Agent in Silver Spring, MD. He is the owner of EZ Accounting and Financial Services, an accounting, tax preparation and financial planning firm also located in Silver Spring, MD.  He is a seminar speaker at Federal employee retirement seminars throughout the country for the National Institute of Transition Planning, Inc. He is also a weekly columnist for MyFederalRetirement.com. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse the opinions or services of FEDZONE or Edward A. Zurndorfer or any of the above listed organizations. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse the opinions or services of Edward A. Zurndorfer and/or EZ Accounting and Financial Services. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. While the employees of Serving Those Who Serve are familiar with the tax provisions of the issues presented herein, as Financial Advisors of RJFS, we are not qualified to render advice on tax or legal matters. You should discuss tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional. Telephone number, 301-681-1652. 

Survivor Benefit to Children of Deceased Employees