A Comprehensive Guide for Surviving Spouses

A Comprehensive Guide for Surviving Spouses

Losing a spouse is an emotionally challenging experience, and when that spouse is a federal employee, understanding the complex web of benefits during such a difficult time can be overwhelming. In this article, we’ll provide a thorough overview of the key benefits available to surviving spouses of federal employees who pass away while in service. Please note that the information provided here is specifically for spouses of current federal employees, not those who have retired.

1. FERS Spousal Survivor Annuity

If your spouse, a federal employee, passes away in service with a minimum of 10 years of federal service, you are entitled to a FERS Spousal Survivor Annuity. This annuity is a crucial lifeline, amounting to 50% of the annuity your spouse would have received at the time of their death. Importantly, this annuity is subject to cost-of-living adjustments, ensuring it keeps pace with inflation. The computation takes into account your spouse’s years of service, the type of service, and their high-three average salary at the time of death. Additionally, any unused sick leave can be factored into this computation, enhancing the benefits available to you.

2. FEHB Health Insurance

Health insurance is a significant consideration for surviving spouses. If your spouse had you covered under their Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) plan, you can continue this coverage as a surviving spouse. The premium for this health insurance will be paid from the survivor annuity, offering you continued access to essential health coverage during a challenging time. In cases where your spouse hadn’t completed 10 years of service for the spousal survivor annuity but had at least 18 months of service, making you eligible for the Basic Employee Death Benefit (BEDB), you can still maintain FEHB. However, in this scenario, you’ll need to pay premiums directly to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Unfortunately, if you weren’t enrolled in your spouse’s FEHB at the time of their passing, you won’t be eligible to enroll in health benefits.

3. Basic Employee Death Benefit (BEDB)

Surviving spouses are generally eligible for the Basic Employee Death Benefit (BEDB) if the federal employee had at least 18 months of creditable service and was married for at least nine months at the time of their death. The BEDB is calculated using an OPM formula, which is annually adjusted. It consists of a base amount (around $37,000 in 2022) plus 50% of your spouse’s final SF-50 salary or high-three average salary if higher. The amount varies based on your spouse’s salary. Importantly, there are multiple options available for receiving this benefit, each with significant tax implications. We strongly advise consulting with professionals, such as The Benefit Coordinators, before making any decisions.

4. Other Benefits: TSP, FEGLI Life Insurance, and Unused Leave and Final Pay

Beyond the mentioned benefits, surviving spouses may also be entitled to additional benefits, including Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI), and any unused leave and final pay. Typically, these benefits are distributed to named beneficiaries, which may or may not be the surviving spouse. If you are named, it’s important to reach out directly to TSP and FEGLI to claim the benefits rightfully due to you. Furthermore, the deceased employee’s agency will handle the distribution of any unused leave and final pay period benefits. Coordination with the agency’s HR department is essential to ensure a smooth process.


In conclusion, understanding the benefits available to surviving spouses of federal employees is crucial during a time of grief. Navigating through the complexities of these benefits requires careful consideration and often professional guidance. The loss of a loved one is undoubtedly a challenging period, and being aware of the support systems in place can help ease the burden for those left behind. If you have found this information helpful, consider sharing it with others who may benefit and stay tuned for more valuable insights from The Benefit Coordinators.

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