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Pensions and Surviving Spouses

Even though pensions are not as common as in the past, there are still many employees who have the benefit available to them.  One of the questions I have received regarding a pension benefit, is what happens if I die?  Will my spouse receive a benefit or do I lose the benefit?  What happens if both myself and my spouse pass away? This article will discuss potential options for how the benefit will be handled.

Age of Plan Participant

The age of the plan participant is the starting point for how the surviving benefit will be handled.  If the plan participant died before retirement and met the age and service requirements of the plan, the surviving spouse will usually be eligible for a benefit.  The amount of the benefit would be dependent on if the plan participant opted for early retirement.  Below is an example:

  • Plan Participant Early Retirement Age Benefit                                    $500 monthly benefit

  • Survivor Spouse Benefit if Plan Participant                                          $250 monthly benefit

If the plan participant died after beginning to receive retirement benefits, the surviving spouse would continue to receive a benefit, however the amount they receive would depend on the payment option selected when the benefit began.  The surviving spouse could receive, 50%, 75%, or 100% of the plan participant’s benefit.  Below is an example of how this works:

  • Plan Participant Retirement Age Benefit                                              $500 monthly benefit

  • Survivor Spouse Benefit 75% Payment Option                                    $350 monthly benefit

Each pension plan can use different approaches for determining the amount a surviving spouse would receive. The surviving spouse will need to contact the plan administrator to determine the approach being used by the plan.

Lump Sum Payments

Some pension plans may offer a lump-sum payout option for a surviving spouse.  This option would only be available is the plan participant had not started receiving their benefit.  If a lump-sum payment option is elected, the surviving spouse would receive the funds and then have the option to roll these dollars into another retirement plan.  The surviving spouse would need to contact the plan administrator to determine if a lump-sum payment option is available. 

Pension Benefits if Both Plan Participant and Surviving Spouse Die

This scenario is handled differently by each pension plan.  Some plans may allow you to name a non-spouse beneficiary while other plans may not pay any benefit.  Plan participants should contact their plan administrator to understand how their specific pension plan works.


Pension plan benefits should be part of each participant’s financial plan and be understood by both spouses and domestic partners.  If you have questions regarding your pension plan and how it operates, please go to my website, https://michaelrebischkefa.com/, to schedule a 15-minute call to discuss. 

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.  All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.  All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

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