TSP Spouse and Survivor Rights

If you are a married FERS participant with an account balance of more than $3,500 and you are making a full withdrawal, your spouse is entitled by law to a prescribed survivor annuity. This is a joint life annuity with a 50 percent survivor benefit, level payments, and no cash refund feature. If you choose any other withdrawal option, or any combination of options, such that your entire account balance is not used to purchase the required annuity, your spouse must sign a statement on Form TSP-70, Request for Full Withdrawal, waiving his or her right to the required annuity. Your spouse’s signature must be notarized.

If you are a married FERS participant and you are making a partial withdrawal, your spouse must give written consent to your withdrawal on Form TSP-77, Request for Partial Withdrawal When Separated, regardless of your account balance or the amount of your withdrawal. Your spouse’s signature must be notarized.

If you are a married CSRS participant with an account balance of more than $3,500 and you are making a full withdrawal, the TSP must notify your spouse of your withdrawal election.

If you are a married CSRS participant and you are making a partial withdrawal, the TSP must notify your spouse of your withdrawal election, regardless of your account balance or the amount of your withdrawal.

Note: The TSP recognizes common law marriages that are valid “in the jurisdiction in which the marriage was initially established.”

Under certain circumstances, exceptions may be made for the spouse’s waiver of a survivor annuity (FERS) or notice (CSRS), or the spouse’s consent to a partial withdrawal (FERS). If the whereabouts of your spouse are unknown, or if there are exceptional circumstances (applicable to FERS and uniformed services participants only) that make it inappropriate for you to obtain your spouse’s signature, you may apply for an exception to the spouse waiver and notice requirements by submitting Form TSP-16, Exception to Spousal Requirements, with the required documentation. The criteria for supporting a claim on the basis of exceptional circumstances are strict. The fact that there is a separation agreement, a prenuptial agreement, a protective order, or a divorce petition does not in itself support a claim of exceptional circumstances.

For more information on establishing an exception to the spouses’ rights requirements, see Form TSP-16, available from the TSP site or the TSP Service Office.

In addition, if your former or separated spouse has a valid court order awarding all or part of your TSP account to him or her, the TSP must honor it. The same is true of a valid order requiring you to pay alimony or child support.

To designate a beneficiary for your TSP account balance, you must file a Form TSP-3 with the Thrift Savings Plan. If you don’t, your account will be distributed according to the standard order of precedence below:

  • your spouse;
  • your child or children in equal shares, with the share of any deceased child distributed among the descendants of that child;
  • your parents in equal shares or the entire amount to the surviving parent;
  • the duly appointed executor or administrator of your estate; then
  • your next of kin under the laws of the place you were living at the time of your death.

On the death of a TSP participant, a spouse who had been designated as the beneficiary of the account may keep the account open. Spousal beneficiaries have the same rights to transfer money among the TSP funds and the same withdrawal options, beneficiary designation rights and required distribution obligations as other account owners. Further, if the beneficiary has a TSP account of his or her own, the account of the deceased person can be transferred into that account, although a transfer cannot be made from a personal account to an inherited account. Nor can a spouse beneficiary make new investments in an inherited account.

Non-spouse beneficiaries must close the inherited account, either by taking a withdrawal or having the money transferred to another tax-favored retirement savings plan.

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