For those serving in the armed forces, a survivor benefit plan is a good way of supporting your family.
What is the Survivor Benefit Plan?
The survivor benefit plan applies to members of the military, armed forces, national guard and reservists. The survivor benefit plan is essentially a life insurance plan your retired pay. If you, the member of the armed forces, are receiving a military pension (retirement pay) and you pass away, your military retirement pay stops. However, your surviving spouse (children or ex-spouse) may still receive additional monthly payments under the survivor benefit plan after you pass away. If you are married, you can decide to not have the survivor benefit plan, but that will require your current spouses consent and signature. However, if you are divorcing, a court can order your ex-spouse (who is a military member) elect the survivor benefit plan and order that you name your ex-spouse a beneficiary. The beneficiary that is designated will continue to receive some form of payment from DFAS after you pass away. The survivor benefit plan is an assurance that your spouse, children or ex-spouse will continue to be supported after you pass away. The survivor benefit plan can be a good investment because it is protected from inflation. Therefore, it will receive a Cost-of-Living Adjustment that increases each year.
Who is Eligible for Coverage under the Survivor Benefit Plan?
You can choose to make the following beneficiaries under the survivor benefit plan – former spouse, former spouse and children, children only, spouse only and spouse and children. If you have no spouse or children, you can also elect a “person with insurable interest”. (It is in your best interest to discuss a “person with insurable interest” further with your family law attorney).
How Do I Enroll in the Survivor Benefit Plan?
If you are the military member, you must choose to enroll in the survivor benefit plan prior to retirement. If you decide not to enroll prior to retirement, then DFAS will automatically enroll you in the survivor benefit plan. If you do not elect to enroll, and you have a spouse or child, then you are automatically enrolled in the survivor benefit plan at the maximum level. If you want to pick a lower level, then you must do so prior to retiring. If you are married at the time, then you must have your spouse consent to the level of survivor benefit plan coverage in writing (only if you are seeking a lower level of coverage).
How Much Does the Survivor Benefit Plan Cost?
The cost of the survivor benefit plan varies depending on what level of coverage you wish to have. It additionally varies based on who you decide to cover as beneficiaries. Essentially though, whatever amount you choose will come out of your monthly retired pay. If you are ordered by a court to pay a portion of your retired pay to your former spouse during a divorce, the payment for the survivor benefit plan comes out first, and then the retired pay is divided.
Is the Survivor Benefit Plan Awarded in A Divorce?
Yes. In Florida, if you are divorcing, your attorney should request the court order your former spouse (who is the military member) to elect the survivor benefit plan. Your family law attorney should be familiar with a “deemed election letter”. This is a letter that should be sent to DFAS within one year of your divorce that indicates that you were awarded the survivor benefit plan during the divorce. If this letter is not sent, and your former spouse did not elect you as the beneficiary of the survivor benefit plan before the former spouse passes away, then you will be out of luck and will not receive any benefits. The “deemed election letter” is very important and it is advised that you discuss this in detail with your family law attorney.
The survivor benefit plan and, in general, overall military retirement issues can be complex and confusing for the novice family law attorney. It is important that you choose a family law attorney that has experience handling military family law cases and knows how to protect your rights and interests.
If you have any questions regarding family law or require legal assistance in other areas of Family Law you may always contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at [email protected].