The funny thing about holidays, especially if they fall on a Monday, is they tend to cause you to lose track of what day it is. I am writing this on Wednesday night rather than my usual Monday night routine. I completely forgot what day it was.
I will also confess I got distracted by a few comments from the YouTube channel. I had some very interesting questions which caused me to do a lot of additional research into answers. For all that, I do apologize. The good news, particularly for those who consume the podcast or my written articles, is there will be no noticeable delay. However, since I use these articles as talking points for the YouTube episodes, I’ll be posting that new chapter very late in the evening.
Now, let’s get on with today’s topic. This is actually what I had planned to cover back on the day when I decided to do the medical retirement series. See how the best laid plans can be changed by life? 😊
Today, I will cover the types of people who can be beneficiaries under the survivor benefit plan. This will be a fairly straightforward and short article…I think. We’ll see as I write.
When Elections Are Made
Both when you receive a twenty-year letter (the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan) and when you apply for retired pay (the Survivor Benefit Plan), you make some sort of survivor benefit election. Even making no choice at all, under current law, is making a choice.
So who is covered or can be covered by this plan? Who will receive a lifelong annuity based on your retirement income (even if you don’t live to receive it yourself) if you die?
Both versions of the SBP were designed primarily as a form of income protection for the spouses of service members. Naturally, this makes them the most common choice as a beneficiary. The spouse even has the option to object if you choose to decline SBP coverage. If anything less than full coverage is selected, the spouse has to agree and have the election form notarized.
For the Reserve Component SBP, the cost for coverage is based on the difference between your age and your spouse’s age. There is a complex table of values used to determine this cost and I won’t cover that here. The cost usually is no higher than three and a half percent of retirement. For the other SBP (the one that covers you when you start receiving your retired pay; let’s call it the Active Duty SBP), has a maximum cost of 6.5% of retired pay.
Spouse and Children
You can also choose to select your children – in addition to your spouse – beneficiaries for SBP (in case both you and your wife die). This is very cheap coverage since the children will “age out” over time. They are eligible to receive the annuity (divided equally among them) until they turn eighteen or, if they’re full-time students, until they turn twenty-two. As a child ages out, the annuity is recomputed to pay an equal amount to those who are still eligible.
If you have selected this option, the difference in cost over what it would have cost to cover only your spouse is pennies. I recall one time when a retiree asked me to compute the difference between the two premiums (covering his wife only or his spouse and children) and the difference was seven cents more to cover his children also.
Former Spouse (or Former Spouse and Children)
Sometimes a divorce decree will order a member to provide survivor benefits for an ex-spouse. At other times, the service member voluntarily chooses to do this. If either of these happens, there is a little bit of additional paperwork to make this happen, but it is quite simple. The costs for this are the same as Spouse or Spouse and Children.
As I said earlier, children can age out of eligibility for the SBP annuity, but you can choose to cover them instead of a spouse or choose them if they’re your only dependents. The cost is slightly higher for this option but it is typically only a few dollars per month. I believe ten dollars is the highest I’ve ever seen.
One thing to keep in mind is whether the child (or children) is (are) disabled to the point they are incapable of providing their own support. If this is the case, the age limits I mentioned earlier do not apply. There are some additional documentation requirements, as I’m sure you expected, like physicians’ statements and sometimes even court orders, but they’re not too difficult.
The only real burden is this. SBP will not pay an annuity to a minor or to someone who is incapable of making sound decisions on their own. For this reason, it’s a good idea to either appoint a guardian (with the proper documents, of course) or to establish a special needs trust. I will post a link to an FAQ from findlaw.com which describes this kind of trust (this is not an endorsement of the site, just some good information. Do your own research to find what meets your particular need).
The other thing to keep in mind if you’re choosing to cover a special needs child is the impact the income from the SBP annuity might have on any sort of state or federal assistance they may be receiving (another good question for a lawyer). Many forms of welfare are income-dependent and SBP is considered a type of income. Again, do the research and choose what is best for you and your child(ren).
Natural Interest Person (NIP) AKA Insurable Interest
A natural interest person (or, as I’ll call it, an insurable interest) is typically any other person who is either closely related to you (like a cousin, parent, or sibling) or who has a vested interest in your continued survival (like a business partner). These people can be listed as SBP beneficiaries, as well.
There are two downsides to this sort of election. First, the premiums are significantly higher. The costs are a minimum of ten percent of your retirement up to a maximum of forty percent (depending on the difference between your age and the age of the person). The other factor is the annuity is lower. Instead of a flat fifty-five percent of your retirement being paid as the annuity, this sort of beneficiary receives an annuity based on the following formula.
(Retired pay – SBP premium) X 55% = Monthly Annuity
In other words, the cost of the premium is subtracted from your retirement and then the annuity is fifty-five percent of what is left. It can actually work out that the annuity is less than the total premium you are paying. Keep this in mind before making this type of election.
The good news, though, is you can choose to cancel an insurable interest election at any time. This is quite different from any other beneficiary election because those are usually locked in unless you have a qualifying life event (like a divorce or the death of a beneficiary).
If you have no eligible dependents and do not wish to make an insurable interest election (based on what I just described), you can opt not to participate in the Survivor Benefit Plan. If you have a change in your status, you can make an update to your decision within one year of the change.
Lastly and similar to the no beneficiary option, you can choose not to have SBP coverage at all. If you’re married, as I said before, your spouse has to agree with this decision and the election form has to be notarized (you don’t need a notary if you choose full coverage for your spouse).
Well, that is it for SBP beneficiaries. This didn’t turn out to be too horribly long after all. Thank you for joining me.
Next week, I plan to cover changing SBP elections. I believe this is a critical action on the part of the service member for a variety of reasons. I’ll talk about why that is next week.
As always, I ask that you spread this information to people whom you think could benefit from it. Let’s continue building this audience. Thanks for joining me today and, of course, thank you for your service.
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