Updating Survivor Benefit Elections (The Sad Story of SSG Walker)

Let me tell you about Staff Sergeant Jason Walker who can teach us all a lesson.  We can learn a great deal from his example.

 

Staff Sergeant Walker reached twenty years of qualifying service in the National Guard in 1998.  He was thirty-eight at the time.  He received a twenty-year letter a few months later.  Since he was single at the time, he chose to do nothing and let his Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan default to the “by law” election after ninety days.  In 1998, the default election was to defer a decision until age sixty (better known as Option A) when he would apply for his retired pay.

 

In 2009, SSG Walker, now a gray-area retiree, married forty-two-year-old Amy Strothers.  He registered his marriage certificate in the DEERS database and got his new bride a military ID card.  He also told her that she automatically would receive part of his pension if he passed away.

 

In 2016, while working on his roof, he fell off a ladder and fractured his spine.  He died in the hospital a few days later.  He was fifty-six years old.

 

Several months later, after the whirlwind inherent with the death of a loved one had passed, Mrs. Walker contacted me at my office.  After doing some research and asking some questions, I had to inform Mrs. Walker that there would be no survivor annuity for her.  Her only consolation would be Tricare coverage in 2020.

 

Do you see what happened here?  SSG Walker never updated his RCSBP election when he got married and he died before becoming eligible for retired pay.  The law prior to 2001 stated that reservists who did not make an election for RCSBP upon receiving a twenty-year letter would default to Option A.  This means no one gets anything if he dies.  He had one year from the date of his marriage to change his election to cover his wife.  This never occurred.

 

This is easily one of the sadder situations a retirement services officer can encounter.  We are a group that likes to say yes and do what we can to enable people rather than telling them there are limited options due to poor decisions or lack of action on someone’s part.  I was unable in this case to find anything else that could be done for Mrs. Walker.  The thought of Tricare in four years was of little comfort to me and I am sure even less for her.

 

Now we get to the moral of the story.  Rather than causing future harm on our loved ones, it is best if we make or update survivor benefit elections in a timely manner.  Believe it or not, it is a lot simpler than it looks.  As with so many things, especially paperwork, it is much scarier on its surface than it actually is. There was one time I had to talk a person through doing this over the phone.  He was another full-timer and I was so out of it with sickness I barely remember the conversation.  However, at the end, he still said, “That’s it?” and I responded that indeed that was all.

 

You can update a survivor benefit election using a DD Form 2656-6. I will put a link to it in the references below.  Using SSG Walker as a reference, here is a list of the questions he would have had to answer in order to add his wife to the plan.  Read it once (and get scared by it) and then think about how little effort it would actually take.

 

  1. Name
  2. SSN
  3. Date of Retirement
  4. Date of Birth
  5. Mailing Address
  6. Telephone Number
  7. Current Coverage
  8. Reason For the Change
  9. Requested Change
  10. Level of Coverage
  11. Spouse’s Name
  12. Spouse’s SSN
  13. Spouse’s Date of Birth
  14. Date of Marriage
  15. Signature
  16. Date Signed
  17. Name of Witness
  18. Witness’s Signature
  19. Date of Witness’s Signature
  20. Address of Witness
  21. Date of Expiration of Notary’s Commission (if applicable)

 

So we have a total of twenty-one questions here and the last one is only needed if the witness is not a certified survivor benefits counselor.  All that would be needed in addition to this information is the marriage certificate.

 

I am not one to usually say anything positive about paperwork, however this would be an exception.  If you take a look at this form, it is quite versatile in its design.  You can make an SBP change due to divorce, death of a beneficiary, the birth of a child, marriage, or remarriage to an earlier spouse.  All you need to do is check the appropriate block and attach a supporting document.

 

That is all there is this week.  It’s a fairly simple topic and I hope this information has proven useful to you.  If you know of anyone else who can benefit from this article, pleases share it with them.  I also welcome any questions or comments you may have.  Please post them in the comments section below.

 

Once again, thank you for being a part of the audience today and thank you for your service.

 

D.J.

Refererences
DD Form 2656-6

 

Related YouTube Episodes:
SBP Episode Playlist


Podcast Episode 0049 – Updating Survivor Benefit Elections (The Sad Story of SSG Walker)

Let’s learn a valuable lesson from a tragic story.

Refererences
DD Form 2656-6

 

Related YouTube Episodes:
SBP Episode Playlist


YouTube Episode 0051 – Updating Survivor Benefit Elections (The Sad Story of SSG Walker)

Refererences
DD Form 2656-6

 

Related YouTube Episodes:
SBP Episode Playlist


The Basics of the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)

I originally wrote this article as part of a script for my YouTube and podcast episodes on this topic. The total length ended up being over 3000 words. For ease of reading, I am going to break up the script into a series of shorter articles. There will be links to other parts of the total article at the end of each section.

Basic Description
Today I am going to talk about the Survivor Benefit Plan. Like its reserve component version, this is one of the most important decisions a service member must make. Also, just like the talk about the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan, this episode will probably be longer than usual. This is a vital decision for every retiree so I want to be sure everything is understandable. The terms I may use are typically those used by the Army, but the information itself is the same for all branches of service. Enough prologue, I’d say; let’s dive right into today’s subject.

What is the Survivor Benefit Plan?
As I said in my articles about the reserve component version of the Survivor Benefit Plan, retired pay stops with the death of the retiree. There is no method by which a retiree may pass on his retired pay to another person in a will or other legal instrument. The Survivor Benefit Plan – or SBP – is the only way a person receiving retired pay can pass on a survivor annuity to a family member. Notice that I said, “annuity,” rather than retired pay or pension. This is not your retirement. It is something you are purchasing separately to leave some form of survivor income for your family.

So, when do I have to make this critical decision?
Very simple. You make this election when you apply for retired pay.

What happens I don’t make an election?
If the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) has no evidence that you are single and have no dependents, they will automatically set your SBP election to spouse and compute a generic premium for you to pay. If you do in fact have no eligible beneficiaries and this default election occurs, you will need to contact a retirement services officer or DFAS directly to get the election changed.

 

References:
10 USC Subtitle A, Part II, Chapter 73, Subchapter II: Survivor Benefit Plan
Survivor Benefit Plan (Defense Finance and Accounting Service)
Advantages and Disadvantages of RCSBP / SBP
RCSBP Fact Sheet
$550 per month from SBP Compared to $100,000 Life Insurance: How Long Will It Last?
$2200 per month from SBP Compared to $100,000 Life Insurance: How Long Will It Last?
DD Form 2656 – Data for Payment of Retired Personnel
CG Form 4700 – Coast Guard, PHS, & NOAA Retired Pay Account Worksheet and Survivor Benefit Plan Election

 

Related YouTube Episodes:
The Basics of Reserve Retirement
The Notice of Basic Eligibility for Retired Pay (Twenty-Year Letter)
The Basics of the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan

 

Related Articles on This Topic:
The Basics of the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)
How Much Will The SBP Pay My Beneficiaries and How Much Will It Cost?
Should I Buy a Life Insurance Policy Instead of Choosing the Survivor Benefit Plan?
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of the Survivor Benefit Plan?
What Are the Coverage Options and Who Can Be Beneficiaries of the SBP?
How Do I Enroll in the Survivor Benefit Plan?


Podcast Episode 0004 – The Basics of the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)

Today I am going to talk about the Survivor Benefit Plan.  Like its reserve component version, this is one of the most important decisions a service member must make.


YouTube Episode 0006 – The Basics of the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)

Today I am going to talk about the Survivor Benefit Plan.  Like its reserve component version, this is one of the most important decisions a service member must make.

 

References:
10 USC Subtitle A, Part II, Chapter 73, Subchapter II: Survivor Benefit Plan
Survivor Benefit Plan (Defense Finance and Accounting Service)
Advantages and Disadvantages of RCSBP / SBP
RCSBP Fact Sheet
$550 per month from SBP Compared to $100,000 Life Insurance: How Long Will It Last?
$2200 per month from SBP Compared to $100,000 Life Insurance: How Long Will It Last?
DD Form 2656 – Data for Payment of Retired Personnel
CG Form 4700 – Coast Guard, PHS, & NOAA Retired Pay Account Worksheet and Survivor Benefit Plan Election

 

Related YouTube Episodes:
The Basics of Reserve Retirement
The Notice of Basic Eligibility for Retired Pay (Twenty-Year Letter)
The Basics of the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan