Beneficiary Designation & Benefit Distribution
When a new employee is enrolled in OPERS, he or she is required to designate a primary and a contingent beneficiary on the Enrollment Application. The designation of a beneficiary is extremely important since it allows OPERS to do the following:
- Transfer a member's accumulated contributions to the beneficiary in the event of an active member's death; or
- Pay a survivor benefit to a spouse in the event of an active, vested member's death when applicable; or
- Pay a death benefit or any remaining unpaid contributions to the beneficiary in the event of a retired member's death.
Multiple persons may be designated as primary beneficiaries. Upon the death of one primary beneficiary, any remaining benefit will be distributed among the remaining living primary beneficiaries. Contingent beneficiaries will receive accumulated contributions or death benefits only if there are no living primary beneficiaries.
Upon the death of an ACTIVE or RETIRED member, the beneficiary or member's next of kin must contact OPERS by calling (405) 858-6737 or 1-800-733-9008 as soon as possible. OPERS will mail the appropriate forms to the member's designated beneficiary and request any required documents.
Death of A Non-Vested Member
When a member dies who was not eligible to vest, the spouse cannot elect a survivor benefit. That is, the surviving spouse may not elect to receive a lifetime monthly retirement benefit because the deceased member’s service credit did not entitle him or her to one.
Beneficiaries of these deceased members will only receive an amount equal to the member’s accumulated contributions. In many cases, the beneficiary may "roll over" any contributions into a qualified IRA.
Death of a Vested (Or Eligible to Vest) Member
Upon the death of a member who is vested or eligible to vest, OPERS will offer the spouse joint annuitant benefits under Option B to begin when the member would have been eligible for normal or early retirement. If the spouse declines Option B, then the member's accumulated contributions will be distributed among the primary beneficiaries. However, if the spouse is a named beneficiary, he or she may choose to decline Option B and accept the member's accumulated contributions (subject to division among other primary beneficiaries).
NOTE: If a member is making a purchase through the installment plan at the time of death, the member’s joint annuitant has the option to pay the remaining balance within 6 months. See your Retirement Coordinator for more details.
Death of a Retired Member
Upon the death of a retired member, OPERS will pay a death benefit in the amount of $5,000 to the designated beneficiary or beneficiaries of the member or to the estate of the member if there is no living beneficiary. OPERS will mail the Beneficiary's Application for Death Benefit form to be used in claiming the $5,000 benefit when OPERS is notified of the retiree’s death.
If the final benefit payment for the month a retired member dies has not already paid, it will be made to the member's estate or to the member's beneficiary if there is no estate.
At the retiree’s death, the designated beneficiary will receive the $5,000 death benefit. However, this benefit may not be the only benefit OPERS distributes. Read the following situations to determine what may occur upon the death of a retiree.
If a retiree elected to receive the maximum retirement benefit, all monthly benefits cease on the last day of the month in which the death occurs. A warrant representing the last benefit payment will be issued the last working day of the month in which the retiree is deceased, and unless otherwise paid for or to the member’s account, will be made payable to the retiree’s designated beneficiary, or if none exists, to the retiree’s estate.
If the retiree elected to receive a benefit in the form of one of the Retirement Options (Option A, B or C) the joint annuitant (or beneficiary if Option C) will receive a benefit only when OPERS receives a certified copy of the deceased retiree’s Certificate of Death. The amount and duration of the benefit to be received by the beneficiary will depend upon the option elected. See Retirement Options.
Note About Divorce
Divorce voids the designation of a spouse as the member's beneficiary. Thus, once a member's divorce is final, the member should complete a new Change or Designation of Beneficiary form, dated after the date of the divorce decree, designating a new beneficiary. A member may designate a divorced spouse as his or her beneficiary, but is still required to complete a new Change or Designation of Beneficiary form, dated after the date of the divorce decree, renaming the former spouse as a beneficiary.
Joint Annuitant and Beneficiary....
What's the Difference?
Joint Annuitant - one who is designated by a member to receive a lifetime retirement benefit under Option A or B after the death of the member. A joint annuitant designation cannot be changed after retirement.
Beneficiary - one who is designated by a member to receive the member's accumulated contributions, death benefit or a retirement benefit under Option C. Unlike a joint annuitant, a beneficiary does not have the right to a benefit for his or her lifetime. Also, the member may change a beneficiary at any time.
Notice to Married Members
All married members must retire under Option A unless the member's spouse consents to the member's selection of another option or another joint annuitant. If the member is divorced or widowed, the member must provide proof of the divorce or death at retirement.
Can I Change My Option?
The type of retirement option which is chosen may not be changed on or after the effective date of retirement for any reason except that members who retire under Option A or Option B may change their benefit option back to the Maximum benefit (no option, no reduction in benefits) upon the death of the member's selected joint annuitant. No other person may be substituted.
The request to change to a Maximum benefit must be made in writing by the retired member and must include a certified death certificate of the joint annuitant. The increased benefit becomes effective the first day of the month following the death of the joint annuitant if OPERS receives the member's and the joint annuitant's death certificate in a timely manner.
A member's joint annuitant cannot be changed after retirement. However, beneficiaries under Option C can be changed at any time after retirement.