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Who are the eligible beneficiaries of a survivor benefit plan?

When men and women in New Mexico and elsewhere decide to enter the military, there are many major life-impacting decisions required. This does not change when the service member retires, and these decisions could greatly affect the service member's spouse, children and any former spouse. Therefore, it is important to understand certain factors when entering into a survivor benefit plan.

Who are the eligible beneficiaries of a survivor benefit plan? When a service member is eligible to apply for retirement, they often choose from three types of beneficiary plans. These include spouse only, spouse and children and former spouse. However, the retired service member could also elect for coverage for only children, a natural interest person, no beneficiary or even decline to participate.

While it is common for a retiree to elect to cover his or her spouse for full retired pay, if the military member is no longer married, he or she could cover their ex-spouse; however, certain factors need to be addressed.

A former spouse could be eligible to participate in a survivor benefit plan if the service member retires and elects to cover his or her former spouse. In some situations, the service member is re-married but is court-ordered to cover his or her former spouse. In these cases, the current spouse must sign the document. However, if the retired service member decides to voluntarily cover a former spouse, the current spouse will be notified of this.

Additionally, the retiree may elect to cover a former spouse at the time of retirement even if the divorce was finalized more than a year before he or she retired or became eligible to participate in the survivor benefit plan. However, if a service member has already retired and wants to elect coverage to a former spouse, this must occur within one year of the divorce decree.

Lastly, a former spouse has the right to request survivor benefit plan coverage. This is called a deemed election request and could occur whether or not the court has ordered coverage. If a former spouse decides to go down this path, the request must be completed within one year.

The above information is not exhaustive of this topic and these matters can get complex. Those dealing with this or other military divorce issues should understand their legal options for resolving these matters.

Source: Defense Finance and Accounting Service, "Eligible Beneficiaries," accessed Dec. 14, 2015

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