Survivor benefits vs. life insurance


Q. My husband is putting in papers to retire after 40 years in civil service. He wants me to sign a paper saying that I agree not to accept his retirement if he dies before me. He said it would be less costly to get a good life insurance policy. We are both 61 years old and in good health. I have asthma and take medication for cholesterol. I have 21 years with the public school system. I hope to retire in the next year or two. Is it a good idea for me to sign this paper? He doesn’t want to discuss it.

A. Here is a link to a column I wrote for Federal Times a few years ago on the topic:

This is, potentially, a critical question, and the correct answer depends entirely upon your circumstances — your goals, resources and constraints. Unfortunately, the analysis required to answer it correctly is usually complex. The only universal recommendation I can make is that, if you’re in doubt, the safest bet is to elect the maximum CSRS or FERS survivor benefit.


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Mike Miles is a Certified Financial Planner licensee and principal adviser for Variplan LLC, an independent fiduciary in Vienna, Virginia. Email your financial questions to and view his blog at


  1. As a matter of curiosity, I looked into what I would need in the way of insurance to do this. (At about the same age and time in CSRS.) It flat out did not make any sense. The face amount had to be very high, a half-million or more, and the premiums were more than the reduction in my annuity would be.

  2. Unless he leaves her 3 million dollars or more in life insurance, which is unlikely, she would never make up the difference by agreeing not to take a survivor annuity. Ma’am, I hope you refuse to sign the paper. You are entitled to a full survivor annuity.

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