Designating Beneficiaries: An Important Decision

When you joined NYSLRS, you may have named one or more beneficiaries to receive certain benefits if you die.

NYSLRS retirement plans provide death benefits for beneficiaries of eligible members who die before retiring. The “ordinary death benefit” is paid to the beneficiary or beneficiaries that you designated, so it’s important to review periodically to make sure your choices reflect your current wishes. For example, if you just married, you may want to update your NYSLRS account information to name your new spouse as your beneficiary.

Types of Beneficiaries

 There are two types of beneficiaries — primary and contingent beneficiaries:

  • Your primary beneficiary will receive any payable ordinary death benefit. You can list more than one primary beneficiary. If you do, they would share the benefit equally. Or, you can choose different percentages for each beneficiary that total 100 percent. (Example: John Doe, 50 percent; Jane Doe, 25 percent; and Mary Doe, 25 percent.)
  • contingent beneficiary will only receive the benefit if all your primary beneficiaries die before you do. If you list multiple contingent beneficiaries, they will share the benefit equally unless you choose different percentages.

Special Beneficiary Designations

Your beneficiary doesn’t have to be a person. You can name a charity, a trust or your estate as your beneficiary.

designating beneficiaries

When you die, your estate is the money and property you owned. Your death benefit will be given to the executor of your estate to be distributed according to the terms of your will. You can name your estate as the primary or contingent beneficiary of your death benefit. If you name your estate as the primary beneficiary, do not name a contingent beneficiary.

You can name a trust as a primary or contingent beneficiary if you have a trust agreement or provided for a trust in your will. The trust itself would be your NYSLRS beneficiary, not the individuals for whom you established the trust. (You may want to speak with your attorney if you’re thinking about making your trust a beneficiary.)

You can also name any charitable, civic, religious, educational or health-related organization as a beneficiary.

If your beneficiary is a minor child (under age 18) at the time of your death, your benefit will be paid to the child’s court-appointed guardian. You may instead choose a custodian to receive the benefit on the child’s behalf under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA). Custodians can be designated in Retirement Online or you can contact us for more information and the appropriate form before making this type of designation.

Updating Your Beneficiaries

You can change your beneficiaries at any time. You should also review your named beneficiaries to make sure their contact information is up to date.

  • The fastest way to view or update your beneficiaries is in Retirement Online. You can add beneficiaries, update beneficiary information or remove beneficiaries. Sign in, then click “Manage My Beneficiaries” on the right, under “I want to ….”
  • You can also complete and mail us a Designation of Beneficiary form (RS5127). Read the instructions on the form before entering your preferences. Be sure to include all your beneficiaries on the form. Your new beneficiary designations will replace all your previously named beneficiaries. Though your designations will need to be reviewed and approved, your updated beneficiary information becomes effective when we receive your properly completed, signed and notarized form.

More Information

You can read more about beneficiary designations in our Life Changes: Why Should I Designate a Beneficiary? publication. If you have questions, please contact us.

If you are retired, you may wish to read our blog post Can You Change Your Beneficiary After You Retire?

6 thoughts on “Designating Beneficiaries: An Important Decision

  1. BJM

    Does the payment received by the beneficiaries represent 1) a multiple of the employees annual wages and 2) is received in lieu of the pension accumulated until death?

    Example: Employee 1 works for 35 yrs, without retiring and dies. The spouse receives a multiple of the average annual compensation as a death benefit. No pension is received by the surviving spouse.
    Employee 2 work 6 years and has a compensation average equal to Employee 1. Employee 2 dies while employed and his survivor receives a death benefit equal to Employee 1 who worked 29 more years?

    1. NYSLRS Post author

      If an eligible member dies before retiring, and their death is not the result of an on-the-job accident, the death benefit is a one-time lump sum payment that is based on their earnings. The member’s accumulated membership contributions would also be payable to their beneficiary.

      Death benefits and eligibility requirements vary by tier and retirement plan. You can find general information about death benefits on our website.

      For account-specific information about your tier and plan, please message our customer service representatives using our secure contact form. Filling out the secure form allows them to safely contact you about your personal account information.

    1. NYSLRS

      Once NYSLRS receives a report of a member or retiree’s death, we contact any designated beneficiaries. We begin processing any death benefits that may be payable once we receive a death certificate. We can only mail specific information about death benefits and continuing retirement benefits to the named beneficiaries.

      If you have questions about your specific account, please email our customer service representatives using our secure email form. One of our representatives will review your account and respond to your questions. Filling out the secure form allows us to safely contact you about your personal account information.

    1. NYSLRS Post author

      This could be explained by the fact that there are several possible death benefits available to NYSLRS retirees.

      We suggest you contact our customer service representatives. Because they have access to your account-specific information, they’ll be able to answer your question. You can contact them by using our secure email form ( One of our representatives will review your account and respond to your questions. Filling out the secure form allows us to safely contact you about your personal account information.

      You can also contact our Call Center at 1-866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area). The Call Center is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 am – 5:00 pm.


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