NYSLRS Basics: Special Beneficiary Designations

As a NYSLRS member, it’s important for you to name beneficiaries. When you die, your beneficiaries may be eligible to receive a death benefit. You can choose anyone you wish to receive your death benefit; it does not have to be a family member. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a person. You can name your estate, a charity or a trust, but it helps to know how these special beneficiary designations work.

There are two main types of beneficiaries. A primary beneficiary is someone you choose to receive your benefit if you die. A contingent beneficiary would receive the benefit if the primary beneficiary dies before you. If a beneficiary dies before you, you should update your beneficiary information to ensure that your benefit is distributed according to your wishes. You can name more than one primary or contingent beneficiary.

Retirement Online is the convenient and secure way to update your beneficiaries. If you don’t already have an online account, you can learn more on our website.

Benefit Distribution

If you name more than one primary beneficiary, each will share the benefit equally. You can also have a certain percentage of the benefit paid to each beneficiary. The percentages don’t have to be equal, but they must add up to 100 percent. (For example, John Doe, 50 percent; Jane Doe, 25 percent; and Mary Doe, 25 percent). The same rule applies for multiple contingent beneficiaries.

Special Beneficiary Designations

Here are the rules pertaining to special beneficiary designations:

special beneficiary designations


If you have executed a trust agreement or provided for a trust in your will, your trust can be your primary or contingent beneficiary. To name a trust, sign in to Retirement Online or use our Trust with Contingent Beneficiaries form (RS5127-T).  We’ll need a copy of your trust document, which you can mail to NYSLRS.

With this type of designation, the trust is the beneficiary, not the individuals who will receive the trust. If you revoke the trust or it expires, you will want to make new beneficiary designations as soon as possible to ensure benefits are paid according to your wishes.

You should talk to a lawyer if you’d like more information on trust agreements.


You may name your estate as the primary or contingent beneficiary of your death benefit. If you name your estate as your primary beneficiary, you cannot name a contingent. If a benefit is payable, the executor of your estate will distribute it according to your will.


You may name any charitable, civic, religious, educational or health-related organization as a primary or contingent beneficiary.

Minor Children

If your beneficiary is under age 18 at the time of your death, your benefit will be paid to the child’s court-appointed guardian. You may also choose a custodian to receive the benefit on the child’s behalf under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA). Before making this type of designation, please contact us for more information.

More Information

Please note that some of these beneficiary designations will be subject to a NYSLRS legal review.

For more information, please read our publication “Why Should I Designate a Beneficiary?” You can find your current NYSLRS beneficiaries listed in Retirement Online, or in your Member Annual Statement, which is sent out every summer.

8 thoughts on “NYSLRS Basics: Special Beneficiary Designations

  1. Cynthia Lapoint

    Are designated special needs trusts treated the same as listed for trusts? Or are there different rules regarding special needs trusts.

  2. Lenora Kirby

    Why do you say beneficiaries “may be eligible ” for a death benefit? What are the conditions or requirements for receiving or not receiving a death benefit? Thanks, LOK

    1. NYSLRS Post author

      We say that, because there are a few possible death benefits that may be available to NYSLRS members and retirees, depending on their years of service, retirement plans, employers and the pension payment options retirees chose at retirement.

      For information about your specific situation, 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.

      If you’re not yet retired, you can find more general information about the death benefits that you may leave here on our blog. Your plan booklet, which you can find on our Publications page, has more details about your available benefits, including eligibility requirements.

    1. NYSLRS Post author

      The specific death benefit you have determines whether you can change your beneficiaries after retirement. Unfortunately, the NYSLRS social media team doesn’t have access to your retirement account information.

      To get the account-specific information you need, 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

      In order release personal account information, such as your beneficiaries, NYSLRS will need to verify your identity. Please mail us a signed letter with your request, and include your retirement registration number or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Send it to:

      110 State Street
      Albany, NY 12244-0001

      If you send your letter “certified mail — return receipt requested,” you’ll be sure we’ve received it.

      This January, we are launching Retirement Online, a convenient and secure way to manage your benefits. You will be able to verify your identity and check your beneficiaries through Retirement Online.

      If it’s been some time since you’ve reviewed your account, you may want to simply designate new beneficiaries. To do this, complete the appropriate designation of beneficiaries form.

  3. Judith



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