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Can I change my beneficiary?

Can You Change Your Beneficiary After You Retire?

Can you change your beneficiary after you retire? That depends. If it’s the beneficiary for your pension, in most cases the answer is no. If you choose a pension payment option that provides a lifetime benefit for a surviving beneficiary, you cannot change that beneficiary, even if they die before you do. If your retirement plan provides a one-time, lump sum death benefit after you retire, you can change your beneficiary (or beneficiaries) for that benefit.

Can you change your beneficiary?

Available Pension Payment Options

At retirement, you will choose from a variety of pension payment options. After your pension becomes payable, you have up to 30 days to change your option. After that, you cannot change your pension payment option for any reason.

  • If you don’t want to leave a lifetime benefit to someone else, the Single Life Allowance option may be right for you, but you won’t be able to change your option and add a beneficiary later. For example, if you’re single when you retire and marry during retirement, you cannot change your option to one that provides a continuing benefit for your spouse.
  • If you want to leave a lifetime benefit to someone, there are several Joint Allowance options you can choose. After your death, if your beneficiary survives you, they will continue to receive all or part of your pension (depending on the specific option you choose) for the rest of their life. For these options, you can only name one beneficiary, and you cannot change that beneficiary after the 30-day window.
  • There are payment options that allow you to change your beneficiary. For example, with the Five Year Certain or Ten Year Certain options, you can change your beneficiary at any time, but these options only provide a short-term benefit for a survivor.

The Post-Retirement Death Benefit

Your pension is not your only NYSLRS retirement benefit. Most NYSLRS retirees are eligible for a death benefit if they retired directly from payroll or within one year of leaving covered employment. This post-retirement death benefit is a one-time, lump-sum payment. You can change your beneficiary for this benefit at any time, and your beneficiaries for this benefit do not have to be the same as your pension payment option beneficiary.

Visit our Death Benefits page for retirees for information about how your post-retirement death benefit is calculated and how to update your beneficiaries if you are retired.

If you have questions about beneficiaries, death benefits or pension payment options, please contact us.

NYSLRS Basics: Special Beneficiary Designations

What makes special beneficiary designations so special?

As a NYSLRS member, it’s important for you to name beneficiaries. Your beneficiaries may be eligible to receive a death benefit upon your death.

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 before we talk more about these special beneficiary designations, let’s quickly go over the two main types of beneficiaries. These are important to know as some special designations may affect who you can designate.

About Primary and Contingent Beneficiaries

A primary beneficiary is someone you choose to receive your benefit if you die. A contingent beneficiary would only 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.

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

About Special Beneficiary Designations

Here are some examples of special beneficiary designations and the rules for each one:

special beneficiary designations

Estates

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 the terms of your will.

Trusts

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 or upload using Retirement Online.

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 an attorney if you’d like more information on trust agreements.

Entities

You may name any charitable, civic, religious, educational or health-related organization as a primary or contingent beneficiary. Be sure to include the organization’s full name and address in your designation.

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 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. 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 most recent Member Annual Statement.

Prepare Your Affairs and Survivors

After you’re gone, will your loved ones know how to handle your affairs? Will they know where to find your important documents, such as your will? Will they be able to make sense of your finances? Putting these affairs in order now can better prepare your survivors during an already difficult time.

prepare your affairs and survivors

Organize Your Documents

The first step to putting your affairs in order is collecting assorted records, certificates and other paperwork in a secure place. You’ll also want to write down names and phone numbers for any friends or business associates who could be helpful (like your attorney, accountant, insurance agent and the executor of your will).

To help your survivors find these important documents, fill out a Where My Assets Are (VO1848) form. Review this list and update it as needed.

Talk to Your Loved Ones

You may not feel comfortable discussing your death, but all your preparation won’t do any good if you keep your wishes a secret. Once you’ve collected your files and put together a list, let your potential survivors know where your documents are and provide them with copies of your asset list.

Discuss your finances with your loved ones, including your children, if any of the money matters involve them. Explain your NYSLRS benefits (such as your death benefits) and let them know how to report your death to NYSLRS. They can complete the NYSLRS Report a Death Form or call us at 866-805-0990. Death benefits cannot be paid until we have a certified death certificate.

Be sure to also discuss your funeral and burial preferences and let your family know about any arrangements you have already made.

Other Steps to Take When Organizing Your Affairs

You may have already taken care of some of these steps as part of your estate planning, but it never hurts to go back and check to make sure they still reflect your wishes.

  • Work with an attorney to prepare a will or trust.
  • Review your beneficiary information in Retirement Online and make sure we have the correct contact information for your beneficiaries.
  • Consider advance directives, such as a durable power of attorney, living will, health care proxy or do-not-resuscitate order. If you have minor children, you may wish to name a guardian for them. If you have a child with a disability, consult a professional who can help you navigate Medicaid and Medicare.
  • Keep your loved ones apprised of any changes to your situation that may affect them.

Read Getting Your Affairs in Order and A Guide for Survivors and share this publication with your potential survivors. The second half provides information for your survivors and explains what to do and who to contact if a loved one dies.

NYSLRS – One Tier at a Time: PFRS Tier 5

When you join the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS), you’re assigned a tier based on the date of your membership. There are six tiers in the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and five in the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS). Each tier has a different benefit structure established by New York State legislation.

Our series, NYSLRS — One Tier at a Time, walks through each tier to give you a quick look at the benefits in both ERS and PFRS. Today’s post looks at PFRS Tier 5. Anyone who joined PFRS from January 9, 2010 through March 31, 2012 is in Tier 5. There were 1,967 PFRS Tier 5 members as of March 31, 2021, making up 5.6 percent of PFRS membership.

About Special Plans

Under a regular plan, you need to reach certain age and service requirements to receive your NYSLRS pension. If you’re covered by a special plan, there is no age requirement, and you can receive your pension after completing 20 or 25 years of service.

Nearly 80 percent of PFRS members are in plans covered under Sections 384, 384-d, 384-e or 384-f of the Retirement and Social Security Law. Read our Police and Fire Retirement System blog post for information about different PFRS plans.

Check out the graphic below for the basic retirement information for PFRS Tier 5.

PFRS Tier 5

If you’re a PFRS Tier 5 member, you can find detailed information about your benefits in the retirement plan booklets listed below:

For special plans under miscellaneous titles, please visit our Publications page.

Check out other posts in the PFRS series:

Choosing Your Pension Payment Option

When you retire from NYSLRS, you’ll need to decide how you want to receive your pension benefit.

You’ll have several pension payment options to choose from. All of them will provide you with a monthly benefit for life. Some provide a limited benefit for one or more beneficiaries after you die. Others let you pass on a monthly lifetime pension to a single beneficiary. Each option pays a different amount, depending on your age at retirement, your beneficiary’s age and other factors.

That’s a lot to think about, so let’s make this clearer with an example.

Pension Payment Option Example

Meet Jane. Jane plans to retire at age 60, and she has a husband, a granddaughter and a grandson who are financially dependent on her. First, Jane needs to decide whether she wants to leave a benefit to someone after she dies. She does.

That eliminates the Single-Life Allowance option. While it pays the highest monthly benefit, all payments stop when you die.

Jane considers naming her grandchildren as beneficiaries to help pay for their college education.

The Five Year Certain and Ten Year Certain options don’t reduce her pension much, and they allow her to name more than one beneficiary. If Jane dies within five or ten years of retirement, depending which option she chooses, her grandkids would split her reduced benefit amount for the rest of that period.

However, the Five and Ten Year Certain options wouldn’t be lifetime benefits, and since her husband doesn’t have his own pension, she decides to leave him a lifetime pension benefit and look into a tax-deferred college savings plan for her grandkids instead.

There are several options that leave a lifetime benefit. Under these options, you can only name one beneficiary. Benefit amounts are determined based on the birth dates (life expectancy) of both the retiree and their beneficiary, so Jane will receive less of a pension reduction leaving a benefit to her husband than she would if she were to consider leaving a lifetime benefit to a grandchild.

Under the Joint Allowance — Full or Joint Allowance — Half option, if a retiree dies, depending which option they choose, their beneficiary would receive half or all of their reduced benefit for life.

Under the Pop-Up/Joint Allowance — Full or Pop-Up/Joint Allowance — Half option, if a retiree dies, depending which option they choose, their beneficiary would also receive half or all of their reduced benefit. These options reduce the pension a little more, but they have an advantage: If the retiree outlives his or her beneficiary, the retiree’s monthly payment will “pop up” to the maximum payable under the Single-Life Allowance option.

As you plan for your own retirement and whether you’ll leave a pension benefit to a beneficiary or beneficiaries, you may also want to consider questions such as:

  • Do you qualify for a death benefit?
  • Do you have life insurance?
  • Do you have a mortgage, unpaid loans or other monthly payments that will have to continue to be paid if you die?

These and other factors can significantly impact your retirement planning.

To find out more about pension payment options, check your retirement plan booklet on our Publications page. Most NYSLRS members can also create their own pension estimate in minutes using Retirement Online. You can enter different retirement dates to see how those choices would affect your benefit. When you’re done, you can print your pension estimate or save it for future reference.

Why Designate a Beneficiary?

When you designate a beneficiary, you choose a person to receive a benefit after your death. By choosing a beneficiary, you’re ensuring that money goes to the person you want to receive it.

Why Should I Designate a Beneficiary? is a short, but informative booklet that explains beneficiary designations and how you can change them.

It is important to designate a beneficiary because that person may be eligible to receive a death benefit. If you are a State employee, they may also be eligible for New York State survivor’s benefit. Most retirees are eligible for a post-retirement death benefit depending on their retirement plan and tier. You can designate a beneficiary to receive this one-time, lump sum benefit after your death.

A beneficiary is often a spouse, a child or another relative, but it does not have to be a family member or even a person. You can designate a trust or organization to receive your ordinary death benefit.

designate a beneficiary

Types of Beneficiaries

The booklet describes the two types of beneficiaries.

A primary beneficiary is the person who receives your death benefit. You can name more than one primary beneficiary. Each will share the benefit equally, unless you indicate specific percentages to be paid to each beneficiary.

A contingent beneficiary will receive your death benefit if all the primary beneficiaries die before you.

The booklet also has a section describing special beneficiary designations, which is helpful if you wish to name a minor child, a trust or an estate as a beneficiary

When to Designate a Beneficiary

You should review your beneficiary information periodically to make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date and reflect your current desires. Retirement Online provides convenient access to this information, which you can also find in your most recent Member Annual Statement.

If you get married, get a divorce or have a child, you may wish to change your beneficiary designation. Retirement Online is the convenient and secure way to update your beneficiaries. Sign in to your account, then click “View and Update My Beneficiaries.” You can also complete a Designation of Beneficiary form and mail it to NYSLRS.

You can change the beneficiary designation for your death benefit at any time. But remember, a beneficiary designation is a legal document, so you’ll want to avoid some common errors that could make your choices void. Fortunately, this booklet includes a list of guidelines that will help you avoid these pitfalls, and it is available online whenever you need to consult it.

Other Publications

Read our recent blog posts about other NYSLRS publications.

Certain Payment Options Provide a Lifetime Benefit for a Loved One

When you apply for a NYSLRS pension, you’ll be asked to pick a pension payment option. All payment options will provide you with a monthly benefit for the rest of your life. With the Single Life Allowance, all payments stop at your death and nothing is paid to a beneficiary.

Infographic describing pension payment options

Providing for a Beneficiary

If you’re married and need to provide for your spouse, or if you have someone else you would like to provide a lifetime pension for after you’re gone, there are payment options that let you do that. In exchange for a reduction in your monthly payment, Joint Allowance options allow a beneficiary to collect all or part of your pension after you die. The amount of the reduction in your pension is based on your life expectancy and the life expectancy of your beneficiary. That means the younger your beneficiary, the deeper the reduction.

You can only choose one beneficiary under a Joint Allowance option, and your beneficiary selection cannot be changed after you retire, regardless of the circumstances. The benefit reduction for Joint Allowance options will continue even if your beneficiary dies before you do.

Pop-Up Payment Options

If we could predict the future, pension choices would be a lot easier. But a Pop-Up payment option is one way to hedge your bets about the future. Like Joint Allowance options, these plans allow you to provide a lifetime payment for a beneficiary after your death. But if your beneficiary dies before you, your future monthly payments would be increased to the amount you would have been receiving had you chosen the Single Life Allowance. (The pop-up only affects future payments. You would not be entitled to any retroactive payments.)

The monthly reduction in your benefit will be greater if you choose a Pop-Up option over a regular Joint Allowance.

Consider Your Decision Carefully

There are a number of factors that might influence your payment option choice. Your age and overall health, the age and health of your spouse, and your loved one’s access to other financial resources should all be considered.

If you choose one of the retirement options above, you only have 30 days after the end of your retirement month to change your option. After that date, you cannot change the option or beneficiary designation for any reason.

Other Death Benefits

Most NYSLRS retirees are eligible for a post-retirement death benefit if they retire directly from payroll or within one year of leaving covered employment. Eligibility depends on your retirement plan and tier. If you are eligible, your beneficiary will receive a one-time, lump sum payment. The amount of the post-retirement benefit is a percentage of the benefit available during your working years. For information about this and other potential death benefits, please visit our Death Benefits for Retirees page.

Find Out More

There are also options that allow you to leave a monthly payment to more than one beneficiary, and options that leave a benefit for a certain amount of time. Visit our Payment Option Descriptions page for details about all of the available payment options.

Most members can use Retirement Online to create a pension estimate based on the salary and service information we have on file for them. Go to the My Account Summary section of your Retirement Online Account Homepage and click the Estimate my Pension Benefit button.

Five and Ten Year Pension Payment Options

NYSLRS pension payment options are designed to fit your needs after you retire. Understanding these options will make it easier for you to choose the one that’s right for you.

While the basic option, the Single Life Allowance, would provide you with a monthly payment for the rest of your life, all payments would end at your death. Other options, in exchange for a reduced benefit, allow you to provide for a spouse or other loved one after you’re gone.

Five and Ten Year Certain options don’t provide a lifetime benefit for a beneficiary, but they have advantages you may want to consider.

pension payment options

How These Pension Payment Options Work

The Five Year Certain or Ten Year Certain options provide you with a reduced monthly benefit for your lifetime. If you die within the five- or ten-year period after your retirement, your beneficiary would receive pension payments for the remainder of the five or ten years. If you live beyond the five- or ten-year period, your beneficiary would not receive a pension benefit upon your death.

Let’s say you choose the Five Year option. If you die two years after retiring, your beneficiary will receive a benefit for three years. If you choose the Ten Year option, and die after two years, your beneficiary will get a benefit for eight years. In either case, your beneficiary would receive the same amount you were receiving, though they would not be eligible for any COLA increases.

Another feature of these plans is that you can change the beneficiary at any time within the five- or ten-year period.

Whatever your situation, you should review the payment options and choose carefully. Visit our Payment Option Descriptions page for details about all available pension payment options. For a better idea of how these payment options would work out for you and your beneficiary, try our online Benefit Calculator.

Where Are Your Important Documents?

We accumulate a lot of documents over a lifetime — things like birth certificates, diplomas, deeds, wills and insurance policies. If you’re like most people, you probably have papers stuffed in drawers, filing cabinets or boxes in the attic. If you ever needed an important document, do you think you could find it? What’s more, if you passed away, would your loved ones be able to find what they need?
where are your important documents?

Organize Your Important Documents

Important documents and contact information should be kept in a secure but accessible place in your home. This includes personal documents, such as your passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, will and burial instructions. You should also include information about your retirement benefits, income taxes, bank accounts, credit cards and online accounts. And don’t forget the names and phone numbers of your attorney, accountant, stock broker, financial planner, insurance agent and executor of your will.

To make this a little easier, we’ve developed a fillable form called Where My Assets Are. Fill it out, print it and use it to organize your important papers. It will help you or your loved ones locate these documents when they are needed. It’s a good idea to review and update this information regularly.

Be aware that if you keep a safe deposit box, it may be sealed when you die. Don’t keep burial instructions, power of attorney or your will in a safe deposit box because these items may not be available until a probate judge orders the box to be opened. However, a joint lessee of the box, or someone authorized by you, would be permitted to open the box to examine and copy your burial instructions.

Get Your Affairs in Order

Read our publication Getting Your Affairs in Order and A Guide for Survivors for guidance about preparing your survivors, organizing your files, and who to contact if a loved one dies.

Your Checklist to Apply for Retirement

After months of planning and preparation, you’re ready to apply for retirement. To get your NYSLRS  pension benefit, you need to send in an application. Let’s look at what you should include with the form to help make the retirement process go more smoothly.

Filling Out the Retirement Application

Unless you’re filing for a disability retirement, you’ll need to fill out the Application for Service Retirement (RS6037). As you fill out the form, make sure you:

  • Know your registration number. You can find it on your most recent Member Annual Statement or retirement estimate.
  • Know your past employment. To help ensure you receive the proper credit for your public service, please list your public employment history. Include any military service and memberships in other New York public retirement systems.
  • Include your beneficiary’s information. You won’t make an official beneficiary designation with this form, but including these details will help us give you specific amounts for the pension payment options  that offer a lifetime benefit for a beneficiary.
  • See a notary. The form must be filled out completely and signed by a notary public.

Proof of Birth

Make sure we have proof of your birth date. You can send it with your retirement application or before or after, but we cannot pay pension benefits without it. We accept photocopies of the following as proof:

Other Forms

Option Election

You’ll need to choose your pension payment option, or how you want your pension paid. Option election forms are available on our website, but we will also send you a form after we process your application. If you choose an option that provides your beneficiary a lifetime pension benefit when you die, you must provide proof of your beneficiary’s birth date.

Federal Income Tax Withholding

Your NYSLRS pension isn’t subject to New York State income tax, but it is subject to federal tax. You can fill out a W-4P form  any time to tell us how much to withhold from your monthly benefit. We don’t withhold income tax for other states. Visit the Retired Public Employees Association’s website to see whether your benefit will be taxed in another state.

Direct Deposit

Direct deposit is the fastest and most secure way to receive your pension benefits. You can enroll in our direct deposit program when you file for retirement. Just fill out a Direct Deposit Enrollment Application (RS6370), and return it to us.

Domestic Relations Order

If an ex-spouse is entitled to part of your pension, you should send us a copy of your domestic relations order (DRO) as soon as possible. The DRO gives us specific instructions on how to divide your benefits. We cannot finalize your pension until we review it and calculate the court-mandated distribution of your benefit. For more detailed information, please read our Guide to Domestic Relations Orders.

Questions

If you have other questions about applying for retirement, read our publication, Life Changes: How Do I Prepare to Retire? or contact us.