Tag Archives: Death Benefits

Enhanced Death Benefit for Survivors of COVID-19 Victims

COVID-19 has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths across New York State. Sadly, the pandemic’s victims include NYSLRS members who carried out their essential duties despite personal risk.

The families of these selfless members can take some comfort in knowing that they may be eligible for enhanced death benefits. Recently enacted legislation provides certain beneficiaries of public employees who contract COVID-19 on the job and die from COVID-19 with an accidental death benefit.

father holding son

Most NYSLRS members are eligible for a death benefit if they die while in service; this “ordinary death benefit” provides a member’s designated beneficiary or beneficiaries a single, lump sum payment, worth up to three years’ salary. Alternatively, an “accidental death benefit” may be available to certain beneficiaries if the member’s death is a result of an on-the-job accident. The NYSLRS accidental death benefit is a pension paid to beneficiaries that are defined in statute, first to a surviving spouse, if no spouse to dependent children, then to dependent parent(s).

Generally, the accidental death benefit is equal to 50 percent of the member’s final average salary or last year’s salary depending on the retirement plan the member is enrolled in. You can find your retirement plan information on our Publications page. In addition to the accidental death benefit, a special accidental death benefit may also be payable to a member of the New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System.

“This new law is an important step toward protecting public workers who are on the front lines fighting the coronavirus and helping their communities,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. “If something happens to them, they deserve their retirement benefits and the peace of mind that their families are provided for.”  

Eligibility Requirements

A NYSLRS member’s statutory beneficiary would be eligible for the accidental death benefit if the member:

  • Worked at either their normal workplace or another assigned workplace, not their residence, as directed by their employer, on or after March 1, 2020;
  • Contracted COVID-19 within 45 days of the last day that the member reported for work;
  • Died on or before December 31, 2020; and
  • Died from COVID-19 or COVID-19 caused or contributed to their death.

The COVID-19 benefit also applies to members who were working as of March 1 but have since retired prior to July 1, 2020. If a member met the eligibility requirements above, but died after retiring, their statutory beneficiary will have the option of converting the service retirement benefit or disability retirement benefit to an accidental death benefit.

The COVID-19 benefit would be available for all NYSLRS members (Employees’ Retirement System as well as Police and Fire Retirement System members), regardless of job title, or tier. The legislation is effective through December 31, 2020.

How to Claim the Benefit

When someone calls NYSLRS to report a death, they should let us know it was COVID-related. We’ll also ask for an original death certificate. We will then reach out to the beneficiary to assist them in claiming the benefit. For the COVID-19 death benefit, NYSLRS will confirm with the employer the dates that the member reported to work and request the required documentation showing COVID-19 as the cause of death. The COVID-19 death benefit will be reduced by any ordinary death benefits paid out to a beneficiary by NYSLRS.

How to Read Your Retirement Plan Booklet

In an earlier blog, we explained how to locate your retirement plan booklet. Your retirement plan booklet is an essential resource that you should consult throughout your career. It will help you in planning for your retirement and guide you when your retirement date draws near. Today we discuss what information you’ll find in that booklet and what it means.

retirement plan booklet

About Your Membership

This section has information about your membership and tier status. Look here to find out if your plan requires contributions toward retirement, when you will be eligible for a retirement benefit, and how to withdraw your membership.

Service Credit

Service credit is one of the main factors in determining how much your pension will be. If you work full-time for the State or a participating municipal employer for 12 months, you’ll earn a year of service credit. If you work part-time, your service credit is prorated.

You’ll also find information about how your service credit is calculated, how to purchase credit for previous public employment and military service, how leaves of absence affect service credit, and how sick leave can be used for extra service credit at retirement.

Final Average Salary

Final average salary (FAS) is another major factor in determining the amount of your pension. Your FAS is your highest average earnings during a period of consecutive years. This can be three or five years, depending on your tier.

This section describes what types of payments are used in calculating your FAS and any limitations that may apply.

Service Retirement Benefits

This section describes your retirement eligibility and how your benefit is calculated. If you have questions about how much your pension will be, this is an important section of your retirement plan booklet to read through.

Choosing a Pension Payment Option

There are several ways you can collect your pension. Some payment options, in exchange for a reduction in your monthly payment, will allow you to provide for your spouse or other beneficiary after you die. When reading through this section, consider each payment option carefully, as you’ll only have a limited time to change it after you retire.

Items That May Affect Your Pension

This section describes different factors that can change the amount of your pension. For example, if you retire with an outstanding loan, your pension will be permanently reduced. Also, if you get a divorce, your ex-spouse may be entitled to a portion of your benefit.

A Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), on the other hand, could increase your benefit once you become eligible.

Vested Retirement Benefits

If you leave public employment before retirement age, but have met the minimum service requirement to receive a pension, you can apply for a vested retirement benefit when you become eligible.

Disability and Death Benefits

Your NYSLRS benefits include more than a pension. If you are no longer able to perform your job because of a medical condition, you may be eligible for a disability retirement. If you die before retirement, your survivors may be eligible for a death benefit.

Receiving Your Benefits

Before you can receive a retirement benefit, you must file the appropriate form with the Office of the State Comptroller. Here you’ll learn where to find the form and what deadlines apply.

Where to Find Your Retirement Plan Booklet

Look for your retirement plan booklet on the Publications page on our website.

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.

Prepare Your Affairs and Survivors

Much of the thought we put into financial planning and preparing for retirement is self-focused: How much do I need to retire? Am I saving enough? However, when we die, our survivors will have some important decisions to make about our finances. Putting our affairs in order now can make a difficult time for them a little less uncertain.
prepare your affairs and survivors

Organize Your Documents

The first step to putting your affairs in order is collecting all the assorted records, certificates and other paper work 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, financial planner, insurance agent or the executor of your will).

Our form, Where My Assets Are (VO1848), can help your survivors find these important documents. Fill it out, then review it and update it regularly.

Talk to Your Loved Ones

You may not feel comfortable discussing death with your friends and loved ones. However, all the preparation in the world won’t do you any good if you keep your plans a secret.

  • Once you’ve collected your files and put together a list, let your potential survivors know where it is. It’s important that they know where your assets and documents are.
  • Review your finances with your loved ones, including your children.
  • Make sure your beneficiaries understand that it can take up to 13 weeks between notification of your death and payment of any death benefit or the beginning of any continuing benefit (if you selected an option that provides a continuing benefit). Death benefits cannot be paid until we have a certified death certificate. Make sure we have correct addresses for your beneficiaries.
  • Discuss your funeral and burial preferences, and let your family know about any arrangements you have already made.
  • Work with an attorney to prepare a will or trust.
  • 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, be sure to name a guardian for them in the event of your death. If you have a child with a disability, it’s a good idea to consult a professional who can help you navigate complex Medicaid and Medicare rules. You may also want to consider the NY ABLE program.

Finally, let your potential survivors know about our publication, Getting Your Affairs in Order and A Guide for Survivors. The second half is full of guidance on what to do and who to contact if a loved one dies.

Divorce Affects Other NYSLRS Benefits

signing divorce documents

We’ve written here before about how divorce affects your NYSLRS pension, what a DRO is and why it’s required. However, NYSLRS members have other benefits besides their pensions. Divorce and DROs may affect some of them as well.

Ordinary Death Benefit

As with your pension, a DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of your ordinary death benefit. You should file the DRO with NYSLRS as soon as it’s officially accepted by the court. We will prepare a custom beneficiary form that complies with the DRO. Also be sure to choose additional beneficiaries for any remainder of the benefit and submit your changes to NYSLRS.

Post-Retirement Ordinary Death Benefit

Most Tier 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 members of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) are covered by a post-retirement ordinary death benefit. A DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of the benefit. You should file the DRO with NYSLRS as soon as it’s officially accepted by the court. Be sure to contact us to choose additional beneficiaries as allowed by the DRO.

Loans

NYSLRS members who meet eligibility requirements can borrow a certain percentage of their contribution balance. DROs may be written to prohibit members from taking future loans.

Outstanding loan balances at retirement reduce retirees’ pension benefits. Unless a DRO specifically provides that the ex-spouse’s share of the pension be calculated without reference to outstanding loans, the ex-spouse’s portion will also be reduced if a NYSLRS loan is not paid off before retirement.

Refunds

Occasionally, NYSLRS may refund a member’s contributions because of a tier reinstatement, membership withdrawal, membership transfer or excess contributions. If the member is divorced and NYSLRS has a DRO on file, the DRO will determine whether a portion of the refund must go to the ex-spouse. Generally, if the DRO doesn’t mention a contributions refund, the member receives the full amount.

Keeping Your Ex-Spouse as Beneficiary

A divorce, annulment or judicial separation removes a member’s former spouse as beneficiary of certain death benefits and retirement options, except as provided by the divorce judgment or decree, or a DRO. So, if you have gone through a divorce, annulment or judicial separation and you do NOT have a DRO, you must resubmit your beneficiary designation to NYSLRS to retain your former spouse as a beneficiary.

The easiest way to do this is by using Retirement Online, our secure, self-service web application. You can also submit a Designation of Beneficiary form.

Can I Change My Beneficiary After I Retire?

That depends. Some beneficiary decisions are irrevocable, while others can be changed at any time.

Some options, such as Five Year and Ten Year Certain, allow you to change your beneficiary after you retire. But if you choose an option that provides a lifetime benefit to a survivor, you cannot change your beneficiary even if your beneficiary dies before you do. For details, visit the Payment Option Descriptions page on our website.

But there are other possible death benefits for which NYSLRS retirees can name beneficiaries. Available death benefits and eligibility requirements vary by tier and retirement plan. You can find your retirement plan information on our Publications page.

NYSLRS retirees may have up to three types of death benefits that could provide a benefit for a beneficiary: pension payment option, survivor's benefit, and post-retirement death benefit.

When you retire, you must choose a payment option for your NYSLRS pension. If your choice is Single Life Allowance, there is no pension beneficiary. But other payment options provide a reduced monthly benefit in exchange for a possible payment to a beneficiary after the retiree’s death.

If you were employed by New York State, you may be eligible for a survivor’s benefit of up to $3,000. You do not need to sign up for this benefit; you are automatically enrolled if you are eligible. If you choose a pension payment option with a beneficiary, that person will also be the beneficiary for your survivor’s benefit. If your beneficiary dies before you do, you may select someone else as beneficiary for the survivor’s benefit. If you choose the Single Life Allowance option, you must name a beneficiary for your survivor’s benefit, and you may change this designation at any time.

What about after Retirement?

You may also be eligible for a post-retirement death benefit, which would be a percentage of the death benefit that was payable at retirement. (This benefit is generally not available to Tier 1 members or members in special retirement plans that allow for retirement after 20 or 25 years of service, regardless of age.) The beneficiary of your post-retirement death benefit does not have to be the same as your pension payment-option beneficiary. And you can change the beneficiary designation for your death benefit at any time.

The easiest way to check and update your beneficiary information for the post-retirement death benefit is with Retirement Online. You can also change your beneficiary by submitting a Designation of Beneficiary (RS5127) form.

Divorced? Some things to consider

Please note: If you are divorced, you may be required to choose a retirement option that provides continuing benefits to your ex-spouse after your death. Also, the beneficiary designation for certain benefits, including the survivor’s benefit, can be revoked when a divorce becomes final. For more information, please read the publication Divorce and Your Benefits on our website.

News You May Have Missed

Information comes at us fast these days. So, we thought we would say one last goodbye to 2017 with some news from your retirement system that you may have missed last year.

Investing in a Cleaner Future

The New York State Common Retirement Fund holds some $200 billion of assets in trust for more than a million NYSLRS members, retirees and beneficiaries. But, that’s not all it does. Here’s a look at how Comptroller DiNapoli is putting the Fund’s investments and influence to work — taking advantage of low-carbon investment opportunities and seeking improvements in the environmental practices of the companies in the Fund’s portfolio.

Read more …

Knowing Your Retirement Plan is the Key to Retirement Planning

We’re all NYSLRS members, but we’re spread out over two systems, six tiers and 346 retirement plan combinations. Here’s a look at why knowing your plan is so important when it comes to understanding your benefits and planning for retirement — and how to find yours if you don’t know it already.

Read more …

Choosing Your Pension Payment Option

When it comes to retirement, you have some decisions to make: whether to retire, when to retire, but also, how you want to receive your pension benefit. It’s an important choice, one which can affect both your own financial security and that of your loved ones. In this post, we break down your options.

Read more …

Help with Retirement Online

More than 100,000 NYSLRS members, retirees and beneficiaries are now using Retirement Online to review their NYSLRS benefits and conduct transactions in real time. If you’re one of them, but you’ve forgotten your password or your user ID, or if you want to register a trusted device, we can help.

Read more …

Know Your Benefits: Death Benefits

Another in our Know Your Benefits series. This time, we tackle death benefits. Most of us will leave our beneficiaries what’s called an ordinary death benefit if we die while we’re still working. We take a look at this and other common death benefits and how your survivors should file for them.

Read more …

From NYSLRS

10 Most Popular Posts of 2016

As we wrap up 2016, let’s take a look back at our most popular posts.

  1. NYSLRS Retirees at Home and Abroad

    Where did you go? Not far, it turns out. Seventy-eight percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries stay in New York State. However, the rest have made homes around the country and even around the world.

  2. How Full-Time and Part-Time Service Credit Works

    Work is work, and credit is credit. But, if you work part-time, there’s some math involved. We helped members crunch the numbers.

  3. NYSLRS Basics: Becoming Vested

    It’s all about becoming vested, earning enough service credit to qualify for a pension benefit — even if you leave public employment. We went through the ins and outs of becoming vested for members of both the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) and the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS).

  4. What to Know When Leaving Public Employment

    Even if you leave public employment, you’re still a NYSLRS member. We gave members a rundown on their options and how their benefits may change after moving to private employment before retirement.

  5. Taxes and Your NYSLRS Retirement Benefit

    You won’t need to pay New York State or local taxes on your NYSLRS retirement benefit, but other states and federal income tax are another matter. We gave members and retirees some insight into federal tax withholding and the 1099-R form.

  6. Your Checklist to Apply for Retirement

    Once you’ve earned the service credit, it’s time to get ready for retirement. We gave members a six-item checklist to make sure they’ve laid the groundwork for a smooth application process.

  7. Death Benefits for ERS Members

    We looked at the death benefit that Tier 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 ERS members in regular plans receive.

  8. Planning Around Your Retirement Date

    A solid lead up to retirement is essential, but picking the right retirement date is important too. We gave members some tips about when to submit their applications, how to pick a date and what their first benefit payments will look like.

  9. NYSLRS’ Top Five Retirement Myths from 2015

    NYSLRS members are spread out over two systems, six tiers and 346 retirement plan combinations. It can be easy for information to get jumbled between coworkers and between plans. So, we cleared up some common misconceptions we’ve heard from members and retirees over the years. This is an entry in our Retirement Myths series.

  10. Retirement Milestones for ERS Tier 3 and 4 Members

    The better you understand your road to retirement, the better you can plan for it. We took a look at the journey for Tier 3 and 4 ERS members and pointed out several retirement benefit milestones they’ll pass along the way. We also took a look at Tier 5 and Tier 6 member milestone, too.

NYSLRS’ Top Five Retirement Myths from 2015

Retirement Myths vs FactsFrom the day you become a NYSLRS member to the day you retire, you’re exposed to all sorts of retirement information. Unfortunately, sometimes what you learn can get jumbled along the way. We want to help clear up some common misconceptions we’ve heard from members and retirees over the past year. Here are the top five retirement myths from 2015:


Myth #1 “I’ll receive the full amount of my monthly retirement benefit when my payments start.”

Fact For the first few months of retirement, most NYSLRS retirees will receive partial payments while we finish calculating their final benefit. (We need to collect information on final payments and pensionable leave credits from their employers, a process that can take some time.) The partial payments are based on their most recent NYSLRS retirement estimate and usually make up 90 – 95 percent of their final benefit. Partial payments are paid by check and mailed to the address we have on file for the retiree.


Myth #2 “Family members always receive death benefits.”

Fact With the exception of accidental death benefits, NYSLRS members may name any person, trust, or organization as their beneficiary to receive death benefits. It doesn’t have to be a family member. Accidental death benefit recipients are outlined in the law.


Myth #3 “I can’t collect my pension until I start receiving Social Security.”

Fact Members can apply for retirement as soon as they meet the eligibility requirements of their retirement plan.


Myth #4 “NYSLRS manages my retiree health insurance.”

Fact NYSLRS does not administer health insurance programs for its retirees. We deduct premiums from a retiree’s monthly retirement benefit to pay for their health insurance if we’re told to do so by their former employer.

(If you have questions about your health insurance coverage or premium deductions, please contact your former employer. If you retired from a New York State agency, you can contact the New York State Department of Civil Service.)


Myth #5 “NYSLRS decides when there’s a retirement incentive.”

Fact This isn’t the case. The New York State Legislature (not NYSLRS) enacts retirement incentive programs. Incentives are approved by both houses and signed into law by the Governor. NYSLRS administers programs that are signed into law.


Check out your plan publication to learn more about your benefits. You can also visit our website for more information.

Reporting a Member’s or Retiree’s Death to NYSLRS

When a NYSLRS member dies, whether before or after retirement, it’s important that survivors report a member’s or retiree’s death to NYSLRS as soon as possible.

But long before that happens, you should talk to your loved ones and provide them with the information they’ll need when the time comes. Let them know your wishes, where to find important papers and what steps they need to take. And if your documents are organized and accessible, it will make things that much easier.

Our publication, Getting Your Affairs in Order and A Guide for Survivors, provides step-by-step guidance about what should be done now and after a member’s or retiree’s death.

Survivors can report a death by email, phone or mail. They will need to send us an original certified copy of the member’s death certificate regardless of how they notify us.

How Survivors Can Report a Death

To report a death by phone, survivors can call toll-free at 1-866-805-0990 (518-474-7736 in the Albany, New York area). Once they reach the call menu, they should press “2” to report the death and then press “1.” Their call will be transferred to a customer service representative, who will ask for:

  • The deceased member’s retirement, registration or Social Security number.
  • The date of death.

Please note: Our customer service representatives cannot release the identities of a member’s or retiree’s beneficiaries over the phone.

Survivors can also use our secure email form to report a member’s death. They should enter:

  • The deceased member’s NYSLRS information into the required fields. (If they don’t know the retirement or registration number, we will accept a Social Security number.)
  • The deceased member’s date of death in the Comment field of the form.
  • Their own address and daytime phone number in the Comment section in case we need to reach them for more information.

To report a death by mail, survivors should send us a completed Notification of Death (RS6082) form.

What Happens Next

Once we receive the death certificate, we will send beneficiaries or their certified representatives (guardians, powers of attorney, executors) information about death benefits and, if applicable, information about continuing monthly retirement benefits. We will also send them forms to complete. Beneficiaries should be aware that it could take three months from the date we are notified of the death before any death benefit is paid or any monthly benefit payment begins.

If a member is retired when he or she dies, we will stop payment of any outgoing pension benefits. Survivors should be aware that any uncashed pension checks in a deceased retiree’s name must be returned to us. We will automatically reclaim any direct deposit payments that went out after a member’s death.