We’ve written before about how divorce may affect your pension benefit. However, NYSLRS members have other benefits besides their pension, and divorce may affect some of them as well.
NYSLRS must have an approved Domestic Relations Order (DRO) on file to pay benefits to the ex-spouse of a member. The DRO is a court order, issued after a final judgment of divorce, that gives NYSLRS specific instructions on how your benefits should be split.
Ordinary Death Benefit
A DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of your ordinary death benefit. This is the death benefit that would be payable to your beneficiaries if you die in active service (before retiring) so you should file the DRO with NYSLRS as soon as it’s officially accepted by the court. Be sure to choose additional beneficiaries for any remainder of the benefit and submit your changes to NYSLRS. (If your designations conflict with the terms of the DRO, the DRO will take precedence over any other beneficiary designations.)
Post-Retirement Death Benefit
Most Tier 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 members of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) are covered by a post-retirement death benefit. A DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of the benefit.
Accidental Death Benefit
Your accidental death benefit becomes available to specific beneficiaries if you die as a result of an on-the-job accident. Those beneficiaries are designated by law, and only those beneficiaries may receive this benefit — even if there is a DRO.
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. The ex-spouse’s share of the pension will also be reduced unless the DRO specifically provides that the ex-spouse’s share be calculated without reference to outstanding loans.
Occasionally, NYSLRS may refund a member’s contributions because of a tier reinstatement, membership withdrawal or membership transfer. Some members are eligible to make voluntary contributions and withdraw them as excess contributions. Generally, if a DRO doesn’t mention a contribution refund, the member will receive the full amount.
Divorce, Annulments, Separation and Your Beneficiaries
As of July 7, 2008, beneficiary designations for certain death benefits are automatically revoked when a divorce, annulment or judicial separation becomes final. If you are divorced, it is especially important to review your beneficiary designations to ensure your benefits will be distributed according to your wishes and your divorce agreement.
The best way to view and update your death benefit beneficiaries is by using Retirement Online. You can also submit a paper designation of beneficiary form. Visit our View and Update Your Beneficiaries page for more information and instructions. If you are already retired, visit our Death Benefit page for retirees for information about available death benefits and how to update your beneficiaries and their contact information.
Visit our How Divorce Can Affect NYSLRS Benefits page for more information, including how divorce can affect service credit, disability benefits or retiree cost-of-living adjustments.