Survivor Benefit Plan FAQs

Military funeral Familiy

SBP is a complicated program and their are numerous related questions. To make easier to find the answers, we have listed several commonly asked questions here.

General Questions About the Survivor Benefit Plan

Question 1. Upon my death how does my surviving spouse apply for SBP? Answer: After the finance center is notified of your death a SBP application form will be mailed to your surviving spouse.

Question 2. When can I count on receiving my monthly SBP annuity? Answer: If the administrative aspects are handled properly by DFAS and the potential SBP annuitant, the annuity will begin to flow continually about 45-60 days after the death of the retired member.

Question 3. I'm on active duty with more than 20 years of service creditable towards retirement. If I die before retirement, is my spouse covered under SBP? Answer: Yes. You are covered under SBP if you die while on active duty, are married, or have dependent children and have completed 20 or more years of active service, at time of death.

Question 4. I do not have a spouse and will elect child-only coverage. If I die while the children are still eligible for the annuity, how long will they receive the annuity? Answer: Children are paid the annuity in equal shares until they reach age 18 or 22 (if full-time students). An incapacitated child will receive the annuity for life without any reductions for Social Security, provided the child never marries. As each child reaches the age when entitlements no longer exist, the annuity is divided equally between the remaining eligible children.

Question 5. What is the minimum amount of retired pay I can choose to have my spouse's annuity based on? Answer: It can be any amount between $300 a month and full retired pay.

Question 6. How much of my military spouse's retired pay will I receive at his or her death if we participate in SBP at the maximum level? Answer: You will receive 55% of gross retired pay. There is no longer an offset for Social Security at age 65.

Question 7. If I'm receiving an SBP annuity and I remarry, is the SBP annuity lost forever? Answer: No. If remarriage occurs before age 55, the annuity is suspended and can be reinstated if the remarriage ends by death or divorce. If remarriage occurs at age 55 or older, the annuity continues uninterrupted for the duration of the spouse's life.

Question 8. Can a surviving spouse receive both the uniformed service SBP annuity and a civil service/FERS SBP annuity? Answer: Yes, provided the uniformed services member did not waive military retried pay for a combined civil service annuity.

Question 9. My military spouse died several weeks ago. As a retired officer since 1973, my spouse had been receiving a monthly retirement check. Will I continue to receive this, will it be totally discontinued or what? Answer: Your spouse's military retired pay stops as of the date of death. You will receive monthly survivor payments from the DFAS if your spouse elected an annuity for you under the SBP.

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Questions About Death, Divorce, and Remarriage

Question 1. Must I continue to pay SBP costs if my spouse dies? Answer: No. SBP spouse premiums are not owed for any month that you do not have an eligible spouse beneficiary. SBP spouse coverage is suspended (not terminated) upon receipt of notice that your spouse has died and must include a copy of the death certificate for the spouse. Upon receipt of the death certificate, SBP costs will be stopped effective with the first day of the month after the death of your spouse. SBP costs deducted from your retired pay, after your spouse has died, will be refunded after receipt of your spouse's death certificate. The amount refunded will be limited, if the death certificate is submitted more than 6 years after your spouse's death.

Question 2. If my spouse dies before me, do I get a refund for all the years that I paid SBP premiums? Answer: No. By law, SBP spouse premiums cannot be refunded for any period that you had an eligible spouse beneficiary.

Question 3. I understand that if my spouse dies, SBP premiums are suspended. What are my options if I remarry? Answer: If your SBP coverage is suspended due to the death of your spouse and you remarry, you have three options.

  1. Resume coverage. Your new spouse automatically becomes the eligible spouse beneficiary on the first anniversary of the marriage or upon the birth of a child of your new marriage, unless within one year after remarriage you elect not to provide spouse coverage, as provided in Option 3 below. You should provide DFAS with the name, social security number, date of birth, and the marriage certificate for your new spouse as soon as possible, in order to update your records and properly deduct SBP costs.
  2. Increase the level of SBP coverage. Upon remarriage you may increase the level of coverage up to and including full-retired pay, if you are currently providing less than maximum coverage. SBP elections become effective when your new spouse becomes an eligible beneficiary, and any increase in premium, plus interest, has been paid. If payment of cost plus interest is not completed before your new spouse becomes an eligible beneficiary, the election to increase the level of coverage becomes null and void and a refund of cost and interest associated with the new election and reinstatement of original election coverage occurs. 
  3. Terminate coverage. You may elect not to resume spouse coverage. If you elect not to resume SBP participation for your new spouse, your new spouse is notified and any SSBP coverage is terminated. An election to terminate spouse coverage must be made within one year of remarriage and is irrevocable. If your original SBP participation is for spouse and child, and you elect to terminate spouse coverage upon remarriage, your children continue to be covered.

Note: Any election under Options 2 or 3 must be in written form. Notice of remarriage as well as an election to increase coverage or to terminate spouse coverage may be submitted on DD Form 2656-6 .

Question 4. If my spouse has passed away and I have not remarried, will my children receive my SBP annuity when I die? Answer: Your children will receive the SBP annuity if you elected coverage for spouse and children and they are eligible "dependent child" beneficiaries at the time of your death. An eligible dependent child must be:

  1. Unmarried;
  2. Under age 18, or at least 18 but under 22 and pursuing a full-time course of study in a recognized educational institution, or incapable of self-support because of physical or mental incapacity, which existed before the 18th birthday or was incurred after age 18 but before age 22 while pursuing a full-time course of study; and
  3. A child of the member, including an adopted child, stepchild, foster child or recognized natural child. A stepchild, foster child or recognized natural child is eligible, so long as the child lived with you in a regular parent-child relationship.

Note: There are special rules that may apply to foster children, school attendance for students, and children serving on active duty.

Question 5. If I elected not to participate in the SBP for my spouse when I retired, may I elect spouse coverage now? Answer: No. If you were married at retirement and you declined SBP coverage, there is no authority to elect spouse coverage after retirement, unless Congress authorizes an open enrollment period. Your Service's official newsletter (Air Force's Afterburner, Navy's Shift Colors, Army's Echoes, Marine Corps' Semper Fi) will publicize open enrollment information if and when one occurs.

Question 6. I wasn't married when I retired, so I did not make an election under SBP. If I get married after retirement, may I elect coverage for my spouse under SBP? Answer: Yes. You may elect SBP spouse coverage for the first spouse you acquire after retirement. However, you must elect the coverage before the first anniversary of your marriage. Send a letter to DFAS (or use DD Form 2656-6 , referred to in Question 3 above) requesting SBP coverage for your spouse, and provide your spouse's name, social security number, date of birth and a copy of the marriage certificate. You should also certify that you have not been married from the date that you retired through the day before marriage to your current spouse. A valid election for SBP coverage will become effective on the first anniversary of the marriage. The SBP cost will start effective with the first full month after the first anniversary, if the marriage took place after the first day of the month. The SBP cost will start on the first anniversary, if the marriage took place on the first day of the month.

Question 7. My spouse and I didn't have any dependent children when I retired and I didn't elect child coverage. We now have a child. May I cover the child? Answer: Yes, you may elect to cover a child as long as you elect to cover the first child acquired after you retired, within one year of the child's birth or adoption etc. Subsequent eligible child beneficiaries will automatically be covered under SBP. You must provide DFAS with the child's name, social security number, date of birth, and if adopted, a copy of the adoption papers, within one year after the child is acquired. Evidence of the parent-child relationship is required in order to elect coverage for stepchildren or foster children.

Question 8. My divorce decree requires that I keep SBP coverage for my ex-spouse. What do I have to do? Answer: It is important to understand that your spouse's coverage under the SBP stops at the date of divorce, since the status as spouse ends on that date. Termination of the divorced spouse's eligibility is automatic under the law, even if the agency is not advised of your divorce. You should provide DFAS with a copy of the divorce decree, and a written request to change coverage to former spouse coverage. You may make a former spouse SBP election whether or not there is a provision in your divorce decree requiring you to do so. Any former spouse SBP election must be made within 1 year of the date of the divorce, whether voluntary or in compliance with a court order.

Question 9. I am the former spouse of a military retiree and our divorce decree requires the retiree to provide former spouse SBP coverage for me. Do I need to do anything? Answer: Yes. Since there is a provision in a court order or an agreement approved by a court order, which requires the member to make a former spouse SBP election, then you or your attorney should submit what is known as a "deemed election" request. In effect, you are asking that an election of SBP coverage be made on your behalf to guarantee compliance with the court order or agreement. The "deemed election" must be made within 1 year from the date of the court order or agreement that requires the military retiree to provide former spouse SBP coverage for you. Note: It is not enough for there to be a provision in a court order awarding the former spouse SBP coverage. Either the member or the former spouse must make a request to DFAS within the appropriate 1-year time frame in order for the former spouse coverage to be implemented. In addition, a former spouse may not deem an election if the member did not elect SBP coverage when the member first became eligible to participate in the SBP program. An exception to this rule would apply if the divorce decree and court order requiring former spouse SBP coverage are issued before the member retires. In that case, the deemed election must be submitted to DFAS within 1 year of the relevant court order or agreement even though the member has not yet elected to participate in the SBP. FAX: 1-800-469-6559

Question 10. Will my former spouse's SBP coverage be stopped, if I remarry, and want to provide coverage for my new spouse? Answer: It depends. If you voluntarily elected former spouse SBP coverage and there is no court order or agreement requiring former spouse coverage, then you may make a written election to change the coverage to your new spouse or dependent child anytime after you remarry or within one year of acquiring a dependent child. However, former spouse SBP coverage that is based upon a court order or written agreement cannot be stopped at your request alone. Court-ordered former spouse coverage may be changed to spouse coverage, only if you remarry, and you furnish DFAS a certified copy of a court order that modifies the provisions of all previous court orders and removes any requirement to provide former spouse SBP coverage. Former spouse coverage can also be changed if your former spouse dies.

If the former spouse SBP is based on a written agreement that has not been incorporated or ratified or approved by a court order, you must furnish DFAS a statement (in a format prescribed by DFAS), that is signed by you and your former spouse, which evidences your former spouse's agreement to an election change. In addition, you must certify either that the court order is valid and in effect or that the statement is current and in effect.

Question 11. What happens to my former spouse's SBP coverage if my former spouse remarries before age 55? Answer: The SBP coverage is suspended and cost deductions from your retired pay are stopped if your former spouse becomes ineligible due to remarriage before age 55. The former spouse's SBP coverage is considered suspended for as long as your former spouse's subsequent marriage remains in effect. If the subsequent, marriage is terminated by death, annulment, or divorce, your former spouse's eligibility is reinstated and SBP cost deductions would resume.

Question 12. My spouse and I were recently divorced. Will my SBP cost deductions stop? Answer: Yes. If you no longer have an eligible spouse beneficiary under SBP, upon receipt of a divorce decree, the costs will stop and your spouse coverage will be suspended.

Question 13. What options do I have if I remarry after my SBP spouse coverage has been suspended due to my divorce? Answer: See questions 8-10 regarding coverage for a former spouse. See question 3 regarding your options should you remarry.

Question 14. Can I receive SBP and Dependents Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from the VA at the same time? Answer. If the surviving spouse is awarded DIC by the VA based on the death of the same member who provided the SBP coverage, DFAS reduces the spouse's SBP annuity by the amount of the DIC award. 

  1. If the DIC payment offsets the entire SBP annuity, no annuity is paid and the SBP premiums for spouse coverage paid by the member are refunded to the surviving spouse.
  2. If the DIC payment is less than the SBP annuity, the spouse is paid an SBP annuity equal to the difference between the full annuity and the DIC.  A refund of SBP premiums is made based on the difference between the costs actually incurred and the costs that would have been incurred in order to provide the annuity payable after the DIC reduction.
  3. For example if the SBP is $2500, and DIC is $1250, the surviving spouse would get $1250 DIC and $1250 SBP.

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Election Options for SBP

Question 1. What categories of persons are eligible for coverage under SBP? Answer: Spouse; Spouse & Children; Children only; Former spouse, Former; spouse and children; or Persons with an insurable interest

Question 2. Are grandchildren eligible for coverage under the SBP Program? Answer: Yes, but only if documentation can be provided that substantiates that the grandchildren live with and are supported by the military grandparent. Note: This situation can become very technical. Discuss your specific situation thoroughly with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, Cleveland Center.

Question 3. What is an insurable interest election? Answer: This is an election that can be made by the unmarried retiree who might want to provide for a relative (including dependent children) or other person who could be hurt financially if the retiree dies.

Question 4. Although I am eligible to participate in SBP as a member of the uniformed services, does my nonmilitary spouse have any say in the election process? Answer: Yes. Your nonmilitary spouse can veto your election should you elect to not participate in SBP or elect not to participate at the maximum level. Every retiring member is automatically enrolled in SBP for full coverage unless the spouse consents in writing to reduced coverage or no coverage.

Question 5. If, as an eligible SBP participant, I elect not to participate (with my spouse's consent), can I participate at a future date subsequent to retirement? Answer: No. The election you make prior to retirement is irrevocable after you retire.

Question 6. Let's say I am an eligible SBP participant, married with children at the time of retirement, and, with my spouse's consent, choose children-only coverage. May I elect spouse coverage in the future or, should my spouse predecease me, for a new spouse acquired in the future? Answer: No. If you were married with children and elected (with the spouse's consent) children-only coverage, the current spouse or a new spouse can never be covered under the plan.

Question 7. If, as an eligible SBP participant, I am married with children at the time of retirement, and with my spouse's consent choose spouse-only coverage, may I elect child(ren) coverage in the future should my spouse predecease me? Answer: No. Once this election is made, it cannot be changed.

Question 8. I am on active duty and eligible for retirement. So is my spouse, who will eventually retire too. We have two young children. Should I choose spouse and children coverage at the time of retirement? Answer: Generally, you should elect child-only coverage. However, each situation in this category of marriage must be considered individually.

Question 9. I did not have any dependents when I retired three years ago. However, I have married recently. Is my spouse eligible for SBP coverage, and if so, when must I apply? Answer: Yes. Application must be filed with your DFAS within one year of the date you were married.

Question 10. I have elected SBP coverage for my mentally incapacitated son. I recently have been advised to consider having a court-appointed guardian designated. Can you comment on this? Answer: The Comptroller-General consistently has held such SBP payments should be made only to a court-appointed guardian when he annuitant is incapable of managing his or her personal financial affairs. However, Section 654 of P.L. 102-190, enacted on Dec. 5, 1991, authorizes the Department of Defense, like other federal agencies, to pay an annuity due to a minor or incompetent survivor of a military retiree under the RSFPP or the SBP to a representative payee, without requiring the payee to be appointed by a court. Guidance from the DFAS implementing this law includes (but is not restricted to) the following:

  1. An annuity may be paid to a third party on behalf of an incapacitated annuitant only if the third party has been appointed as guardian, custodian or other fiduciary pursuant to a state court order or has been designated a representative payee.
  2. The SBP/SSBP annuity due a minor, mentally incompetent or otherwise legally disabled person for whom a guardian or other fiduciary has not been appointed may be paid to a representative payee who, in the judgment of the service secretary concerned, is responsible for the annuitant's care. The representative payee is required to spend or invest the amount paid on behalf of the annuitant solely for the benefit of the annuitant. This includes any SBP/SSBP payable to the spouse or former spouse annuitant. The representative payee must certify that SBP (and SSBP, if applicable) payments received on the annuitant's behalf are used for the annuitant's benefit.
  3. An annuitant is determined to be incompetent if the service secretary concerned receives an actual determination of incompetence made either by a state court or by a physician or psychologist. A representative payee will not be established solely on the basis of a letter request from a third party that an annuitant is incapable of handling financial affairs.
  4. If a court order provides for payment of a fee to the representative payee or if the service secretary concerned determines that payment of a fee is necessary in order to obtain the fiduciary services of a representative payee, a monthly fee will be allowed. In such circumstance, a fee of 4 percent of the monthly SBP/SSBP annuity will be allowed, unless a court order dictate a less fee. In the case of a spouse or former spouse annuitant, the fee will be no more than 4 percent of the adjusted annuity - gross annuity less any DIC or Social Security offset reduction. Any court order that provides for a fee in excess of 4 percent shall be limited to 4 percent.
  5. In cases where it appears necessary to protect the annuitant, the service secretary concerned may require the payee to provide a surety bond in an amount sufficient to protect the interest of the annuitant. The representative payee may pay for such bonds out of the SBP annuity.
  6. The representative payee shall be required to maintain and, upon request by the service secretary concerned, provide a periodic accounting of expenditures and investments of amount give to the payee. If the representative payee is a close family member or a government or financial institution, this periodic accounting will not be required.

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Election Changes

Question 1. Can I terminate SBP spouse coverage after I retire? Answer: Yes. A member participating in SBP, whether an active duty or Reserve retiree, may submit a request to voluntarily discontinue participation in SBP during a one-year period beginning on the second anniversary of the date of commencement of retired pay. For the purposes of this policy, the date of commencement of retired pay is defined as the date the retiree became entitled to receive retired pay. Subsequent recall to active duty following retirement does not alter this date.

Question 2. Can an insurable interest election be changed? Answer: Yes, to cover a newly acquired spouse or child. The change must take place within one year after marriage or acquiring a child anytime during the same year. An insurable interest election can also be canceled at any time except for an insurable interest election that covers a former spouse. No refund of payments are made at any time if an insurable interest election is canceled.

Question 3. Can SBP coverage be terminated because of a service-connected disability rated as total by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the certainty of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) for my spouse being payable by the VA? Answer: Yes, with the consent of your spouse. In cases where DIC is involved (DIC reduces the SBP annuity dollar for dollar), if the DIC amount is more than the SBP annuity, the surviving spouse is entitled to a refund of all SBP payments. If SBP exceeds the DIC amount, the surviving spouse will receive the difference between the SBP annuity and DIC, plus a refund of SBP payments for that portion of the SBP annuity not received.

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SBP Premiums

Question 1. How do I compute SBP costs where a spouse-only coverage is elected at the maximum amount? Answer: The cost for spouse-only coverage is 6.5 percent of gross military retired pay if the maximum election is made.

Question 2. If I elect less than gross military retired pay, how are the monthly costs calculated? Answer: The cost is 6.5 percent of the coverage amount..

Question 3. How is the monthly cost calculated for child(ren) coverage? Answer: Additional costs of children are based on the age of the youngest child and the ages of both spouses and therefore varies. Example: Retiree, age 43, spouse age 41, and a youngest child 10, the monthly cost factor is .00055. Multiply this factor by the base amount and you get the additional cost for child coverage. As you can see, child cost is minimal and should never be turned down.

Question 4. How are costs for an insurable interest election calculated? Answer: The cost for an insurable interest election is considerably more expensive it is 10 percent of the gross retired pay plus an additional 5 percent for each full five years the beneficiary is younger than the retiree up to a maximum of 40 percent of your gross retired pay.

Question 5. Are SBP costs affected by cost-of-living increases to military retired pay? Answer: Yes. SBP costs, as well as the value of the SBP annuity and the annuity itself, increase with cost-of-living increases authorized for military retired pay.

Question 6. Are SBP monthly premiums suspended when there is no longer an eligible spouse? Answer: Yes. The payments will start again on the one-year anniversary date of the remarriage when the new spouse becomes an eligible beneficiary, provided you do not withdraw from the program during this one-year period.

Question 7. I have waived my entire military pay in favor of VA compensation. I am enrolled in SBP and make direct payments to DFAS. Why can't I have the payments deducted from VA? Answer: You can. Section 503, P.L. 99-576 (Oct. 28, 1986) amended 38 USC 3101 by permitting VA to deduct SBP costs from VA compensation when military retired pay is waived for such compensation. Such a request must be made to the VA by the retiree.

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SBP & Taxes

Question 1. Should the cost (premium) of the SBP entered as a deduction on my federal income tax return? Answer: No. Form 1099-R issued to you by the DFAS will show your net taxable pay after deducting the SBP cost.

Question 2. I am eligible to receive an SBP annuity. Is it subject to federal income tax, and if so, how do arrange for a monthly tax withholding from my payment? Answer: Yes. Obtain Form W-4P from any IRS office, fill it out and send it to your DFAS.

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Question 1. My spouse and I were divorced recently. How do I stop deductions from my retired pay for SBP for which the former spouse no longer qualifies? Answer: Send a copy of the divorce decree to your DFAS. (In the event of a spouse's death, send a copy of the death certificate.)

Question 2. If I remarry, when will my second spouse be eligible for SBP? Answer: Upon remarriage your spouse will be an eligible beneficiary after you are married one year. An earlier date applies if a child is born sooner. However, effective Mar 1, 1986, a retiree remarrying has the option of not resuming this coverage. The member's new spouse must be notified and the option must be exercised within one year after remarriage. If you do not notify the DFAS of your remarriage, the new spouse will resume the same coverage as the previous spouse, and you will be liable for the payments from the first anniversary date of your remarriage.

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Survivor Benefits