FAQ Beneficiaries

Frequently Asked Questions:  Member-Survivor Benefits and Beneficiaries

In the event that an active member dies prior to retirement, one of two alternative benefits is provided to the appropriately named beneficiary(ies) of the member.  These benefits do not apply after a member has retired.

  1. A Member-Survivor (Option D) Beneficiary (provided under MGL (Massachusetts General Laws) Chapter 32, section (§)12(2)(d)) and;
  2. Lump-sum Distribution Beneficiaries (alternative benefit provided under MGL Chapter 32, §11(2)(c)).

Only one type of benefit will be paid out upon your death; an "eligible spouse" and/or "dependent children" have a superior right to receive the Member-Survivor (Option D) Benefit.

If there is no eligible beneficiary having the right to receive the Member-Survivor (Option D) Benefit, then a  Lump-sum Distribution of your Annuity Savings (your contributions plus statutory interest) will be paid according to your directives as specified on your "Choice of Beneficiary" form.  If you have not named any beneficiaries, the Lump-sum Distribution will be paid to your estate.

What is a Member-Survivor Benefit (also known as an Option D benefit)?

A Member-Survivor (Option D) benefit provides a monthly life-time benefit to a single individual, who is a surviving "eligible spouse" or other named Member-Survivor (Option D) beneficiary.  The benefit is calculated as if you, the member, had been at least age 55 and had chosen to retire under an Option C (Member-Survivor option) retirement allowance effective on the date of death.  The amount of the benefit depends on both your (member's) age and your survivor's age on the date of death.  Only one individual may receive the member-survivor benefit and a named survivor is limited to a spouse, child, parent, sibling, or a former spouse who has not remarried.  An eligible surviving spouse or dependent children supersede any other named beneficiary.  If the Member-Survivor benefit is elected, there is no payout of a lump sum distribution (11(2)(c)) benefit.

When is the Member-Survivor Benefit (Option D) paid?

If you have accrued at least two years of creditable service and you are actively employed and contributing to the retirement system or are on an authorized leave of absence at the time of your death, your "eligible spouse" or the legal guardian of any dependent child(ren) or your named Member-Survivor (Option D) beneficiary may be eligible to receive the Member-Survivor (Option D) benefit.

The member-survivor beneficiary is limited to one the following: a spouse, a mother, a father, a brother, a sister or a child or a former spouse who has not remarried. However, an "eligible spouse" and/or any "dependent child(ren)" have superior legal rights and may supersede any other named Member-Survivor.

What happens if I have less than two years of creditable service?

If you have less than two years of creditable service, the balance in your annuity savings account will be paid to your beneficiaries in a lump sum distribution according to your selection of 11(2)(c) beneficiaries.  If you have failed to nominate any beneficiary for an 11(2)(c) lump sum distribution, your annuity savings account will be paid to your estate.

Who may elect to receive a Member-Survivor (Option D) Benefit?

First, an "eligible" spouse and/or your dependent children have superior legal rights to receive the Member-Survivor (Option D) death benefit over any other named beneficiary.  An "eligible spouse" may elect to receive the Member-Survivor (Option D) benefit, whether or not he/she has been specifically named as the Member-Survivor (Option D) beneficiary.

If there is no "eligible spouse" or if an "eligible spouse" fails to elect receipt of the Member-Survivor (Option D) benefit, then the benefit will be paid to the named Member-Survivor (Option D) beneficiary, if any.

If there is no other "eligible" beneficiary named as the Member-Survivor (Option D) beneficiary, a lump sum distribution of the your (member's) annuity savings account will be distributed under § 11(2)(c) in proportionate shares as designated on your "Choice of Beneficiary" form for the  Lump-sum Distribution (§11(2)(c)) Benefit.

Who is an "eligible spouse"?

An "eligible spouse" is ...

One who has been married to the member for at least one year and is living with the member on the date of death; or

One who has been married to the member for at least one year and is living apart for justifiable cause other than the spouse's desertion or moral turpitude; or

One who has been married to the member for less than one year, but is specifically named as the Member-Survivor (Option D) beneficiary; or

One who has been married to the member for less than one year, but there are no other beneficiaries entitled to receive benefits under either section12(2)(d) member-survivor benefits or section 11(2)(c) lump sum distribution benefits.

Who is eligible to be named the Member-Survivor (Option D) Beneficiary?

A Member-Survivor Beneficiary is limited to a single individual who must be one of the following: your spouse, parent, child, sibling, or a former spouse who has not remarried.  No other individual nor any charity nor any institution is eligible to be named the Member-Survivor (Option D) Beneficiary.

Although you may specifically name someone other than your spouse as your Member-Survivor (Option D) beneficiary, an "eligible spouse" and/or any "dependent children" have superior legal rights that may supersede your chosen beneficiary.   This means that an "eligible spouse" or the legal guardian of your dependent children will be eligible to elect to receive the Option D benefit instead of your named Option D beneficiary.  If an "eligible spouse" declines or fails to make such an election, then the named member-survivor (Option D) beneficiary will receive the Member-Survivor allowance.

Naming a "contingency" beneficiary is not allowed under §12(2)(d).  A specifically named §12(2)(d) beneficiary may be overridden by an "eligible spouse".  And a specifically named §12(2)(d) beneficiary, other than a spouse, does not have an "election" for an alternative benefit under §11(2)(c) lump-sum distribution.

If I have an "eligible spouse", do I need to name a Member-Survivor (Option D) Beneficiary?

No, if you have an "eligible spouse", they are automatically entitled to elect to receive the Member-Survivor (Option D) monthly allowance whether or not they have been named as your Member-Survivor (Option D) beneficiary.  In fact, an "eligible spouse" and/or the benefit for "dependent children" will override any other named beneficiary.

If your "eligible spouse" fails to elect receipt of the Member-Survivor (Option D) benefit under §12(2)(d), a  Lump-sum distribution of your annuity savings will be paid according to your beneficiaries named under § 11(2)(c).

If you have been married for less than one year or you are not living together at the time of death, your spouse may not qualify as an "eligible spouse" with an automatic entitlement to elect the Option D benefit.  In such a case, you need to specifically name your spouse as your Member-Survivor (Option D) beneficiary, if you want them to be entitled to elect the Member-Survivor (Option D) benefit under §12(2)(d).

What happens if I have an "eligible spouse", but name another (mother, father, sister, brother, child, former spouse who has not remarried) individual as my Member-Survivor (Option D) beneficiary?

The legal rights of your "eligible spouse" are superior to any other named beneficiary.  Your "eligible spouse" is entitled to elect to receive the Member-Survivor (Option D) benefit even if you have named another.  Your named beneficiary will only receive the Option D benefit if your "eligible spouse" fails to elect to receive it.  Only one individual  is eligible to receive the Member-Survivor (Option D) benefit.

What happens if my "eligible spouse" does not elect to receive the monthly benefit under Option D?

If your "eligible spouse" does not elect to receive the monthly lifetime benefit (Option D) and you have another named eligible Member-Survivor (Option D) beneficiary, your named beneficiary will receive the monthly lifetime benefit under § 12(2)(d).

If your "eligible spouse" does not elect to receive the monthly lifetime benefit (Option D) and you have not named anyone else as your Member-Survivor (Option D) beneficiary, your annuity savings account will be paid in a lump-sum distribution according your designation of beneficiaries and proportions under §11(2)(c).

What if I want to allow my "eligible spouse" to choose between the monthly Member-Survivor (Option D) benefit and the  Lump-sum Distribution of my annuity savings?

If you name your "eligible spouse" as your sole beneficiary for a  Lump-sum Distribution under § 11(2)(c) and you have not named any other beneficiary as the Member-Survivor (Option D) beneficiary – Your "eligible spouse" would be entitled to elect the Member-Survivor (Option D) benefit even if you do not specifically name him/her as your Member-Survivor.  If you have not named anyone else as a beneficiary and your spouse chooses not to elect the Member-Survivor (Option D) benefit, he/she would then be entitled to the  Lump-sum Distribution of your annuity savings under §11(2)(c).

However, if you have named another beneficiary as the Member-Survivor (Option D) beneficiary or if you have named or included others as your Lump-sum Distribution (11(2)(c)) beneficiaries and your "eligible spouse" chooses not to elect or fails to elect the Member-Survivor (Option D) benefit, the benefit defaults to whomever is named as § 11(2)(c) beneficiaries.

What happens if I do not have an "eligible spouse", but I have a dependent child(ren)at the time of my death?

If you do not have an "eligible spouse", but have a dependent child(ren), the spousal benefit will be paid to the legal guardian of your dependent child(ren), in addition to a dependent allowance for each "eligible dependent child".   The benefit on behalf of your dependent child(ren) will be paid for as long as such child(ren) is under the age of 18 (or under the age of 22 if said child is a full-time student at an accredited institution).

The "legal guardian" must be so designated by the appropriate  court.  A custodial parent is not automatically a "legal guardian" entitled to the benefit on behalf of dependent child.

What happens if I do not name any beneficiary(ies) under either §12(2)(d) or § 11(2)(c)?

If you have an "eligible spouse" and/or "dependent children" at the time of your death, they automatically become entitled to elect the Member-Survivor (Option D) benefits.

If you do not have an "eligible spouse" and/or "dependent children" and you have not named any other beneficiaries under either §12(2)(d) or §11(2)(c), the distribution of your annuity savings account will be paid in a  Lump-sum to your estate.

However, if you choose to not name any beneficiary(ies), please complete the "Choice of Beneficiary" form indicating that it is your choice (rather than an oversight or missing form) by specifying your estate as your beneficiary.

What is an §11(2)(c) Lump-sum Distribution and when is it paid?

An 11(2)(c) distribution is a lump sum payment of the balance in your annuity savings account (your contributions plus statutory interest) to one or more named beneficiaries.  It is paid if you have no eligible beneficiary either named or otherwise entitled to receive the Member-Survivor (Option D) benefit under §12(2)(d).

Who can I name as my Lump-sum Distribution Beneficiary(ies) under § 11(2)(c)?  What are the limitations for 11(2)(c) beneficiaries?

Unlike the Member-Survivor benefit, there are no limits on whom or how many beneficiaries may be named for the 11(2)(c) lump sum distribution.  You may also name charities or institutions as beneficiaries for a lump sum distribution under section 11(2)(c).  And you may also name "contingency" beneficiaries in the event that your primary beneficiary is deceased at the time of the benefit distribution.

If naming more than one beneficiary, you may designate the percentage each beneficiary is to receive.  If percentages are not stipulated, an equal distribution will be made among the surviving beneficiaries.

If you fail to designate beneficiaries for a lump sum distribution under §11(2)(c) and you do not have an eligible Member-Survivor beneficiary under 12(2)(d), then the balance in your annuity savings account (§11(2)(c) lump sum distribution) will be paid to your estate.

How do I know who is recorded as my beneficiary?

First, when you enrolled and whenever you change your beneficiary, you will receive a letter of confirmation from the Hampshire County Retirement System (HCRS).  Second, annually you receive a statement of your annuity savings account balance which lists your named 11(2)(c) beneficiary(ies).  Third, you may request the information from our office and we shall respond to in writing.  Fourth, you can request a new "Choice of Beneficiary" form to either verify or change your named beneficiaries (even if you name the same beneficiaries as already recorded) and/or percentages of distribution.

Although you may or may not have named a beneficiary under §12(2)(d), the term "Beneficiary of Record" as used in MGL Chapter 32 (retirement law) refers to your named beneficiary(ies) under §11(2)(c).

Can I change my beneficiary designation? How often may I change my beneficiary?

Yes – you can change your beneficiary at any time and as often as you wish.  However, to do so you MUST submit your request on a specific "Choice of Beneficiary" form. No other form of request will be accepted and no change in beneficiary will be effective until we receive the specified form.

You should periodically review your beneficiary designation(s) to make sure that we have a correct record of your beneficiaries according to your current wishes.  You should also submit a new "Choice of Beneficiary Form" whenever you have a life-changing event such as marriage, divorce, birth of child, or death of a named beneficiary, which may also change your wishes as to whom is eligible to receive benefits in the event of your death prior to retirement.

What does my beneficiary(ies) need to do to claim his or her benefits?

Your primary beneficiary should contact our office and speak to a representative in our office. He or she will be required to complete a basic claim form and submit it along with a copy of your death certificate. If applicable, we may require that your beneficiary also submit a copy of your marriage certificate, military discharge record (DD214) and/or certified birth records for you, your spouse and your dependent children. We will then let your beneficiary know what the next steps are and whether we need any additional documentation.

Also, when we become aware of your death, we will attempt to contact your primary beneficiary to notify them of their benefits and what they need to do to claim their benefits.  Please make sure that you provide us with the social security number(s) of each beneficiary.  As years go by, beneficiary addresses and names may change, without their social security number we may not otherwise be able to identify or locate them in the event of your death before retirement.

Why must I provide my beneficiary(ies) social security numbers and dates of birth?

It is common for beneficiaries to change names and addresses over time. At the time of your death, it is quite likely we will not have up-to-date contact information for one or more of your beneficiaries.   Social security numbers and dates of birth are often the only way we can locate and verify the identity of your beneficiaries.

What if I still have questions about whom I may name as beneficiaries?

Contact the Hampshire County Retirement System (HCRS) at (413) 584-9100.  We will be happy to assist you.  You may also email us at info@hampshireretirementma.org.

See: Survivor's Guide (Members Prior to April 2, 2012) or Survivor's Guide (Members on or after April 2, 2012).