Survivor Benefit Plan and Remarriage

I receive a surprising number of emails from military widows and widowers who are receiving Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuity payments, and don’t know what will happen if they remarry.  Thankfully, the rules for this situation are clear and uncomplicated.  It’s always nice when that happens.

If a SBP recipient remarries after age 55, there is no change to his or her benefits.

If a SBP recipient remarries prior to age 55, SBP payment stop.  They may be restarted if the subsequent marriage ends due to death, divorce, or annulment (pretty much any reason.)  A friend of mine falls into this category, and she has successfully had her benefits reinstated.

There is always some frustration about these rules, but this is the way that they have been for a very long time.  There are regularly various groups trying to have the rules changed.  I can not speculate whether any of these efforts will ever be successful.

There are also complicating factors with the SBP-Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) offset, but these do not change the general rules.

The SBP is a premium-based annuity, very similar to an insurance policy, designed to replace a portion of a military retirees income after their death.  The retiree pays premiums from their military retirement pay, and covered beneficiaries may receive up to 55% of retirement pay after the death of the service member.  This is important coverage because military retirement pay ends with the death of the retiree.

Some people dislike SBP because if the ways that it mimics insurance:  there is no payout of the covered spouse dies before the retiree (though SBP can be reinstated if the retiree remarries.)  Others are frustrated by the SBP-DIC offset mentioned above.

I contend that SBP is extremely affordable coverage that provides Cost-of-Living-Adjusted, lifetime income.  A similar commercial policy would cost substantially more, and would likely require medical qualification that could be problematic for many military retirees.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • KenLand

    Upon retirement don’t allow the transition point to force you to sign over the SBP if you don’t have to. If the divorce decree states the SBP goes to the ex and no election was made in a year, you are not obligated to give it to your ex.

  • Carolyn Jackson

    My husband and I were married almost twenty years before his death in 2005! He paid into survivors benefits, just as long. He died from service connected decease..Ireceived a couple of checks from survivors benefits, then came the letter telling me that the Va had told them I would be getting Dic and that I couldn’t receive both. They gave me back what they say he had paid in. But when congress overturned that decision about not being able to draw both,why were some widows able to get their survivor benefits the rest of us didn’t. I think they said to reinstate them. I haven’t remarried and I am still trying to get mine back.My husband paid for that extra security with his life. So I am trying to find someone to help me with this. Is there anybody else out there looking for help also? Maybe we can all get together and put an end to this madness.

    • Kate

      Carolyn, I can not speak to your exact situation because I don’t know your details. However, two organizations that are very active in this department are Gold Star Families and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). You may find more help and a way to advocate there.

  • richrojas

    Relative to topic at hand. My dad died in 1971, my mom has been collecting survivor benefits, and got like 400 dollars a month or so stipend she told me until she remarried a few months later. Then divorced 4 years later at 29 yrs old. And she filed and got the money again. “They” explain to me that it comes from the survivor’s social security payments? i don’t know. She’s collected that money ten times over. They didn’t have life insurance back then either, she told me….NO SGLI. The payments have just increased every year since then, so she’s sitting pretty. Some people may say, they shouldn’t have remarried, tough, but alot of widowers/widows remarried back then because they were lonely, naturally depressed and moved on out of desperation to the next thing so they can stop being reminded that they have been widowed, and because being single was not popular back then, and made a hasty decision to get married and would have other wise been denied the security they once had. Now that the majority of people in the US are single/divorced, like 51% (just google it) there are alot of divorced people whose former spouses have passed away and will not have child support paid, etc. because the new wife gets it. Depend and plan on life insurance in the future on your own dime, because you CANNOT in your lifetime hope for the government to change a policy. But you can publicize it, youtube it, make a documentary that goes viral to shed light on the issue to speed up the resolution. Because writing your congressman to get anything done has seemed to be a failure IMHO, unless you have a bankrolled lobbyist

    PS, Last army paycheck was a blog that was closed for comments..Because it doesn’t look positive to have a million bad experiences posted on here I guess. That would be evidence….yeah, still happening to Soldiers, and nothing done about it. No assistance from service relief organizations that i know of unless your homeless, because you are out. try to go to finance and ask? Can’t cause your out. Unless your homeless, which u can just go to HVAF.