Pensions Plans: Survivor Benefit Coverage for Wives Increased After 1984 Pension Law.
GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE WASHINGTON DC HUMAN RESOURCES DIV
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This report responds to your request for information on survivor pension benefits for widowed individuals. Survivor benefits generally provide lifetime pension income to spouses of deceased pension retirees. A major goal of the 1984 Retirement Equity Act REA was to improve wives access to survivor benefits. The law required private-sector employers to obtain written consent from spouses of retiring workers who decided not to retain a type of pension benefit payment-a joint and survivor Js annuity-that would automatically provide their spouses with a survivor benefit. We agreed to determine 1 the prevalence of survivor pension benefits, 2 the relative size of survivor benefits received by widowed men and women, 3 the rate at which married pension retirees are retaining a JS annuity, and 4 whether the rate of JS annuity retention changed since REAs enactment. Because of your interest in pension issues affecting women age 65 and older, we highlighted this group in reporting our results. In 1989, about 3 million widowed Americans age 65 and over, or about 1 of 4 people in this population, received survivor benefits based on the pension of a deceased spouse. Women comprised virtually all benefit recipients and received on average about twice the benefits of men with survivor benefits. Although most of these women also received social security, they were far less likely to have a pension based on their own employment. For many widows, survivor benefits from their husbands pension plan constituted a significant part of the retirement income received from employment-based sources. Millions of spouses will receive survivor benefits if they outlive married retired workers. As of 1989, about 3 of 5 million pensioners 60 percent had retained the Js annuity. KAR p. 2
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