Reporting a retiree's death: As soon as possible after the passing of an MTRS retiree or survivor benefit recipient, a family member or representative should report the person's death by calling our main office at 617-679-6877. We will request that a photocopy of the death certificate be provided to us via fax or mail. For additional information, please see Reporting the death of a benefit recipient.

Overview
For the surviving spouse
For the survivor of an Option A retiree
For the survivor of an Option B retiree
For the survivor of an Option C retiree
For the survivor of an Accidental Disability retiree
How to apply for survivor benefits


Overview

What types of retiree survivor benefits does the MTRS provide?

A survivor of a retired member may receive no benefit, a single lump-sum payment or a monthly member-survivor benefit. Whether a survivor will receive a benefit and, if so, what type, depends upon:

  • the particular retirement allowance option—Option A, Option B or Option C—that the member chose upon his or her retirement,
  • the survivor's relationship to the member,
  • the type of beneficiary the member specified and who the member named as a beneficiary on his or her MTRS Beneficiary Designation form, and
  • if the member retired under accidental disability, whether he or she applied for accidental disability benefits before or after November 7, 1996.

When the member retired, he or she chose one of three retirement benefit options. These options are different with regard to the amount paid to the member during his or her retirement and whether any benefits will be paid to someone else after the member’s death. In other words, the member determined whether and how we pay any survivor benefits.

What are the three retirement benefit options and what survivor benefits, if any, do they provide?

The three retirement benefit options are:

  • Option A: This option gives the retiree the highest possible retirement allowance; it does not, however, provide for any survivor benefit. If there are any benefits that were earned by the retiree in the month of his or her death, but that were not issued to the retiree, they will be pro-rated based on the number of days in the month that the retiree lived, and paid in a lump sum to either the retiree's designated month-of-death-benefits beneficiary or estate.
  • Option B: This option provides a retiree with an allowance that is generally 1% less than an Option A allowance. It also provides for a survivor benefit in the form of a lump-sum payment of the balance, if any, remaining in the member's annuity savings account. In most cases, the member's annuity account will be depleted 10 to 12 years after his or her retirement date.
  • Option C: While this option pays a retirement allowance that is generally 9–11% less than an Option A allowance to the member during his or her retirement, it provides a survivor with a monthly benefit for the rest of his or her life. The amount of the survivor's benefit is equal to 2/3 of the amount of the retiree's benefit at the time of his or her death.

How do I know which option the member retired under?

The MTRS has this information on file. It is also included on the Option Selection form that the member should have submitted to us at the time of his or her retirement; the member may have kept a copy of this form.

I am the survivor of a retired member. How do I know whether I am eligible to receive a survivor benefit?

You may be eligible to receive a survivor benefit if the member:

  • retired under Option B or Option C, and
  • named you as a beneficiary in his or her Beneficiary Designation form on file in our office.

If the member is an accidental disability retiree who applied for benefits prior to November 7, 1996, and you are the surviving spouse who was married to the retiree on the date of his or her retirement, you may be eligible to receive the minimum monthly spousal survivor benefit, currently $1,000 per month.

The member's regular retirement allowance payment arrived after he or she died. What should I do with this money?

The member is entitled to a retirement allowance through the date of his or her death; a designated Option B or Option C beneficiary is entitled to the survivor benefit, if any, from the day after the member's death. For example, if the member died on the 9th of a 31-day month, he or she is entitled to 9/31 of the monthly retirement allowance. If the member retired under Option C, the member-survivor benefit is then pro-rated from the 10th of the month.

Retirement benefits are paid for time already accrued. For instance, the allowance that the member receives at the end of January is the payment for January. Depending on the date of the member's death and when we are notified, however, it is possible that we might continue to send payments that the member is not entitled to. These payments must be returned to the MTRS.

If the member's retirement allowance is paid by:

  • a monthly check mailed to the member, any check(s) received after the date of death must not be cashed but must be returned directly to the MTRS. We will determine which portion of the payment represents benefits earned by the member from the beginning of the month through the date of death; this pro rata share of the member's retirement benefit will be paid to the member's beneficiary or to his or her estate.
  • direct deposit (electronic transfer) to the member's bank account, we will discontinue the automatic transfer as soon as we learn of the member's death and recover as much of the overpayment as allowable directly from the bank. We will determine the amount of any overpayment to the account and require reimbursement from the member's estate.

Please note that if any retirement allowance was paid to the member after his or her death, the MTRS must recover the overpayment before paying a survivor benefit. If necessary, such overpayment will be deducted from the lump-sum payment, if any, or the member-survivor monthly payment(s).


For the surviving spouse

I am the surviving spouse of a member who retired under a disability allowance. Is my benefit any different from that of the survivor of a "regular" retiree?

With two exceptions, no. Whether you are eligible to receive a survivor benefit and what type, if any, are determined according to the same criteria as for a survivor of a member who retired under a "regular" allowance. The two exceptions concern members who retire under accidental disability retirement.

  1. If the member dies as a result of the injury or condition that precipitated his or her accidental disability retirement, you may be entitled to accidental death benefits.
  2. If the member applied for accidental disability retirement prior to November 7, 1996, and you were married to the member on the date of his or her retirement, you may receive the minimum monthly spousal benefit, currently $1,000/month. Prior to November 7, 1996, accidental disability retirees could not select Option C; legislation that later allowed for the selection of Option C also provided a minimum monthly spousal benefit for surviving spouses of members who applied for benefits prior to November 7, 1996.

Will I be eligible to receive group health insurance coverage?

As the surviving spouse of a retired member, you may be eligible for group health insurance benefits. Any health insurance benefit that you may be entitled to will be administered under the insurance program that your spouse was eligible to join upon his or her retirement.

The group health insurance of our retired members is administered in two ways: by the Commonwealth's Retired Municipal Teachers' (RMT) Program and by the member's former employer. If the member's former school district is included in the list of school districts participating in the RMT Insurance Program, your health insurance will be administered by the RMT Program. If not, it will be administered by the member's former employer.

  • The Retired Municipal Teachers' Program: If the member retired from one of the school districts that has opted to join the Commonwealth's Retired Municipal Teachers' Program, his or her health insurance benefits were administered by the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission after retirement. If your spouse retired from one of these districts, you should contact the Group Insurance Commission at 617-727-2310,
    ext. 804: to report your spouse's death and to request an application form for survivor health and life insurance benefits;
    ext. 806: to request general information regarding eligibility and benefits.
    If you are eligible for group health insurance benefits under the RMT Program and you:
    ■ will be receiving a monthly survivor benefit from the MTRS, your insurance premium will be deducted by the MTRS from your monthly survivor allowance.
    ■ will not be receiving a monthly survivor benefit from the MTRS, you will pay your insurance premium directly to the Group Insurance Commission.
  • Member's Former Employer: If your spouse's school district is not included in the list of school districts participating in the RMT Program, you should contact the local insurance administrator for this school district for information concerning your benefits.
    If you are eligible to receive your health insurance from this school district and you will be receiving a monthly survivor benefit from the MTRS, you have the option of having your premium deducted from your monthly allowance. If, however, you choose not to have this deduction taken from your survivor allowance, or you will not be receiving a monthly benefit from the MTRS, you must pay your premium directly to the school district insurance administrator.

For the survivor of an Option A retiree

I am the surviving spouse of a member who retired under Option A, which does not provide for any survivor benefits. Are there any circumstances under which I could still receive a survivor benefit?

Yes. If your spouse retired under Option A and died within 30 days of his or her effective date of retirement, you may be eligible to receive a monthly survivor benefit. The amount of the monthly survivor benefit is equal to the allowance that the member would have received if he or she had retired under Option C.

I am the survivor of a member who retired under Option A; there is no surviving spouse or dependent children. Are there any circumstances under which I could still receive a survivor benefit?

No. Option A provides the maximum amount payable during the member's retirement; it does not provide for any survivor benefits.


For the survivor of an Option B retiree

What is a lump-sum benefit?

A lump-sum benefit is a single, one-time payment to the survivor beneficiary or beneficiaries and constitutes the entire benefit. The amount of the benefit is the total balance, if any, remaining in the member's annuity savings account, which contains all of the contributions and interest credited as of the member's date of death. There are no restrictions on who may be named a lump-sum beneficiary and a member may name more than one individual to receive a percentage of his or her account.

How is the amount of my lump-sum benefit determined?

Under Option B, the lump-sum benefit is equal to the balance remaining in the member's annuity savings account, if any, at the time of his or her death.

As you may know, each member of the Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement System contributes a percentage of his or her salary to the system while he or she is employed. These contributions, plus any interest which may accumulate on these contributions, are deposited into an annuity savings account established in the member’s name and maintained by the MTRS.

When a member chooses to receive an Option B retirement allowance, he or she is selecting an allowance that is approximately 1% less than the maximum amount he or she could have received under Option A—but he or she is also providing a potential benefit payable to a survivor or survivors after death.

During the member's retirement, the balance in the annuity savings account decreases each month by an amount equal to the monthly annuity portion of the member's retirement allowance. In most cases the annuity account will be depleted within 9 to 11 years after the member's date of retirement. For all intents and purposes, this recordkeeping is "invisible" to the member and the reductions do not affect the member's monthly retirement payments. Upon the member's death, the balance remaining in the account is paid in a lump sum to the beneficiary or the estate.

If the annuity account is depleted while the member is receiving his or her retirement allowance,

  • the member will still continue to receive his or her full Option B pension amount for life but
  • the beneficiary will not receive any payment upon the member's death.

How long does it take before I receive my lump-sum benefit?

In order for the MTRS to begin to process your claim for benefits, you must complete an application form that we will provide to you. This form, along with a copy of the member's death certificate, must be submitted to us. You can expect your lump-sum payment approximately 60 to 90 days after we receive your complete documentation.

I am the surviving spouse of a member who retired under Option B, which provides only for the lump-sum payment of the balance, if any, remaining in the member's annuity savings account. Are there any circumstances under which I could receive a monthly survivor benefit instead?

Yes. If your spouse retired under Option B and died within 30 days of his or her effective date of retirement, you may be eligible to receive a monthly survivor benefit. The amount of the monthly survivor benefit is equal to the allowance that the member would have received if he or she had retired under Option C.

What happens if the Option B retiree failed to designate a beneficiary or if the individual designated by the member on his or her MTRS Beneficiary Designation form is deceased?

If the member failed to designate a beneficiary for his or her survivor benefit, or if the individual designated by the member is deceased, then any amount that remains in the member's annuity savings account at the time of his or her death will be paid in a lump sum to the administrator or executor of the deceased member's estate. In order for the MTRS to process a payment to an estate, we must have a copy of both the member’s death certificate and the administrator's or executor's official Letter of Appointment from the Probate Court. If an administrator or executor has not been appointed by the Probate Court, the member’s heirs must sign a Release of Claim form which designates the individual who will receive the lump-sum payment.

Is my lump-sum payment taxable?

Yes. There are very specific guidelines regarding how this payment is taxed and we have addressed them in our publication What You Need to Know as the Recipient of a Lump-Sum Payment.


For the survivor of a Option C retiree

What is a member-survivor benefit?

A member-survivor benefit is a monthly payment made to a survivor for life. Upon the retiree's death, the individual named as a member-survivor beneficiary will receive a monthly survivor benefit for the rest of his or her life. A member may name only one person as a member-survivor beneficiary and this person must be the member's parent, spouse, sibling, child or former spouse who has not remarried.

How is the amount of my member-survivor benefit determined?

Under Option C, the member-survivor benefit is equal to two-thirds of the amount of the retirement allowance that the member was receiving at the time of his or her death.

How long does it take before I receive my first member-survivor payment?

In order for the MTRS to begin to process your claim for benefits, you must complete both the application form that we will provide, and the Internal Revenue Service's form W–4P. These forms, along with a copy of the member's death certificate must be submitted to us before we can issue your first payment. If these forms are returned in a timely fashion, we will make every effort to ensure that you receive your first member-survivor benefit payment by the last day of the month following the month of the member's death.

I am the beneficiary of a member who retired under Option C, which provides only for the payment of a monthly allowance. Are there any circumstances under which I could receive a single lump-sum benefit instead?

No. If you are designated as the member's Option C beneficiary, you must receive a monthly member-survivor benefit.

What happens if the individual designated as the beneficiary by the member on his or her MTRS Beneficiary Designation form is deceased?

If the individual designated as the Option C beneficiary by the member is deceased, no survivor benefits will be paid after the member's death. The Option C survivor benefit can only be paid to the individual designated by the member as the Option C beneficiary, and the member has only one opportunity—at the time of his or her retirement—to designate this individual. If the original Option C beneficiary dies before the member, the member is precluded from naming another person as the Option C beneficiary.

If the member's beneficiary predeceased him or her, the member would have been eligible to "pop up" to the higher Option A benefit amount for the remainder of his or her retirement.

I am the surviving spouse. If I remarry, will the amount of my monthly member-survivor benefit be adjusted?

No. Remarriage has no effect on the amount of the Option C survivor allowance that you receive. You will receive your monthly benefit for life.

Will I have to pay federal taxes on my member-survivor benefit?

Yes. How you calculate your tax liability depends on the retirement date of the deceased member. Different methods of calculation apply to different dates of retirement. The Form 1099–R that you receive from the MTRS in January of each year will set forth the amount of your benefit that is taxable according to the method that is applicable to you.

For information on which method of calculation applies to you, contact your local IRS office, visit the IRS online at www.irs.gov, refer to IRS Publication 575 or discuss this with your accountant or other expert in the area of federal taxation.

Can I have federal income taxes deducted from my member-survivor benefit?

Yes. The MTRS is required by federal law to withhold federal taxes from all survivor allowances unless a survivor notifies us in writing that he or she does not wish to have taxes withheld. As part of our processing of your claim, we will send you our Substitute Form W–4P. This form asks you to indicate the amount of tax that you wish to have withheld. Before you receive your first payment, you must complete and return this form to us. If we do not receive your form W–4P, we are required to withhold taxes as if you are a married person with three exemptions.

Will I have to pay state income tax on my member-survivor benefit?

Not in Massachusetts. Member-survivor benefits are exempt from taxation by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; however, if you live in another state, you may be required to pay income tax on your benefit (see Massachusetts Department of Revenue's information on how other states treat out-of-state government pensions for tax purposes).

Will the MTRS contact me to see if I continue to be eligible to receive a member-survivor benefit?

Yes. Massachusetts retirement law requires that all individuals receiving retirement, disability or survivor benefits file an affidavit verifying their eligibility to receive a benefit. Periodically, the MTRS will contact you and ask you to sign a Benefit Verification form, under the penalties of perjury, declaring your continued eligibility to receive your member-survivor benefit.

Are there any situations in which the MTRS would reduce or suspend my member-survivor benefit?

In most cases, no; the monthly benefit that you receive from the MTRS is a lifetime benefit. Some exceptions may apply to spouses and dependent children of an accidental disability retiree.

Are there any situations in which the MTRS would increase my member-survivor benefit?

Yes. Cost-of-living adjustments are granted to retirees and survivors on an ad hoc basis by a vote of the Massachusetts Legislature. A retiree is eligible to receive a cost of living adjustment, if any, in the second fiscal year following his or her retirement date; if the retiree has already completed this eligibility period, then the survivor is eligible for any cost of living adjustments immediately upon their being granted by the Legislature.

How is my member-survivor benefit actually paid to me?

You must receive your monthly member-survivor benefit payments by electronic transfer (also known as "direct deposit") to your bank checking or savings account. You may change the bank account to which payments are deposited at any time by submitting a new Direct Deposit Authorization form.

Will my member-survivor benefit continue to be paid to someone else after I die?

Possibly. In most instances, your member-survivor benefit may be paid only to you and ends upon your death. However, if:

  • you are the surviving spouse of an Option C retiree and
  • you have been receiving Option C benefits and
  • you and the deceased member leave children under the age of 18,

then your member-survivor benefit will continue to be paid, in equal shares, to your minor child until he or she reaches age 18. Payment will be made to the guardian of each child for his or her benefit.


For the survivor of an Accidental Disability retiree

If my spouse was receiving an accidental disability retirement and died as a result of a work-related injury, does the MTRS provide any type of accidental death benefits?

If your spouse died as a result of the injury or condition that was the basis for his or her accidental disability retirement, you may be eligible to receive accidental death benefits. If the Board grants you accidental death benefits, you will receive a monthly accidental death survivor benefit. The amount of your monthly accidental death survivor benefit will equal the pension portion of your spouse's accidental disability benefit. You will receive this benefit for the rest of your life. In addition, you will receive:

  • a refund of the amount of the member's contributions, if any, remaining in his or her MTRS annuity savings account, and
  • an annual benefit per unmarried child under age 18, or age 22 if a full-time student. As of July 1, 2017, the annual benefit for eligible children was $897.72. Children who are physically or mentally incapacitated and unable to be financially self-supporting on the member's date of death will receive a lifetime benefit.

If your spouse died but not as a result of the injury or condition that was the basis for the accidental disability retirement, your survivor benefits, if any, will be governed by the survivor option selected by your spouse at the time of his/her retirement. (Exception: If your spouse applied for accidental disability benefits before November 7, 1996, and you were married to him or her on the date of retirement, you may be eligible to receive the minimum monthly spousal benefit, currently $1,000/month.)

How do I apply for accidental death benefits?

If you wish to apply for accidental death benefits, please contact the Retiree Services Unit of the MTRS's main office. Because this is a complex process, we ask that you first speak to one of the representatives from this unit to ensure that you are aware of the issues involved and that your case is handled in the most appropriate way.

Upon request, we will send you an Application for Accidental Death Benefits, which you must complete and return to our office to initiate the claim process. Along with your application you will be required to supply additional materials that support your claim that your spouse died of work-related injuries.


How to apply for survivor benefits

What must I do in order to apply for survivor benefits?

You must first report the death of a benefit recipient to the MTRS. In order for the MTRS to begin to process your claim for benefits, you must complete and submit an application that we will provide to you. After we have received your completed application form and the required documents, we will review your claim and let you know what the next steps are and whether you must complete any other forms. Please be aware that, along with your application, you must submit a copy of the retired member's death certificate (this does not need to be a certified copy).