survivor benefit plan paperwork

What is a Survivor Benefit Plan, and How is it “Divided?”

The Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) is an annuity plan to provide an income source to a surviving spouse upon the death of a service member.  The SBP is not a free program, in fact, you must pay a monthly premium based on the “base amount” or benefit level elected.

When can I get the Survivor Benefit Plan?

SBP is a service member benefit at retirement that can be established by the military member for the benefit of a spouse and/or child(ren).  If you are a qualified, married service member, you cannot decline this benefit without the written consent of your spouse.

How much coverage can I leave my beneficiaries?

If you elect for your spouse to receive SBP benefits, your qualified beneficiaries can receive up to 55% of your retirement/pension payments.

Who can receive a SBP?

Your spouse, child(ren), spouse and child(ren), former spouse, former spouse and child(ren), or even an “insurable interest” such as a parent or business partner can be designated upon election of the SBP.

Why does it matter?

Upon divorce, your election of SBP may become part of your divorce decree and you may be required to provide coverage to your former spouse and/or child(ren)when you are eligible.  HOWEVER, it is important to note that if your spouse was named as a beneficiary while you were married, their eligibility for SBP automatically terminates and you must covert the coverage of the ex-spouse to a “former spouse” status in order for that individual to get the benefit of your SBP.

What are the eligibility requirements for a former spouse/former spouse and child(ren) election?

For your former spouse to be eligible for the SBP, you must designate them as a beneficiary.  This election will prevent your current spouse from receiving any benefits upon your death.  If you are remarried when you become eligible for SBP, you do not need the approval of your new spouse to cover your former spouse if you have a valid support order designating your SBP to your former spouse.  It important to note that if you, as a member, agree to designate your former spouse as your SBP beneficiary, your current spouse will receive none of your SBP benefits upon your death.  Also, if you are not married to your former spouse when you become eligible for the SBP, you and your former spouse must have been married for one year in order to elect your former spouse as a beneficiary of your SBP.  This election must be accomplished within one year of your divorce decree.

For an election of benefits designated to your former spouse and child(ren), eligibility will follow the previously explained process for a former spouse, but provides for your child(ren) if your former spouse dies or becomes ineligible to receive benefits due to a remarriage before attaining the age of 55.  After election, if your former spouse is ineligible, your child(ren) will receive the full SBP benefits as long as your child(ren) meet(s) the eligibility requirement for a child(ren) only designation.

Can I request coverage from my former spouse’s SBP on my own?

Yes.  If you have a valid court order that designates you as the beneficiary for ex-spouse’s SBP, you can submit your own request to Defense Financing and Account Services (DFAS) for former spouse SBP coverage (a.k.a. “deemed election request”).  Even if you have been divorced more than a year, as long as you have a valid order requiring former spouse SBP and that order was established within one year of your divorce, you can still submit a “deemed election request.”  Also, if you submit a “deemed election request within one year of the court order, then you do not have to wait for your ex-spouse to designate you as a beneficiary, you can do so yourself with your valid court order.

What if my divorce decree doesn’t address my SBP…can my former spouse make an election?

No.  If there is not a valid order directing that a former spouse election for your SBP be created, then anything to do with SBP is at your discretion.  If you already elected your former spouse to receive your SBP, you can change that without repercussion as long as you are not under a valid court order stating otherwise.  It is always best to seek legal counsel before you terminate a former spouse’s SBP election to ensure you are not violating the terms of your court order.

How long will my ex-spouse receive SBP benefits?

An eligible former spouse SBP beneficiary can receive benefits of your plan as long as they are alive.  However, if your ex remarries before attaining age 55, then coverage will be suspended and he/she will not get any further benefits unless the marriage terminates by death or divorce.

[There are slightly different rules for Reservists and members of the national guard.]

Who should I contact if I have further questions?

If you have questions or concerns regarding the SBP, please contact us at Holcomb Law at 757-659-1233 or at  You might also visit the DFAS SBP website directly or call them at 1-800-321-1080.