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Designating your beneficiaries

New York Teacher

As a UFT member employed by the Department of Education, you possess a valuable financial asset by participating in a defined-benefit pension system and saving money in a tax-deferred annuity. That’s why it’s important to designate beneficiaries, keep your beneficiary designations current after life-changing events and make sure the latest contact information for your beneficiaries is on file with your pension system.

Your beneficiary for the Qualified Pension Plan (QPP) will receive up to three years of your salary plus your contributions to the pension system, while your beneficiary for the Tax-Deferred Annuity program will receive the money in your TDA account.

It’s in your best interest to designate beneficiaries. If you don’t have a beneficiary or beneficiaries on file, any benefits when you die would be payable to your estate and subject to the bureaucracy and delays of probate.

Over the years, we’ve found that the payment of death benefits is delayed when the pension system cannot locate beneficiaries. You can help your pension system — and your loved ones — by keeping your beneficiaries’ contact information up to date.

Do you know who your beneficiary is? If you are a member of the Teachers’ Retirement System, you can log in to your TRS account to find out, or you can find that information on any of the five account statements provided each year: the four Quarterly Account Statements and your Annual Benefits Statement.

Once you have beneficiaries on file, be sure to review them periodically, especially after life-changing events such as births, deaths, marriages and divorces. These milestones may change the way you want your benefits to be distributed.

You can choose an individual as your beneficiary or you can choose several beneficiaries who would share the benefits. You can also name “contingent” beneficiaries who would receive payment if all of your primary beneficiaries predecease you.

For each beneficiary, you’ll need to provide either a date of birth or a Social Security number. For foreign nationals, you can provide an International Tax Identification Number. The more information TRS has on file about your beneficiaries, the easier it will be to contact them when necessary.

You may also name a trust as a beneficiary, an option you might consider if you have young children or take care of a person with special needs. You’ll need to provide TRS with a copy of the trust document, which you can upload when you are logged in.

Charities may also be beneficiaries. If you choose a charity as your beneficiary, you must enter its tax information number (TIN).

You can view your designated beneficiaries for both your Qualified Pension Plan and your TDA through the secure area of the TRS website.

You can change the percentage you leave to each beneficiary or change beneficiaries using the “add” and “delete” features in the My Beneficiaries section of the TRS website. In the same section, you can also view the personal information on file for your beneficiaries and update it as needed.

There is one exception: If you have a trust on file or wish to designate a trust as beneficiary, you can’t make beneficiary changes online. You must instead submit a Designation of QPP Beneficiary Form, code EN6, and/or a Designation of TDA Beneficiary Form, code EN8.

The TRS system includes checks to ensure that designations are correctly made and benefits can be processed if they become payable. However, you are responsible for the accuracy of the information you enter, the spelling of names and beneficiaries’ contact information.

If you participate in the TDA program, you need to make separate designations for that account. Your TDA beneficiaries can be different from those you have designated under the QPP. But if you want the beneficiaries under both plans to be the same, you can choose the convenient “copy” feature.

You can designate a percentage of the benefit for each beneficiary to receive. But if you are naming more than one beneficiary and want them all to receive an equal share of the benefit, choose “equal” instead of entering a percentage. That way, if one of your beneficiaries dies before or at the same time as you, your benefits will be divided equally among the remaining beneficiaries.

After you complete a beneficiary designation online, TRS will send you a complete list of your updated designations.

Members of the Board of Education Retirement System (BERS) can call 929-305-3800 or visit BERS for information on how to designate or update their beneficiaries.

Remember, the QPP and TDA programs provide separate benefits payable in the event of a member’s death, so you must file two designation-of-beneficiary forms, one for each.

For more information, visit the TRS website.

This column is compiled by Tom Brown, David Kazansky and Debra Penny, teacher-members of the NYC Teachers’ Retirement Board.