Collecting a pension means you are not dead

When you retire from federal service and start collecting your hard-earned annuity benefit, the Office of Human Resources takes responsibility for making sure you get what you’re owed. It also includes the unenviable task of ensuring that benefits are not paid to the dead.

This, in turn, sometimes leads OPM to question whether a person listed as alive is actually dead. In these cases, you may be surprised to find out that the annuitant bears the burden of proving that they are not among the expensive dead.

OPM’s Pension Service Office distributes annuity payments to pensioners on a monthly basis. This includes the process of ensuring that the annuitant meets all the requirements to receive benefits. One of the requirements, understandably, is that they are among the living.

Part of the verification process involves using the Treasury Department’s Do Not Pay Improper Payments initiative, known as DNP, to detect and prevent unauthorized payments of benefits. The problem, according to a recent inspector general’s review of OPM’s payment process, is that sometimes the DNP match can be “incorrect, have an incorrect date of death, or refer to an individual with the same name as the annuitant but who is not the annuitant.” So OPM checks DNP matches on a variety of websites (like Google) and online services to try to determine if the annuitant in question is actually deceased.

If the pension service cannot find a death certificate in this process, they will send the annuitant a letter asking them to send proof of life. If they don’t get a response, they suspend annuity payments until they can verify the retiree’s “living situation,” as the IG report says.

As you can imagine, getting a letter putting the burden of proof on you to prove you’re not dead can be a confusing experience to say the least, as William Shackleford, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, wrote. in a recent letter to OPM.

“We’ve heard from several living federal retirees that they’ve received letters from OPM RS asking them to return a notarized form confirming their current information — basically a notarized form to prove they’re still alive,” Shackleford wrote. As a result, some retirees have had their annuity payments suspended because they do not understand or trust the process – or in the case of older pensioners, because the notarization requirement is a burden for them. The problem is made worse by the fact that it is often difficult to contact the pension service by phone.

“While we do not object to OPM RS using the Treasury Department’s DNP portal to help reduce improper payments to deceased annuitants, we do not believe it is appropriate for OPM RS to shift the burden to annuitants to prove they are still alive…” Shackleford wrote.

NARFE wants OPM to reconsider the notarization requirement and evaluate whether the costs of not receiving benefit statements for the deceased outweigh the benefits. Most of all, the organization wants OPM to shoulder the burden of proving that someone has moved on before ending a benefit.

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