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TSP death benefit changes under Windsor

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB), the body that administers the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), has issued a rule change to bring its death benefit policies in line with the Supreme Court decision in June that found a portion of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional.

Section 3 of DOMA had provided that, under federal law, the term “marriage” would mean only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and that the term “spouse” referred only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

The Supreme Court’s United States v. Windsor decision ruled that Section 3 is unconstitutional, meaning that the FRTIB must now defer to state law in determining the marital status of TSP participants.

The TSP is the tax-deferred retirement savings plan available to federal employees. It is a defined contribution plan similar to private-sector 401(k) plans. Under the Federal Employees Retirement System, agencies automatically contribute 1 percent of pay to individual TSP accounts, then match employees’ pre-tax contributions dollar for dollar on the first 3 percent of pay, and 50 cents on the dollar on the next 2 percent contributed. Employees also may put more into a TSP account up to a certain level. TSP is open to Civil Service Retirement System employees, but for them there is no employer match.

The new regulation provides that the FRTIB will look to the “jurisdiction of celebration”—that is, the state where the couple was married—to determine a participant’s marital status for purposes of paying TSP death benefits.