An ACERA member’s beneficiary is the person or persons they
designate to receive death benefits from ACERA after their
death. A member’s beneficiary can also be called a survivor.
This page is for both members and beneficiaries, with information
for members on how to plan for their beneficiaries to receive
death benefits, and for beneficiaries/survivors to understand
what to do after an ACERA member’s death.
As an active member, you had the opportunity
to designate your beneficiary for death benefits when
you entered ACERA membership, and active and
deferred members can change their beneficiary any time prior
Retired members had the opportunity at the time of retirement to
name beneficiaries for continuance payments. Continuance
beneficiaries, once designated, can’t be changed. Retired
members can name beneficiaries for lump-sum death benefit
payments at retirement and at any time during retirement.
Who is your beneficiary? You should log in to
your online account to see who your
designated beneficiary is. If the beneficiary is incorrect, or
you have no beneficiary, you should change your beneficiary.
How to Change Your Beneficiary
Complete the appropriate form for you and mail it to
Ensure your beneficiary information is up to date by
reviewing your online
Make a will. Every adult should have a will. It’s a good idea
to see an estate-planning attorney to have your will done
according to your wishes, especially if you have a more
complicated estate. However, if expense is an issue or you
believe your situation is fairly simple, you can make your own
will for free: try www.doyourownwill.com.
Make an Advanced
Healthcare Directive. An advanced directive
allows you to choose someone to make health care decisions
for you when you cannot (or do not want to) make health care
decisions for yourself. It also allows you to state your
treatment preferences if you have a terminal condition or if you
are in a state of permanent unconsciousness.
Make a life planning file. Get a folder, manilla
envelope, or other container and put the following items in:
Personal documents — birth certificates,
passports, Social Security information, marriage
certificate, divorce decree, military discharge papers,
naturalization papers, your and your loved one’s wills,
advanced healthcare directives, adoption papers, power of
attorney, and burial instructions.
Retirement and death benefit information —
ACERA’s phone number and website, contact information for
other pensions you have, and contact information for
organizations for which are eligible for death benefits.
Income tax information — copies of both
state and federal income tax returns for the last two
Property tax information — copies of tax
bills, house and burial plot deeds, liens, and other
Bank and financial accounts — include
locations of all checking and savings accounts, CDs,
brokerage accounts, deferred compensation accounts, safe
deposit boxes, savings bonds, stocks, bonds and any other
Credit cards — account numbers, phone
numbers, and addresses.
Associations and organizations of which
you are a member — some of them could be helpful to your
Friends and business associates who could
be helpful. Also include names and numbers of your
attorney, accountant, stockbroker, financial planner,
insurance agent, and executor/executrix of your will.
Make sure you show and/or tell your beneficiary where your
life planning file is. Also tell your beneficiary where the
following items are located:
Titles and deeds to your house and other property
You Can Name Fund Custodians for Beneficiaries Under Age
18 to Avoid Court Appointment
If you are naming a minor child as a plan beneficiary, you may
want to name an adult as “custodian” to receive and manage
payments for the minor until an age you choose. Instructions for
doing this without court supervision are included on the ACERA
Retired Member Beneficiary Designation Form. If you do not name a
custodian, court appointment and supervision of payments by a
guardian must be established. This can sometimes be a lengthy
process, which can involve legal or court fees. All funds will be
distributed to a guardian if your beneficiary is under age 18. A
lump sum distribution is paid for accounts valued at less than
Spouses Have Legal Rights to Continuance Benefits, Which
Supersede Any Other Named Beneficiaries
However, it is possible for your spouse to waive his or her
rights to your benefits.
Retirees can name beneficiaries for the following benefits payable upon the retiree’s death:
Continuance – A continuing monthly payment to a beneficiary, often for the lifetime of the beneficiary. The value is based on the retirement option the retiree chose at retirement. See the section below.
Lump Sum Payments
A lump sum payment is a one-time death benefit payment to a beneficiary. The beneficiary can be anyone, including a trust or a charity.
$1000 one-time lump-sum death benefit – This benefit is vested.
Refund of member account balance – A one-time payment in one lump sum of the balance of the member’s contribution account (= employee contributions + interest – total retirement payments) if the account is not yet exhausted by retirement payments. This is not paid out if the beneficiary receives a continuance.
Retirement allowance earned but not yet paid by the retiree’s death – This benefit is pro-rated to cover the amount payable for the portion of the month prior to the retiree’s death.
Refund of prepaid health payments – Healthcare premiums paid in advance for the member or dependents will be refunded to the beneficiary. This benefit is taxable. Beneficiaries will receive a 1099-R form for income reporting purposes.
Death Benefits Are Based on the 5 Retirement Options
At retirement, ACERA members choose one of the five options below. A retired member’s death benefits are based on which option they chose. If they chose a continuance payment option and named an eligible beneficiary, the beneficiary will receive a monthly continuance payment. A member’s only opportunity to name a continuance beneficiary (a beneficiary that receives a continuance) is at the time of retirement. A member’s retirement option selection is permanent, and cannot be changed after retirement.
Beneficiary’s Benefit Upon Retiree’s Death
60% continuance of retiree’s allowance at time of death to:
Spouse or state-registered domestic partner, married/registered at least 1 year before retirement. Lifetime continuance.
Or minor child / children, if no spouse or domestic partner at retirement. Temporary continuance.
Can be one child or multiple children. Multiple children will share the collective 60% continuance.
Continuance stops at age 18
Or continuance stops at age 22 if child maintains full-time enrollment in an accredited school
Continuance stops if they marry or register state domestic partner
100% continuance of retiree’s allowance at time of death, if retiree is on a service-connected disability retirement, to:
Spouse or state-registered domestic partner, married/registered at time of retirement.
Or minor child / children, if no spouse or domestic partner at retirement. Temporary continuance. Same restrictions apply as above.
One-time lump sum refund of member account balance. No continuance.
100% continuance of retiree’s allowance at time of death
50% continuance of retiree’s allowance at time of death
Retiree Specifies Continuance Amount to One or More Beneficiaries
After the death of a loved one, many people find themselves
overwhelmed with the tasks to be completed.
This checklist is to assist survivors of ACERA retirees with
issues they may need to address. It’s not a definitive list
of all matters of immediate concern upon death, so you may want
to add your own items.
If you are the member’s designated beneficiary for ACERA
death benefits, an ACERA representative will call you to
discuss benefits. If you believe you are the beneficiary, you can
gather the documents ACERA will require to pay out death benefits
so you are ready to provide them to ACERA. ACERA will send you a
letter requesting these documents, and you can mail them to us in
the envelope provided:
For monthly continuance payments, ACERA requires:
A copy of beneficiary’s birth certificate
A copy of beneficiary’s social security
A copy of marriage certificate or state-registered
domestic partnership declaration, if
An original certified copy of retired member’s death
For lump sum payments, ACERA requires:
A copy of beneficiary’s social security
An original certified copy of retired member’s death
What to Do Outside of ACERA
Gather all pertinent information and identification numbers
for immediate reference — full name, date of birth, place of
birth, address at time of death, place of death, Social Security
number, VA number, Medicare number, insurance policy numbers,
bank account numbers, and contact numbers for insurance and
Contact a funeral home: Contact the member’s preferred
funeral home to coordinate burial and/or memorial services.
Request numerous copies of the original certified death
Notify life insurance carriers through any employers, credit
unions, or other associations of which the deceased was a member.
Contact any other retirement plans such as a deferred
compensation (e.g., 457b, 401k), IRAs or other pension systems
from which the member was receiving benefits.
Contact the deceased’s financial institutions and banks
regarding her/his accounts and ask about such matters as safety
deposit boxes, death benefits, and outstanding loans.
Contact the Veterans’
Affairs office if the member was a veteran to check on
possible death benefits.
What You Don’t Need To Do
You don’t need to notify health insurance carriers. We will
notify medical, dental, and vision carriers for you to end
coverage for the deceased member.
What to Expect Regarding Death Benefit Payments
The member’s benefit will be paid up to the day in which the
member dies. Any overpayments will need to be collected. Any
benefits not yet paid will be paid out to the member’s
If eligible, the beneficiaries entitled to the death
benefits will be mailed a letter requesting the
documents ACERA needs prior to issuing payment. ACERA will
need at least one original certified copy of the death
certificate (we’ll return it).
Upon receipt of the requested documents, the death benefits
will be paid to the beneficiaries. In total, the process can take
approximately 2 to 3 months.
What to Expect Regarding Continuing Healthcare Coverage
Survivors of ACERA retirees may maintain their enrollment in
ACERA healthcare plans after the death of the retiree. When an
ACERA representative calls you to discuss your beneficiary
status, you can indicate whether you wish to continue medical,
dental, and/or vision coverage. If you wish to cancel any of the
coverages, you may choose which to retain and which to cancel.
You can also cancel all the coverages if you wish.
ACERA’s healthcare unit will ensure survivors experience no
gap in coverage if they wish to continue the coverage.
Survivors receiving lifetime monthly continuance
payments can continue healthcare coverage in ACERA plans
indefinitely under most circumstances. Premiums for the
healthcare plans will be deducted from the survivor’s monthly
continuance payment check. Premiums for the time period before
the continuance payments start will be deducted from later checks
to ensure no gap in coverage. (If a survivor’s continuance
payment doesn’t cover the premium costs, and they dis-enroll and
then try to re-enroll, they may not be able to get coverage.)
Survivors receiving a lump sum death benefit payment can
continue enrollment under the federal COBRA Act for up to 36
months after the member’s death. These survivors will receive a
COBRA letter from ACERA with a COBRA election form which they can
use to elect to continue coverage.
Survivors wishing to continue enrollment in ACERA’s
healthcare plans will not be able to change plans at the member’s
death. They can changes plans during the next open
While survivors and family members can
maintain enrollment in ACERA healthcare plans, no subsidies
are available to cover the cost of the coverage, so the survivor
must pay the full cost.