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BenefitsLink > Q&A Columns >

Stop, Look & Listen: Railroad Retirement Benefits Q&A

Answers are provided by Robert S. Kaufman

Death Benefits for a Divorced Spouse

(Posted January 14, 2009)

Question 680: Is a divorced spouse entitled to payements when her ex-husband passes away, if the divorce decree states that either party will have no interest in the other's pension?

I am also having a hard time understanding Tier 1 and Tier 2.

Answer: First, here's a simple explanation of what Tier 1 & Tier 2 are. A Railroad Retirement Annuity is divided into two seperate components. Tier 1 is the portion that is similar to a Social Security benefit. It is based on the worker's lifetime earnings, as those earnings are calculated for purposes of both the Railroad Retirement and Social Security systems.

Tier 2 is similar to a private pension. It is based only on the worker's rail service. Generally the 5 highest years of earnings are used to determine the amount of the benefit.

As a divorced spouse you could be entitled to a Railroad Retirement benefit as early as 60 if you are not married. That benefit is computed under a special formula; it is not based on Tier 1 or Tier 2. It is reduced by the amount of any Social Security benefit you are receiving.

Note: This benefit is provided by law. You are entitled to it even if your divorce decree states differently.

Important notice:

Answers are provided as general guidance on the subjects covered in the question and are not provided as legal advice to the questioner or to readers. Any legal issues should be reviewed by your legal counsel to apply the law to the particular facts of this and similar situations.

The law in this area changes frequently. Answers are believed to be correct as of the posting dates shown. The completeness or accuracy of a particular answer may be affected by changes in the law (statutes, regulations, rulings, court decisions, etc.) that occur after the date on which a particular Q&A is posted.

Copyright 1997-2017 Robert S. Kaufman
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