Understanding the Survivor Benefit Plan

The Survivor Benefit Plan, or SBP, allows retired service members to allocate a portion of their retired pay to a spouse or other eligible beneficiary after their death. Every retiring service member with an eligible spouse or child receives automatic enrollment in the Survivor Benefit Plan at the maximum level.

Only retirees pay into the Survivor Benefit Plan. It is not an insurance policy — it's an annuity.

If you are on active duty and have a spouse and/or children, they receive automatic protection under the Survivor Benefit Plan at no cost to you, should you die while still on active duty. If you are divorced, your former spouse may receive benefits instead of your current spouse based on the requirements a court-ordered divorce decree has imposed, so it's important to ensure you make the appropriate changes to your policy.

Learn how the Survivor Benefit Plan works.

Enrollment eligibility

As you prepare for retirement, you will be required to make a decision about the Survivor Benefit Plan and must sign your DD Form 2656 before your retirement date. Here are the available election types:

  • Spouse only — This is the most common election. If you have an eligible spouse and you choose anything less than full coverage, the spouse's notarized signature must be obtained for the election to be considered valid. You may choose coverage for a spouse or a former spouse, but not both. A former spouse is not automatically enrolled. If a former spouse is elected, the spouse's concurrence is not required.
  • Spouse and children — The spouse is the primary beneficiary. Children receive the Survivor Benefit Plan only if the spouse loses eligibility for it. The children are covered in equal shares as long as they are your legal, unmarried children and are under the age of 18 or, if older than 18, are enrolled in an accredited college or university. Children enrolled in higher education are eligible until they reach age 22 or leave school. Incapacitated or disabled children are eligible if the physical or mental disability existed before their 18th birthday or was incurred before age 22 while the child was pursuing a full-time course of study.
  • Children only — Children are eligible up to age 18, or 22 if full-time, unmarried students. The 55 percent annuity is divided equally among eligible children.
  • Former spouse or former spouse and children — This is similar to the spouse and children election, but it's for former spouse and children. Only the eligible children of the service member's former marriage qualify for coverage.
  • Person with insurable interest — As a retiring, unmarried member, you can choose coverage for someone in whom you have a legitimate insurable interest. Examples could be a brother or sister or a child who is beyond eligibility for child coverage.
  • No beneficiary — If you do not have any eligible beneficiaries, you are not required to elect coverage.

Enrollment period — It is important to make a decision about your Survivor Benefit Plan election before you retire because it is difficult to make changes after enrollment. Consider making your SBP election 60 to 90 days before you retire. Elections that are not made by the date the member is placed on the retired list result in automatic SBP coverage.

Terminating coverage — As a plan participant, you have a one-year window to terminate SBP coverage between the second and third year following the date you began to receive retired pay. However, once you terminate SBP coverage, it cannot be reinstated. Coverage for an insurable interest may be terminated at any time.

You can get more information about plan basics from the Office of the Secretary of Defense Military Compensation page.