What Is a Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA)?

What Is a Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA)?

After you retire, a qualified joint and survivor annuity (QJSA) provides you with lifelong benefits plus a lifetime payment to a specified survivor.

A qualified joint and survivor annuity (QJSA) will continue to pay your spouse and you monthly retirement benefits after your death.For the remainder of their lives, your surviving spouse will get a QJSA payment that ranges from 50% to 100% of what you got each month while you were alive.

Learn more about alternate payment options, eligible joint and survivor annuities, and their advantages and disadvantages.

The Meaning of a Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity with an Example

After you retire, a qualified joint and survivor annuity (QJSA) provides you with lifelong benefits plus a lifetime payment to a specified survivor. A person who outlives you is a survivor.

Payments may be paid to a former spouse, child, or dependent who must be considered as your surviving spouse under a qualifying domestic relations order in place of your surviving spouse, who receives payments most frequently (QDRO). When you reach the earliest retirement age specified in your plan, the plan must permit you to receive a QJSA benefit payment.

 Consider the case when you take part in a retirement plan that offers your spouse a QJSA for $500 with a 50% annuity. From the day you officially retire, you will get $500 each month. Your spouse will receive $250 per month for the rest of their lives after your death thanks to the plan.

You alone, not your spouse, must give written agreement for the distribution of QJSA benefits.

The Functions of a Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity

A joint and survivor annuity, to put it simply, pays monthly retirement payments to you while you’re living and then to a survivor—typically your spouse—after you pass away. You will receive monthly payments (an annuity) as a participant in the plan for the rest of your life. Your spouse will get QJSA payments that range from 50% to 100% of the monthly annuity payment you received while you were living if you pass away before them. The rules of the The retirement plan will determine the exact percentage that the surviving person will receive in QJSA payments.

Federal law requires that all married participants in eligible plans, such as defined benefit and money purchase plans, get QJSA benefits, unless the couple agrees to another method of payment.

You have 180 days from the start of the annuity payments to submit the written approval.

Since they are essentially waiving their claim to the QJSA benefits if you choose this course, your spouse’s consent must be voluntary. If both couples opt out of receiving QJSA benefits, they must choose a beneficiary who is not a spouse to receive the payments. 

If you are single when the retirement plan begins distributing benefits, unless you pick a different payment structure, you will get your benefits as a single-life annuity.

Your options for QJSA retirement benefits and the implications of your decisions must be disclosed to you by all qualified plans. Additionally, before the plan distributes benefits, it must send your spouse and you two benefit notices. You and your spouse should receive the following information from your plan’s notice:

  • Your eligibility for a Qualified Joint Survivor Annuity (QJSA), a Qualified Optional Survivor Annuity (QOSA), or other optional benefits depends on
  • Your choice of substitute beneficiaries
  • Your needs for joint spousal consent
  • Your previous spouse won’t be eligible for QJSA payments if you and your spouse get divorced before annuity payments start. The only situation in which this is not true is if your ex-spouse has a QDRO protecting their right to receive QJSA benefits.

The retirement plan administrator must participate in selecting a new beneficiary in accordance with the plan’s terms if the divorced participant wishes to choose a different recipient of the survivor benefits, say after remarriage.

Any quantity or type of benefit not offered by the retirement plan cannot be awarded by a QDRO.

A Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity’s Benefits and Drawbacks


  • guarantees two people’s lifetime payments.
  • Tax obligations are disbursed.


  • No access to a large quantity of money
  • lower monthly obligations.

Pros Presented

  • A QJSA guarantees two people’s lifetime payments: the participant and their spouse in the retirement plan are guaranteed lifetime payments under a QJSA.
  • Tax responsibilities are dispersed over a longer period of time because the surviving spouse may get benefits gradually rather than all at once.

Cons Explanation

  • can’t obtain lump-sum cash: Because benefits are provided monthly under a qualified joint and survivor annuity, the surviving spouse rarely receives a lump-sum payment.
  • fewer monthly benefits: despite the fact that the survivor’s spouse would get lifetime payments, the participant’s monthly benefits are lower than they would be if the survivor benefit had not been included. A surviving spouse may be entitled to 50% to 100% of the plan participant’s benefits. 

Alternatives to the Payment of a QJSA Benefit

You can decide to have your benefits and your spouse’s benefits paid in a format other than the typical QJSA if your spouse agrees to it. With little to no benefits left over for the participant’s surviving spouse, these payment alternatives may ensure the participant larger retirement benefits while they are still living. Alternative payment methods for QJSA include:

  • retirement payments for a single life without survivorship benefits.
  • Retirement payments for life with a two-life annuity that also provides survivor benefits to a person other than the surviving spouse.
  • Monthly retirement benefits for a set length of time, even if you pass away before that time has passed, under a fixed-period annuity For instance, some programs provide 10-year payment terms. Your beneficiary would get payments for the remaining five years of the term if you passed away after five years had passed. 54
  • Lump-sum payout: This offers just one payment, the amount of your retirement account’s entire value.

Main points

  • A qualified joint and survivor annuity (QJSA) ensures that a member will receive lifetime retirement benefits and that their spouse will get a survivor annuity.
  • For the rest of their lives, a surviving spouse will be given at least half of their deceased spouse’s monthly retirement income.
  • You can pick the normal QJSA payment option or any additional payment option that your plan offers, such as a single-life annuity.

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