Your spouse or domestic partner may be eligible for at least 50% of your benefits, regardless of your beneficiary selections.
If you are married at the time of your death and you die before your annuity starting date, and your retirement plan is subject to ERISA, your spouse is entitled to receive a Qualified Preretirement Survivor Annuity death benefit for at least 50% of your accumulation under a retirement plan or tax-deferred annuity plan covered by ERISA. Your employer’s plan may provide that a higher percentage of death benefits is to be payable to your spouse.
Even if your plan is not subject to ERISA, state law and/or the terms of your plan may provide that if you are married at the time of your death, your spouse is entitled to receive 50% or more of your death benefits.
In order for a designation of a person or entity other than your spouse as primary beneficiary for more than 50% (or the amount or percent required under the plan or state law) of the benefits, your spouse must properly complete and sign a Spousal Waiver. If your spouse has not properly completed and signed a Spousal Waiver, then 50% (or the plan-mandated and state law-mandated percent) of those death benefits will be payable to your spouse regardless of your beneficiary designation. The remainder, if any, will be payable to your named beneficiaries.
Regarding the rights of “domestic partners,” as TIAA-CREF understands the law, the rights of “domestic partners” (whether registered or ceremonial partners) is limited. The Defense of Marriage Act limits “spousal” rights in ERISA Retirement Plans to spouses of the opposite sex. As to other Non-ERISA plans (public employer plans, etc.) you must consult the plan documents to see what rights are specifically provided domestic partners and what definition of domestic partner is used.
As a matter of contract, TIAA-CREF annuities allow the participant to designate anyone as death benefit beneficiary or Joint Life annuitant (within age tolerances specified by the Internal Revenue Code). This comment is not intended to review other rights (right of election) provided under state law and you should consult your own counsel.