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

A qualified joint and survivor annuity (QJSA) gives a series of payments to a retirement plan participant’s spouse, child or dependent after the participant dies.

How Does a Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA) Work?

QJSAs can be in defined benefit plans, other pension plans and even 401(k) plans. In general, the survivor’s annuity is at least 50% of the annuity paid to the participant (but no more than 100%). Assume John Doe’s pension plan at work has a QJSA. The pension plan provides him with $2,000 per month of retirement income beginning at age 65. Under the terms of his QJSA, when John dies, his wife, Jane, will receive $1,800 per month until she too dies. John may also be able to waive his QJSA payments and receive a lump sum distribution instead, but Jane Doe will have to consent in writing to the change.

Why Does a Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA) Matter?

QJSAs ensure that plan participants and their spouses receive periodic payments over their lifetimes. According to the IRS, a qualified plan such as a defined benefit plan, money purchase plan, or target benefit plan must provide a QJSA to all married participants as the only form of benefit unless the participant and spouse (if applicable) consent in writing to another form of benefit payment. If the lump sum value of the benefit is $5,000 or less, the plan can pay a lump sum instead without obtaining the participant or the spouse’s consent. Some other types of qualified plans may also be exempt from having to provide a QJSA, particularly if they provide other forms of benefit payments.