Monthly Archives: November 2017

Protecting the Pension System

Protecting the Pension SystemSince taking office, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has fought against the abuse of public funds. One of his top priorities is to protect the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) from pension scammers.

To date, DiNapoli’s investigations of retirement fraud have led to 24 arrests and the recovery of nearly $3 million in retirement funds. Here are some cases from earlier this year:

Woman Pleads Guilty to Theft of Dead Mother’s Benefits

A Madison County woman pleaded guilty to a felony grand larceny charge for collecting $67,000 of her dead mother’s NYSLRS pension checks. When her mother died in 2009, Tammy Banack did not inform NYSLRS or her bank, and her mother’s pension checks continued to be deposited in a joint checking account. Banack agreed to repay the stolen pension benefits and received five years’ probation.

Man Pleads Guilty to Stealing Pension Checks

A Brooklyn man was arrested for cashing over $22,000 of his mother’s NYSLRS pension checks after she died. Jimmie Buie pleaded guilty and was sentenced to up to three years in prison. He was also ordered to repay the money. The office of New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman assisted in this case and the Banack case.

Town Clerk Admits Faking Retirement Benefits

Following a review of monthly retirement reports, the Office of the State Comptroller discovered that a town clerk had been unlawfully using a town computer to inflate her retirement service credit. Springport Town Clerk Deborah Waldron pleaded guilty, resigned and paid fines and surcharges. Her actual hours and benefits were recalculated to ensure she does not receive extra money she did not earn.

To learn more about how Comptroller DiNapoli safeguards public funds, and how you can help, visit the Comptroller’s Fighting Public Corruption page. You can also read about past pension fraud investigations.

Update Your Beneficiaries

It’s easy and important

How long has it been since you thought about your NYSLRS beneficiaries? A year, two years, five? Did you get married since then? Get divorced? Have a child?

When you die, your NYSLRS death benefit will be paid to the last beneficiaries you designated. That’s the law. That’s why it’s so important that you check your NYSLRS beneficiary designations periodically.

Luckily, it’s easier to do than ever.

The new Retirement Online is a convenient way to review account details and conduct business with NYSLRS in real time. Now, instead of sending a form through the mail, you can simply sign in to Retirement Online to view your designations and submit changes instantly.

Register and sign in to Retirement Online today to update your beneficiaries and access a variety of other time-saving features.

Types of Beneficiaries

You can designate primary and contingent beneficiaries:

  • A primary beneficiary receives your death benefit. If you name more than one primary beneficiary, they will split the benefit equally.
  • A contingent beneficiary receives a benefit only if all your primary beneficiaries are deceased when you die.

Special Benefit Designations for Beneficiaries

Special Beneficiary Designations

Your beneficiary doesn’t have to be a person:

  • When you die, your estate is all the money and property you owned. If you make your estate a beneficiary, the executor of your estate will distribute your benefit according to your will. If you outlive both your primary and contingent beneficiaries, your benefit will go to your estate by default.
  • A trust is a legal arrangement giving a person you choose legal control over property — such as a death benefit. The trust itself would be your NYSLRS beneficiary, not the individuals for whom you established the trust. (You may want to speak with your attorney if you’re thinking about making your trust a beneficiary.)
  • You can name a charitable, civic, religious, educational or other kind of organization as a beneficiary too.

For more information about beneficiaries, check out our booklet, Why Should I Designate a Beneficiary? (VO1706).

Know Your Benefits: Death Benefits

Few people like to discuss dying, but it’s important to think about how those we love will get along when we do. NYSLRS members have important considerations to keep in mind. First, depending on the pension payment option you choose, you could leave behind an ongoing pension. But, beyond that, your loved ones may also receive a death benefit.

This post is an overview of common death benefits and how your survivors should file for them. It is important to review your retirement plan booklet for specific benefit and eligibility information, and to contact us with any questions you have.

Benefits

Most members who die while they’re still working will leave their beneficiaries what’s called an ordinary death benefit. The benefit amount is usually one year of your earnings per year of service, up to a maximum of three years. Depending on your system, tier and retirement plan, other limitations apply.

Generally, to qualify, you must have at least one year of service credit, and you must die while you are on payroll, in public service. Check your plan booklet for other qualifying circumstances.

Ordinary Death Benefit Graphic

Some members who die in an on-the-job accident (not due to their own willful negligence) might leave their spouses or other survivors an accidental death benefit. If paid to a surviving spouse or dependent parent, the benefit is a lifetime pension based on 50 percent of your final average salary (less any workers’ compensation benefit). There is no minimum service credit requirement.

Depending on your system, tier and retirement plan, there may be other benefits you leave your loved ones. For example, beneficiaries of Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) members who died after meeting the requirements for a service retirement may receive an alternative death benefit. Most Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) members, who retire from service or within a year of leaving public employment, will leave their beneficiaries a post-retirement death benefit.

Filing

Regardless of which death benefit you leave, benefits can’t be paid until we’re notified of your death. That’s why it’s so important to talk with your family now about your benefits and how to report your death to NYSLRS. Check out our Getting Your Affairs in Order and A Guide for Survivors publication for more helpful information.

Update Your Beneficiaries

In most cases (unless beneficiaries are determined by law, as in the case of accidental death benefits), your death benefit will be paid to the beneficiaries you designated at some point in the past, so it’s important to be sure yours are up to date. Your beneficiaries are listed on your Member Annual Statement. You can also view and update your beneficiaries using Retirement Online. Just register and sign in to view your designations and submit changes.

Where in New York are NYSLRS Retirees?

NYSLRS retirees tend to stay in New York, where their pensions are exempt from State and local income taxes. In fact, 78 percent of NYSLRS 452,455 retirees and beneficiaries lived in the State as of March 31, 2017. And half of them lived in just ten of New York’s 62 counties.

So where in New York do these retirees call home? Well, there are a lot of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries on Long Island. Suffolk and Nassau counties are home to more than 57,000 recipients of NYSLRS retirement benefits, with annual pension payments exceeding $1.8 billion. But that shouldn’t be surprising. Suffolk and Nassau counties are, respectively, the largest and third largest counties in the State outside of New York City.Erie County, which includes Buffalo, ranks No. 2 in the number of NYSLRS retirees, with nearly 30,000. Albany County, home to the State Capital, ranks fourth with more than 18,000. Monroe, Westchester, Onondaga, Saratoga, Dutchess and Orange counties round out the Top Ten.

This distribution is easy to understand. The Top Ten counties for retirees include nine of the ten most populous New York counties outside of New York City. (The City, which has its own retirement system for municipal employees, police and firefighters, has about 22,000 NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries living in its five counties.)

All told, NYSLRS retirees received $5 billion in retirement benefits in the Top Ten counties, and $9.1 billion statewide.

Hamilton County had the fewest NYSLRS benefit recipients. But in this sparsely populated county in the heart of the Adirondacks, those 435 retirees represent nearly 10 percent of the county population. $8.6 million in retirement benefits were paid to NYSLRS retirees in Hamilton County during fiscal year 2016-2017.

Outside of New York, Florida remained the top choice for NYSLRS retirees, with more than 36,000 benefit recipients. North Carolina (8,693), New Jersey (7,466) and South Carolina (5,620) were also popular. There were 690 NYSLRS recipients living outside the United States as of March 31, 2017.