The New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) administers two distinct systems. They are:
The Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) with 659,750 members; and
The Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS) with 35,754 members.
During the State fiscal year that ended on March 31, NYSLRS provided pension benefits to nearly 515,000 retirees and beneficiaries. Altogether, that’s more than 1.2 million participants, making NYSLRS one of the largest public retirement systems in the nation.
New York State Common Retirement Fund
NYSLRS benefits are provided by the New York State Common Retirement Fund. State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is administrative head of NYSLRS and trustee of the Fund, which is widely recognized as one of the best-managed and best-funded public retirement funds in the nation. It’s also exceptionally enduring; 2021 marked the 100-year anniversary of the Retirement System.
But NYSLRS is more than just the pension fund. Here are some facts about NYSLRS members as of March 31:
514,150 active members (that is, members still on the public payroll) work for 2,979 public employers statewide.
About one-third of those active members work for New York State. The rest work for counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts and public authorities.
Nearly 94 percent of total active members are in ERS. PFRS accounts for 6 percent of total active membership.
In PFRS, 51.1 percent of members are in Tier 6, while 43.4 percent are in Tier 2.
NYSLRS Retirees and Beneficiaries
The average pension for an ERS retiree was $27,227 as of March 31, 2023; the average for a PFRS retiree was $60,592. But these pension payments don’t just benefit retirees and beneficiaries. About 78 percent of retirees and beneficiaries stay in New York State and generate billions of dollars in economic activity. Their spending supports local businesses, contributes to local taxes and creates jobs in our communities.
We accumulate a lot of important documents over a lifetime — things such as birth certificates, diplomas, deeds, wills, insurance policies and more. If you’re like many people, you may have papers stuffed in drawers, filing cabinets or boxes in the attic. If you need an important document, will you be able to find it? What’s more, when you pass away, will your loved ones be able to find what they need?
Organize Your Important Documents
Important documents should be kept in a secure but accessible place in your home. This includes personal documents, such as your passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, will and burial instructions. You should also include information about your NYSLRS retirement benefits, income taxes, bank accounts, credit cards and online accounts. Important contact information, such as the names and phone numbers of your attorney, accountant, stockbroker, financial planner, insurance agent and executor of your will should also kept in a secure location.
Our fillable form, Where My Assets Are, can help make organizing your important documents a little easier. It will help you or your loved ones locate these documents when they are needed. It’s a good idea to review and update this information regularly.
Be aware that a safe deposit box may be sealed when you die. Don’t keep burial instructions, power of attorney or your will in a safe deposit box, because these items may not be available until a probate judge orders the box to be opened. However, a joint lessee of the box, or someone authorized by you, would be permitted to open the box to examine and copy your burial instructions.
Review Death Benefits and Beneficiary Designations
Depending on your tier and retirement plan, your beneficiaries may be eligible to receive a death benefit. Visit our member and retiree death benefit pages for more information.
Then, sign in to your Retirement Online account to review your named beneficiaries and update their contact information if needed. From your Account Homepage, click “View and Update My Beneficiaries” to get started.
Please note, when a NYSLRS member or retiree dies, it is important that survivorsreport the death to NYSLRSas soon as possible. Before any death benefits can be processed or paid, NYSLRS will need an original, certified death certificate.
NYSLRS membership provides more than just retirement benefits. For most members, if you die while in active service, your beneficiary may be eligible to receive a death benefit. Here is an overview of member death benefits. If you are retired, visit our Death Benefit page for retirees to learn about your available benefits.
Types of Death Benefits
Most members who die while they’re still working will leave their beneficiaries what’s called an “ordinary death benefit.” This is a lump sum payment that’s usually equal to one year of your earnings per year of service, up to a maximum of three years.
Generally, to leave your beneficiaries this death benefit, you must have at least one year of service credit and your death must occur while you are on the public payroll.
Some members who die because of an on-the-job accident (not due to their own willful negligence) may leave their beneficiary an accidental death benefit. The accidental death benefit is a pension payable to your spouse. Other beneficiaries, as specified by law, may be eligible if there is no spouse.
For Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tier 4, 5 and 6 members, the benefit would be 50 percent of your earnings from your last year of service.
For most other members, the benefit would be 50 percent of your final average earnings (less any workers’ compensation benefit).
There is no minimum service credit requirement to leave an accidental death benefit.
The specific death benefits that may be available to your beneficiaries depend on your tier and retirement plan. Find Your NYSLRS Retirement Plan Publication and check it for specific benefit amount and eligibility information.
You should periodically review your beneficiary designations. Life circumstances sometimes change, and the beneficiary you may have named before might not be the one you would choose today. You should also make sure your beneficiary’s contact information is up to date so we can find them when needed.
Retirement Online is the best way to manage your beneficiary information. Sign in to Retirement Online today and click “View and Update My Beneficiaries” to review your named beneficiaries, and update them if needed.
Reporting a Death
NYSLRS cannot pay out death benefits until after we are notified of a member’s death and have a certified copy of the death certificate. The fastest way for survivors to report a member’s death to NYSLRS is using our online form on our website. Survivors can also upload a copy of the certified death certificate, which enables us to start reaching out to the beneficiary. It’s important to talk with your family about your benefits and how to report your death to NYSLRS.
Payment of Death Benefits
NYSLRS will reach out to your beneficiaries on file and send them the application and instructions for receiving benefits. NYSLRS can pay death benefits once it receives the required documentation.
NYSLRS must have an approved Domestic Relations Order (DRO) on file to pay benefits to the ex-spouse of a member. The DRO is a court order, issued after a final judgment of divorce, that gives NYSLRS specific instructions on how your benefits should be split.
Ordinary Death Benefit
A DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of your ordinary death benefit. This is the death benefit that would be payable to your beneficiaries if you die in active service (before retiring) so you should file the DRO with NYSLRS as soon as it’s officially accepted by the court. Be sure to choose additional beneficiaries for any remainder of the benefit and submit your changes to NYSLRS. (If your designations conflict with the terms of the DRO, the DRO will take precedence over any other beneficiary designations.)
Post-Retirement Death Benefit
Most Tier 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 members of the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) are covered by a post-retirement death benefit. A DRO may direct you to designate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary for some portion of the benefit.
Accidental Death Benefit
Your accidental death benefit becomes available to specific beneficiaries if you die as a result of an on-the-job accident. Those beneficiaries are designated by law, and only those beneficiaries may receive this benefit — even if there is a DRO.
NYSLRS members who meet eligibility requirements can borrow a certain percentage of their contribution balance. DROs may be written to prohibit members from taking future loans.
Outstanding loan balances at retirement reduce retirees’ pension benefits. The ex-spouse’s share of the pension will also be reduced unless the DRO specifically provides that the ex-spouse’s share be calculated without reference to outstanding loans.
Occasionally, NYSLRS may refund a member’s contributions because of a tier reinstatement, membership withdrawal or membership transfer. Some members are eligible to make voluntary contributions and withdraw them as excess contributions. Generally, if a DRO doesn’t mention a contribution refund, the member will receive the full amount.
Divorce, Annulments, Separation and Your Beneficiaries
As of July 7, 2008, beneficiary designations for certain death benefits are automatically revoked when a divorce, annulment or judicial separation becomes final. If you are divorced, it is especially important to review your beneficiary designations to ensure your benefits will be distributed according to your wishes and your divorce agreement.
Retirement Online is a secure and convenient way for members to do business with NYSLRS. Submitting applications through Retirement Online speeds up the process and enables NYSLRS to serve more customers more quickly. Here’s a look at some of the things NYSLRS members (not yet retired) can do online.
View Your Account Information
Sign in to Retirement Online for easy access to key information about your NYSLRS account. On your Account Homepage, scroll down to the ‘Account Info’ section. There, you can find your date of membership, tier, retirement plan, estimated total service credit and more.
Update Your Contact Information
It’s important that we have your current contact information to make sure you receive the news, letters and statements that we send you. You can change your mailing address, phone number or email address in the ‘My Profile Information’ section of your Account Homepage. Just click “update” next to the item you’d like to change.
You can save time and reduce paper waste by going green and opting to receive information from NYSLRS electronically. Choose “E-mail” next to ‘Contact by,’ and when important information is ready for you to view in Retirement Online, we will send you an email to let you know.
View and Update Your Beneficiary
NYSLRS retirement plans provide death benefits for beneficiaries of eligible members who die before retiring. It’s a good idea to review your beneficiaries from time to time to make sure your choices reflect your current wishes. Retirement Online is the fastest way to add or remove beneficiaries or update beneficiary information. Click “Manage My Beneficiaries” on the right, under “I want to…”
Estimate Your Pension
How much will your pension be? It’s an important question as you’re planning for retirement. In just a few steps, most members can estimate their retirement benefit based on up-to-date account information, then save or print the estimate. Entering different dates and comparing the results can help you choose the retirement date that’s right for you. From your Account Homepage, go to the ‘My Account Summary’ section and click the “Estimate my Pension Benefit” button.
Apply for a Loan
It’s easy to apply for a loan in Retirement Online. If you are eligible to take a loan, you can see how much you can borrow, what your repayment options will be and whether your loan will be taxable — all before you apply. And, of course, if you decide to go ahead with the loan, you can apply online too. Click “Apply for a Loan” on the right, under “I want to…”
After you’ve received your loan, click the “Manage My Loans” button to adjust your payment amount or to make a one-time payment.
Request Credit for Previous Service
If you worked for a participating employer before joining NYSLRS, you may be able to purchase service credit for that time. You can use Retirement Online to request credit for previous public employment (and for military service) and to upload any supporting documentation. Click “Manage My Service Credit Purchases” to get started.
View Your Member Annual Statement
Your Member Annual Statement can help you understand your benefits. It’s a snapshot of your NYSLRS account based on the information we have on file for you as of March 31 each year, which is the close of our fiscal year. From your Account Homepage, go to the ‘My Account Summary’ area, click the “View My Member Annual Statement” button and follow the steps to view, print or save your Statement. While you’re there, consider updating your MAS preference to “email” in the ‘My Profile Information’ area of your Account Homepage to receive your Statements faster.
Generate a Mortgage Verification Letter
If you need to show your NYSLRS account information for a mortgage, just click the link under ‘I want to…’ to the right of ‘My Profile Information.’ You can print a document that shows your contribution balance, and, if you have an outstanding loan, the date of your last loan, the current balance and the interest rate.
Apply for Retirement
When you are ready to retire, Retirement Online allows you to skip the hassle of mailing paper forms or visiting our office. You can apply for a service retirement benefit, choose your pension payment option, sign up for direct deposit and submit retirement-related paperwork online. A big advantage of applying online is that you don’t have to get anything notarized. Read our Applying for Retirementblog post for more information and links to resources.
Other Online Transactions
If you previously were a member of another New York State public retirement system before joining NYSLRS, your service could be recredited and your date of membership and tier restored. You can click “Reinstate a Previous Membership” to get started.
If you leave public employment with less than ten years of service credit, you can use Retirement Online to withdraw your membership. However, this will terminate your membership with NYSLRS, so you may wish to speak with a customer service representative before you submit your withdrawal application if you have any questions. You can call them at 866-805-0990 or message them using our secure contact form.
With direct deposit, your retirement benefit payment is automatically deposited to your financial institution (bank or credit union) on the last business day of each month. And now, thanks to recent upgrades to Retirement Online, retirees can update direct deposit account information online.
Changing Your Direct Deposit Bank Account Information
If you change financial institutions, or want your payment to go into a different account at the same institution, sign in to your Retirement Online account to update your account number and routing information. From the top of your Account Homepage, in the ‘I want to…’ section, click the “Update Direct Deposit” link to get started.
If you choose not to update your deposit information through Retirement Online, you can complete and mail in the paper application. If you want your payment to go into a savings account, or if you don’t have a voided check to attach, a bank official will need to complete Section 3 of the form.
If you are updating account numbers but not changing your financial institution, you can have a bank representative fax the information to 518-473-5323. The fax should be on their letterhead and include:
Your retirement number, registration number or NYSLRS ID;
Old and new account numbers and routing number; and
A bank representative’s signature.
To avoid a delay in your payment, please wait for confirmation of your direct deposit change before closing your old bank account.
Sign Up for Direct Deposit
Ninety-six percent of NYSLRS retirees and beneficiaries receive their pension payments by direct deposit. Direct deposit has always been the safe, quick and convenient way to get your pension payment. If you’re still getting your pension payment by check, sign up for direct deposit today. Sign in to your Retirement Online account. From the top of your Account Homepage, in the ‘I want to…’ section, click the “Update Direct Deposit” link. You will need your financial institution’s account number and routing number to sign up.
More than 495,000 members and retirees have discovered that Retirement Online is a secure, convenient way to do business with NYSLRS. Now retirees can do even more online.
Check out these new features in Retirement Online for retirees:
Manage Your Direct Deposit
Ninety-six percent of NYSLRS retirees already receive their pension payments with direct deposit. Now you can use Retirement Online to securely update your bank account information. Whether you’ve switched banks or just need to update your bank account information, you can make those changes online.
If you’re still receiving your pension by mailed paper check, sign up for direct deposit through Retirement Online and get your money faster.
View a “Pay Stub” of Your Pension Payment.
You can access full “pay stubs” for your payments from January 2023 onward by clicking the date of the payment you want to view. You can track year-to-date totals and any deductions for health insurance, union dues, tax withholding or disbursements under a domestic relations order. NYSLRS will also send you a notice whenever your net payment amount changes.
Other Retirement Online Features for Retirees
These new features add to what you can already do with Retirement Online:
Update Your Contact Information Moving? Changing your phone number or email address? It’s easy to keep NYSLRS updated so you won’t have to worry about missing important news and information about your benefits.
You can schedule an address change so you’ll get NYSLRS mail at your seasonal home without interruption.
Manage Your Beneficiaries Eligible retirees can change their beneficiary for their post-retirement death benefit or change the contact information for an existing beneficiary.
Retirement Online makes it easy to view your beneficiary selections and submit changes instantly.
Coming In 2024 — Print Your Own 1099-R
In January 2024, you will be able to view, download and print your 1099-R tax form in Retirement Online (starting with the 1099-R for your 2023 pension earnings).
Also, starting this summer, you’ll have the option to sign up to receive an email notification each January as soon as your 1099-R is ready to view in Retirement Online. From your account, you’ll be able to download and print the form rather than waiting to receive it in the mail.
Already have an account? Sign in and make sure your email and mailing address are current to ensure that you receive important information from NYSLRS in the coming year.
If it’s been a while, you may need to look up your username or reset your password. If you still need assistance, call our customer service representatives at 866-805-0990, press 2 to access the retiree menu, follow the prompts, and then press 1 for Retirement Online assistance.
When you joined NYSLRS, you may have named one or more beneficiaries to receive certain benefits if you die.
NYSLRS retirement plans provide death benefits for beneficiaries of eligible members who die before retiring. The “ordinary death benefit” is paid to the beneficiary or beneficiaries that you designated, so it’s important to review periodically to make sure your choices reflect your current wishes. For example, if you just married, you may want to update your NYSLRS account information to name your new spouse as your beneficiary.
Types of Beneficiaries
There are two types of beneficiaries — primary and contingent beneficiaries:
Your primary beneficiary will receive any payable ordinary death benefit. You can list more than one primary beneficiary. If you do, they would share the benefit equally. Or, you can choose different percentages for each beneficiary that total 100 percent. (Example: John Doe, 50 percent; Jane Doe, 25 percent; and Mary Doe, 25 percent.)
A contingent beneficiary will only receive the benefit if all your primary beneficiaries die before you do. If you list multiple contingent beneficiaries, they will share the benefit equally unless you choose different percentages.
Special Beneficiary Designations
Your beneficiary doesn’t have to be a person. You can name a charity, a trust or your estate as your beneficiary.
When you die, your estate is the money and property you owned. Your death benefit will be given to the executor of your estate to be distributed according to the terms of your will. You can name your estate as the primary or contingent beneficiary of your death benefit. If you name your estate as the primary beneficiary, do not name a contingent beneficiary.
You can name a trust as a primary or contingent beneficiary if you have a trust agreement or provided for a trust in your will. 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 also name any charitable, civic, religious, educational or health-related organization as a beneficiary.
If your beneficiary is a minor child (under age 18) at the time of your death, your benefit will be paid to the child’s court-appointed guardian. You may instead choose a custodian to receive the benefit on the child’s behalf under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA). Custodians can be designated in Retirement Online or you can contact us for more information and the appropriate form before making this type of designation.
Updating Your Beneficiaries
You can change your beneficiaries at any time. You should also review your named beneficiaries to make sure their contact information is up to date.
The fastest way to view or update your beneficiaries is in Retirement Online. You can add beneficiaries, update beneficiary information or remove beneficiaries. Sign in, then click “Manage My Beneficiaries” on the right, under “I want to ….”
You can also complete and mail us a Designation of Beneficiary form (RS5127). Read the instructions on the form before entering your preferences. Be sure to include all your beneficiaries on the form. Your new beneficiary designations will replace all your previously named beneficiaries. Though your designations will need to be reviewed and approved, your updated beneficiary information becomes effective when we receive your properly completed, signed and notarized form.
COVID-19 has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths across New York State. Sadly, the pandemic’s victims include NYSLRS members who carried out their essential duties despite personal risk.
The families of these members can take some comfort in knowing that if their loved one contracts COVID-19 while on the job, they may be eligible for an enhanced death benefit if their loved one dies as a result.
The COVID-19 Accidental Death Benefit
Most NYSLRS members’ beneficiaries are eligible for a death benefit if they die while in service. This “ordinary death benefit” provides a member’s designated beneficiary or beneficiaries a single, lump sum payment, worth up to three years’ salary.
For public employees who contract COVID-19 on the job and die from COVID-19, an accidental death benefit may be paid instead of the ordinary death benefit.
The NYSLRS accidental death benefit is a monthly pension benefit — not a one-time payment — paid to a surviving spouse for life. If there is no surviving spouse, the benefit can be paid to dependent children until a certain age, or if there are none, then to a dependent parent for life. Generally, the accidental death benefit is equal to 50 percent of the member’s final average earnings or last year’s salary depending on the retirement plan the member is enrolled in. (Visit our website for help finding your retirement plan publication.)
In addition to the accidental death benefit, a special accidental death benefit may also be payable to survivors of a member of the New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System.
A NYSLRS member’s statutory beneficiary would be eligible for the accidental death benefit if the member:
Worked at either their normal workplace or another assigned workplace, not their residence, as directed by their employer, on or after March 1, 2020;
Contracted COVID-19 within 45 days of the last day that the member reported for work;
Died on or before December 31, 2024; and
Died from COVID-19 or COVID-19 caused or contributed to their death.
The COVID-19 benefit is available for all NYSLRS members (Employees’ Retirement System and Police and Fire Retirement System), regardless of job title or tier.
How to Claim the Benefit
When someone calls NYSLRS to report a death, they should let us know it was COVID-related. We’ll also ask for an original death certificate. We will then reach out to the beneficiary to assist them in claiming the benefit. For the COVID-19 death benefit, NYSLRS will confirm with the employer the dates that the member reported to work and request the required documentation showing COVID-19 as the cause of death. The COVID-19 death benefit will be reduced by any ordinary death benefits paid out to a beneficiary by NYSLRS.
When you apply for a NYSLRS pension, you’ll need to choose a payment option, which determines how your retirement benefit will be paid. All options will provide you with a monthly benefit for the rest of your life. The single life allowance option pays the highest monthly benefit, but all payments stop at your death. If you choose a different option, you may be able to provide a lifetime benefit to a beneficiary.
You can apply for service retirement through Retirement Online. One of the benefits of applying online is that you’ll see a projection of your pension payment under each option before you’re asked to select one. If you submit your retirement application by mail, you’ll need to mail a paper option election form.
Joint Allowance Payment Options
In exchange for a reduction in your monthly payment, joint allowance options pay your beneficiary all or part of your pension after you die. The amount of the reduction in your pension is based on your life expectancy and the life expectancy of your beneficiary. The reduction is permanent even if your beneficiary dies before you do.
You can only choose one beneficiary under a joint allowance option, and you can’t change your beneficiary after you retire, regardless of the circumstances. If your beneficiary dies before you, all payments will stop when you die.
Pop-Up Payment Options
Like joint allowance options, pop-up options allow you to provide a lifetime payment for a beneficiary after your death. But, if your beneficiary dies before you, your future monthly payments will increase to the amount you would have been receiving had you chosen the single life allowance at retirement. (The pop-up only affects future payments. You would not be entitled to any retroactive payments.)
The monthly reduction in your benefit will be greater if you choose a pop-up option over a regular joint allowance.
There are many factors that might influence your payment option choice. Your age and overall health, the age and health of your partner, and your loved one’s access to other financial resources should all be considered.
You only have 30 days after the last day of your retirement month to change your option. After that date, you cannot change your option for any reason.
An important step in retirement planning is finding out how much you can expect to receive. Most members can use Retirement Online to create a pension estimate based on the salary and service information we have on file for them. You can enter different retirement dates and beneficiaries to see how they affect your potential benefit and pension payment options. Go to the ‘My Account Summary’ section of your Retirement Online Account Homepage and click the “Estimate my Pension Benefit”button. You can also ask NYSLRS to send you a benefit estimate that calculates your pension under the various options.
Other Death Benefits
Most NYSLRS retirees are eligible for a post-retirement death benefit if they retire directly from payroll or within one year of leaving covered employment. Eligibility depends on your retirement plan and tier. If you are eligible, your beneficiary will receive a one-time, lump sum payment. The amount of the post-retirement benefit is a percentage of the death benefit available during your working years. For information about this and other potential death benefits, please visit our Death Benefits for Retirees page.