A survivor's pension is a monetary benefit extended by the government to the spouses or children of deceased individuals. Examples of survivor's pensions include Social Security benefits and benefits paid to immediate relatives of deceased military personnel and other government personnel. Whether or not the law allows survivor's pensions to be garnished depends upon the situation.
Federal law prohibits creditors from garnishing survivor's benefits for most types of debt, including debt owed to banks, credit cards and collection agencies. Money earned through survivor's benefits and deposited into a personal bank account for daily expenses is not subject to garnishment under most circumstances. The money that originally came from a survivor's pension payment but is used to make a long-term investment, however, may be subject to garnishment. In addition, federal law does allow for the garnishment of survivor's benefits for certain types of debt.
Child Support and Alimony
If you have been ordered to pay child support as the result of a court decision, failure to do so may lead to the garnishment of your survivor's benefits. Similarly, federal law allows alimony payments owed as the result of divorce proceedings to be garnished from government benefits, including survivor's pension benefits, in cases where the beneficiary is failing to pay in a timely manner.
The only other case in which survivor's benefits may be garnished is if you owe a debt to the federal government. For example, if you have taken out federal student loans and are delinquent in repaying them, the government is legally allowed to garnish your benefit payments. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the government may also garnish a portion of your survivor's benefit pension if you owe money for taxes.
Although your survivor's benefit may be garnished in cases where you owe for child support, alimony or federal debt, only a portion of your survivor's benefit may be garnished. Federal law sets limits on the percentage of your benefit that can legally be garnished. In addition, some states have laws that further limit the percentage of federal benefits that may be garnished. If you have been threatened with garnishment of your federal benefits, be sure to seek appropriate legal counsel.
- U.S. Federal Trade Commission: Debt Collection FAQs -- A Guide for Consumers
- The Law Guide: Garnishment Rules, Limits, Exemptions FAQ
- U.S. Government Publications: Handbook on Child Support Enforcement
- Michigan Legal Aid: Facts About Garnishment
- U.S. Social Security Administration: Widows, Widowers and Other Survivors