Can Survivor's Pension Benefits Be Garnished?

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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.

Analyzing General Situations

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. Being in arrears with child support or alimony payments is one of the only ways to have your survivor's pension benefits garnished.

Exploring Federal Debt

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. The IRS will notify you in writing by sending you a demand for payment notice. If you do not rectify the situation, the IRS will eventually levy garnishments of your accounts.

Understanding Garnishment Limits

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.