Helping Federal Employees and Annuitants Understand Their Benefits


Beneficiary Designations

Joint Tenancy, TOD, and POD


Federal Employee's CSRS & FERS Federal Civil Service Retirement & Financial Planning Resources

This is one of the basic tools that you have available to avoid probate and it is the easiest of all to use. You may be already using this method with insurance policies and you can expand that to your retirement and other accounts.

Federal employees need to verify their beneficiary designations for their THRIFT Savings Plan (TSP) and Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI). Your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) statement lists in the upper right hand corner whether or not you have a Beneficiary Designation on file. If it says "NO" you need to request a TSP-3 form to list your beneficiaries. This forms permits you to select a single, multiple, or contingent beneficiaries. You can download this form from https://tsp;gov.

If you are not sure if you designated beneficiaries for your FEGLI coverage contact your personnel office and have them check your Official Personnel File (OPF), contact OPM if you are retired. If you designated beneficiaries you will have a SF-2823 form on file that stated your elections. If one is not on file, or if it is outdated, request a SF-2823 form to select beneficiaries. Keep a copy for your records. You can update this form at any time and your personnel office should send you a signed copy for your records. Keep this with your "Survivor's File".  If you are already retired OPM is your personnel office and you can send it to them for processing. Email them at for additional information. Visit OPM's FEGLI site for the latest downloadable FEGLI Insurance Guide and for related information.

Actually, anyone you leave anything to is called a beneficiary and "Plan Your Estate" describes all of the differences that you need to be aware of. For example, you need to know the difference between a primary, alternate, life estate, final and residuary beneficiary and their use and limitations. This book describes them in detail.

There are numerous ways to transfer assets to loved ones. Many draft a basic will and jointly own homes and various financial accounts and use beneficiary designations to transfer assets to those who they fill most deserving.  Others, with larger estates, may want to use revocable living trusts. All of these methods will help your heirs avoid probate and expedite the transfer of assets upon your death. 

Horizonal bar

Beneficiary Designation Menu


Joint Tenancy

This is one of the most used probate avoidance methods and your property automatically passes to the surviving spouse. Joint tenancy works well with about anything you own including homes, cars, stocks, bonds, bank accounts and many other things.

It is easy to set up. All you have to do in most states is to add the statement “as Joint tenants” or “Tenants in Common.”  There are differences between states as to the proper wording. For example, some states permit simply stating "John Smith and Mary Smith, Husband and wife." It is important that your property deeds are registered with your state's official "joint tenancy" statement. Check your deed to see how it is registered. If you want your property to be registered in joint tenancy and you are not sure if your property recorded properly check with an attorney or local title company.

There are many benefits of joint tenancy however there are also a number of precautions that you need to be aware of including various limitations, gift tax considerations for non-spouses, and other areas. "Plan Your Estate" provides detailed guidance and explains the differences between common law and community property states. It also explains the benefits of "Tenancy by the Entirety" that you may wish to consider. This method of registration protects jointly owned property form creditors if one owner goes into bankruptcy. You will also find The Executors Guide helpful. It is an excellent reference for your executors or anyone who had to settle an estate.

Pay on Death (POD)

“Pay-on-Death” Designations are used frequently on bank accounts, stocks and bonds. It is an easy and convenient way to avoid probate. In most cases all you have to do is fill out a form to change the name on the bank accounts to read "John Smith Payable on Death to John Smith Jr. and Sara Smith." In this case he left equal amounts of what is remaining in his account to each child at his death. If one of his children dies before he does all will go to the child that survives. Unfortunately you can't name alternate beneficiaries. If you want to name alternate beneficiaries you should consider a simple living trust.

If you have minor children that you wish to leave money to you will have to name an adult "custodian" for the property, under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act in most states.  Some states don't permit leaving unequal shares and there are many other considerations as discussed in Plan Your Estate Chapter 11. Refer to this book for complete guidance. It discusses all aspects and considerations when choosing POD for your accounts.

Under the "Uniform Transfer-on-Death Securities Registration Act Another consideration with POD/TOD designations is the limitation in many states of designating only one beneficiary for stocks and bonds. If you refer back to the Probate Avoidance Techniques | Employees and Retirees you will notice that this couple made up trusts for individually owned stocks. They did this because the stock transfer companies only permitted designation of one POD/TOD beneficiary and they have two children that they wanted to leave the stocks to. Therefore, they had to form a trust to do this. They discovered that there were many other advantages of a living trust as well that they were able to take advantage of.