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Four Military Retirement Pay Surprises for Families

Chief Mass Communications Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/Navy
Chief Mass Communications Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/Navy

If you've reached the end of your service member's military career, you're probably really excited. No more TDYs, military moves, long training separations or sudden deployments for you.

Instead, you're looking forward to enjoying all of those benefits, like continued health care and retirement pay, that you've spent 20 years earning. Life is about to get very good.

But military retirement pay and the benefits that come along with it can be complicated and confusing -- and sometimes full of little-talked about surprises.

Some of them can impact the whole family, like these four military retirement pay surprises to avoid. But there are others that may only affect the military spouse.

Surprise 1: Life insurance isn't automatic.

The military's post-retirement life insurance is a complicated beast of a program full of many surprises of its own. But the most important thing to know is this: If your service member does not select to pay into the life insurance program, known as the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), when he retires, he likely won't get another chance. Here's everything you need to know about SBP.

Surprise 2: The retirement checks stop if he dies.

When your service member dies after retirement, his pension checks will stop -- that's something many military spouse retirees do not realize until it is too late. If you do not have SBP to lean on or a healthy savings account, the sudden end of those pension checks can be a very hard fact in the midst of an already emotional and difficult time. Don't be caught unprepared.

Surprise 3: The GI Bill doesn't transfer on its own.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is one of the more generous military benefits, and it can be transferred to you or your children. But the transfer isn't automatic and it must be planned well before retirement. Also, if your spouse joined the service before 2009, he has to opt-in to the Post-9/11 GI Bill from the Montgomery GI Bill, which does not transfer at all.

Surprise 4: Divorce could mean your benefits end.

If your marriage to your military retiree doesn't work out, you could find yourself without many of your military benefits if you do not meet the Defense Department's standards. While your service member's pension is considered a "marital asset" and will likely be split by the court in a divorce settlement, other benefits are not treated the same way. You can go here to read more information about how long you have to have been married and a part of the military to continue to receive health care and other benefits after a divorce.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at

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