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Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA)


A Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA) is a type of retirement plan benefit typically offered by pension plans. It provides a lifetime monthly payout to the retiree (the plan participant) and, upon the retiree’s death, continues to provide a portion of those benefits to the surviving spouse for the remainder of their life. The QJSA aims to ensure financial security for both the retiree and the surviving spouse, as required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974.


“Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA)” in phonetics would be:Kwəˈlī-fīd ˈjoint ənd sər-ˈvī-vər ə-ˈn(y)o͞oə-tē (Q-J-S-A)

Key Takeaways

  1. A Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA) is a retirement plan designed to provide lifetime income for both the retiree and their spouse, ensuring that the surviving spouse receives a predetermined percentage of the retiree’s pension income following their death.
  2. QJSAs are a legal requirement for most private sector pension plans and the default option for married individuals enrolled in a defined benefit or pension plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
  3. Although QJSAs offer financial security for both spouses, participants in a pension plan can waive the QJSA coverage in favor of alternative options, such as a single life annuity, but this requires the written consent of the spouse to ensure that they understand the financial implications of such a decision.


The Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA) is an important concept in business and finance because it ensures that upon the retirement of an individual participating in a pension plan, a pre-determined percentage of annuity benefits will continue to be paid out to a surviving spouse or beneficiary in the event of the retiree’s death. This offers financial security and peace of mind to both the retiree and their spouse or beneficiaries, reducing the potential financial burdens that may arise upon the retiree’s passing. Additionally, the QJSA provisions protect the interests of spouses and beneficiaries, while reinforcing the standards set forth by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), ensuring that qualified plans adhere to specific guidelines and regulations.


A Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA) serves as a financial safety net for couples, primarily ensuring that the surviving spouse continues receiving income in the event of the annuitant’s passing. This type of annuity plays a vital role in providing financial stability and peace of mind to both retirees and their spouses. By incorporating a QJSA within a retirement plan, couples can manage future uncertainties and guarantee a steady flow of income for the surviving spouse. This not only offers financial security but also helps the surviving spouse maintain their standard of living without burdening them with added financial stress. QJSAs are utilized in pension plans and other retirement schemes where the spouse’s continued financial well-being is a key consideration. Payments from a QJSA typically begin once the primary annuitant retires and continues for the remainder of their life. Upon the annuitant’s death, the surviving spouse will then receive a predetermined percentage of the original payment. This provision is particularly valuable for spouses who may not have as much personal savings or retirement benefits as their partner, or who may have otherwise been financially dependent on the annuitant. It is important to note that the terms and conditions of a QJSA can vary based on different factors such as the chosen payout percentage or the duration of the annuity, which makes it essential for couples to carefully consider their individual needs and financial goals while selecting an appropriate QJSA plan.


A Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA) is a type of annuity within a qualified pension plan that allows the annuitant to choose a financial investment that pays an income benefit to the annuitant and their spouse or partner for the duration of their lives. Here are three real-world examples of QJSA: Example 1: John and Jane, a married coupleJohn is a long-time employee of a large corporation with a qualified pension plan that offers a QJSA option. After considering their joint retirement needs, John decides to opt for a QJSA. He starts receiving a monthly payment from the annuity, which continues until he passes away. After his passing, Jane will continue to receive a reduced monthly payment (typically 50% to 100% of the initial benefit) until her death. This ensures financial security for both John and Jane during their retirement years. Example 2: Michael and Sarah, a couple in a domestic partnershipMichael, an employee with a qualified pension plan, has been in a long-term domestic partnership with Sarah. Michael’s pension plan recognizes domestic partnerships and offers a QJSA option to participants. Michael decides to elect the QJSA option, ensuring that Sarah will continue receiving monthly payments after his death. This creates a financial safety net for both Michael and Sarah throughout their retirement. Example 3: Susan, a surviving spouseSusan’s recently deceased husband, Paul, had been part of a qualified pension plan during his working years. Paul chose a QJSA. After his death, Susan continues to receive a portion of Paul’s pension as a survivor annuity. This provides Susan with an ongoing, stable source of income to help cover her expenses and maintain her standard of living in her retirement years.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is a Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA)?
A Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA) is a type of payout option from a retirement plan, such as a pension or a 401(k), that guarantees payments to the participant and their spouse for as long as either of them is alive.
How does a QJSA work?
When a participant in a retirement plan opts for a QJSA, they allocate a portion of their retirement benefits to their spouse. Upon the participant’s retirement, they will receive a reduced monthly payment compared to a single-life annuity. When the participant passes away, the spouse will then receive a percentage (usually 50% or 75%) of the participant’s monthly payment for the rest of their life.
When is the QJSA option offered?
The QJSA option is typically offered when a participant reaches retirement age and is ready to start receiving payments from their retirement plan. The participant can choose between various payout options, including the Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity.
What are the advantages of choosing a QJSA?
The main advantage of a QJSA is the financial security it provides to the surviving spouse. If the participant passes away, the spouse is guaranteed a continued source of income for the rest of their life. This can be especially important if the surviving spouse has limited income sources or is dependent on the pension for living expenses.
Are there any disadvantages of a QJSA?
The main disadvantage of a QJSA is that the participant’s monthly payments will be lower than if they had chosen a single-life annuity. Additionally, if the participant’s spouse passes away before the participant, there is no option to increase the monthly payment to the single-life annuity amount.
Can a QJSA be changed after it has been selected?
Once a QJSA option is chosen and payments have begun, it is generally not possible to change the payout options or switch to a different annuity type. However, some plans may offer a limited window after retirement during which changes can be made. Participants should consult their plan administrator for specific information about their plan’s rules and deadlines.
Are QJSAs required for all retirement plans?
No, QJSAs are not required for all retirement plans. However, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974, all defined benefit pension plans and certain defined contribution plans, such as money purchase pension plans and target benefit plans, must offer participants the option to choose a QJSA. Other types of retirement plans, like 401(k) plans, may optionally offer a QJSA, so it’s essential to check with your plan administrator about the options available to you.

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