‘Better Call Jackson’ helps navigate state pension paperwork problems

COLUMBUS (WCMH) Millions of Ohio public employees pay into and receive retirement benefits like health care and pensions. This means custodians, teachers, and police officers to name a few professions. The idea is for them to invest in their future so they can live comfortably after calling their service finished.

That means the retirees their families should have access to living and surviving benefits. But an Obetz, Ohio family learned it can be complicated if life’s timing conflicts with a distribution of payment.

Patricia Adams dad retired from the state of Ohio and was receiving benefits. When he died at the end of September, that entitled her to a one time Survivor Benefit from OPERS. of a retired employee contacted us, because their father died and they couldn’t seem to get the one-time survivor benefit.

Adams drove down to the headquarters at 277 E. Town St. in Columbus, Ohio to report her father’s passing on October 1. In December, after not getting any results, she contacted the Better Call Jackson team for help.

“Sometimes I don’t have the words,” she said as she pointed to her head and then to her mouth. “[Words don’t] come right from up here to make it come out here.”

Adams expresses her difficulty with speaking since having a stroke.

“I don’t know if people don’t understand,” she said.

She explained that she believes her slow talking may have gotten in the way of applying for her late father’s one time survivor benefit from OPERS.

“I signed the paperwork and gave it to them,” said Adams. “I don’t know what happened to it.”

The Better Call Jackson team contacted the communications department at OPERS, and a representative promised Adams’ case would get a look.

“Our job is to pay the right person,” said OPERS’ Director of Benefits, Allen Foster.

Foster explained that he could not directly talk about Adams’ inquiry, but he stressed that reporting a death immediately to OPERS is necessary, and sometimes the timing of a death, like Adams’ dad at the end of the month, can create a paperwork headache.

“If the member does not live at least one day in that month, that could create an overpayment,” said Foster.

This is exactly what happened to Adams claim, because she reported her father’s death on October first. That is the same day that OPERS made a retirement benefit payment to her dad’s account. Foster said they work with recipients to get the financial confusion resolved.

“We know it’s an emotional time so we’re not trying to act like a collection agency [and] coming after people or anything like that,” he said. “We just want to make sure we satisfy the overpayment and then get the benefit going.”

OPERS has noticed oversights by families and recipient. Retirees need to tell their friends and families about the account and designate someone to receive the one time survivor benefit.

Families of OPERS members need to report the passing of a loved one as soon as possible to avoid an overpayment of benefits. If there is an overpayment, the money must be returned, either in payments, lump sum, or through another benefit to be received.

“We are members here at OPERS,” said Foster. “We are also members here, so we take every interaction seriously because we know that could be us at some point.”

Finally, Foster emphasized the importance of OPERS’ responsibility when helping its members and their families.

“They pay into our system and at some point,” Foster said. “Based on eligibility requirements, they receive a benefit from us,”

Patricia Adams said she never got frustrated, or even gave up hope on getting her father’s account resolved. She appreciates the Better Call Jackson reaching out to OPERS on her behalf, because now her account is closed.

Below are key points and detailed contact information for filing claims with OPERS:

Key points

  1. Let OPERS know who your beneficiaries are and how they can be contacted.
  2. Inform your beneficiaries that you are a member of OPERS so they can contact us in the event of your death to receive benefits.
  3. When an OPERS member passes away, a family member, friend or employer should contact us promptly to start the process and provide a death certificate.

 More Detailed Information

OPERS is committed to providing excellent customer service and making sure our members and their families receive all the benefits earned during public service. Here is what you need to know about survivor benefits:

The first step should be taken by the member.

  1. It is important for a member to name a beneficiary and to provide their contact information to OPERS. This can expedite the payment of benefits.
  2. Members can check their beneficiary designation through their online account or on their annual statement.
  3. Retirees selected their beneficiaries at the time of retirement.

Survivor Benefits vary depending whether you are working or already retired.

  1. For members who pass away while they are working, beneficiaries may be entitled to a monthly benefit or a single payment depending on how long they have been on the job and what retirement savings plan they selected. There are also provisions for members on a disability or who served in law enforcement.
  2. Retired members select their beneficiaries at the time they file for a pension. If they chose a single life annuity (not leaving a monthly benefit to someone else after they pass away) the beneficiaries may still be eligible to any funds remaining in their guaranteed account or a death benefit ranging from $500 to $2,500.

Other factors may apply, including whether the member has dependent children or if a retiree begins or ends a marriage after they retire. These situations are outlined in our Survivor Benefits or Retiring From Public Employment leaflets available on opers.org under Publications.

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