What Happens to Joint and Survivor Annuity If the Survivor Dies First?

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

Navigating the complexities of financial instruments can be daunting, but understanding them is crucial for our peace of mind, especially when planning for our loved ones. One such instrument that often prompts many questions is the joint and survivor annuity. One commonly asked question is, “What happens to joint and survivor annuity if the survivor dies first?” This article will clarify this query, ensuring you feel informed and reassured by the end.

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Understanding the Basics of Joint and Survivor Annuity

Definition: A joint and survivor annuity is a contract that promises to pay two individuals, often spouses, for as long as either is alive.

Example: Consider John and Mary, a retired couple. They purchase a joint and survivor annuity that promises to pay them $1,500 monthly. This means that as long as one of them is alive, they will continue receiving the monthly payment.

The Typical Scenario: When the Primary Annuitant Dies First

Usually, if the primary annuitant dies, the annuity continues to make payments to the surviving individual, albeit often at a reduced rate.

Example: If John were to pass away before Mary, Mary might still receive monthly payments, but they could be reduced to, say, $1,000 per month instead of the original $1,500.

The Less Common Scenario: When the Survivor Dies First

So, what happens to joint and survivor annuity if the survivor dies first? The answer can vary based on the terms of the annuity contract, but typically:

  • Continuation of Payments: The annuity would continue to make payments to the surviving primary annuitant, often without any reduction in the amount.
  • Possibility of Refund Options: Some contracts may have provisions for a refund or lump-sum payment if both annuitants die before a specified period.

Example: If Mary were to pass away before John, John would continue to receive the full $1,500 monthly payment until his demise. If both pass away within a stipulated period, their heirs might receive a lump-sum payment, depending on the contract’s terms.

Importance of Reading the Fine Print

Every annuity contract has its nuances. The detailed terms and conditions will explicitly outline scenarios, potential payment reductions, or any applicable refund options.

Example: Caroline and Max had a joint and survivor annuity. When Max passed first, Caroline learned from their contract’s fine print that she’d receive 75% of the initial monthly payment for the remainder of her life.

Protecting Your Interests: Seeking Expert Advice

It’s always wise to consult a financial advisor or insurance expert when considering or managing annuities. They can provide insights tailored to your situation.

Example: After witnessing the passing of a close friend, Linda and Robert consult their financial advisor about the implications of their annuity if either of them were to pass. The expert advice gave them clarity and peace of mind.


Joint and survivor annuities are an excellent way to ensure ongoing income for couples, especially in their retirement years. While the general principle is that payments continue once one annuitant is alive, the specifics can vary widely based on the contract terms. It’s crucial to understand these nuances and seek expert advice if ever in doubt. Remember, while financial planning is about securing our future, it’s equally about enjoying the present with complete peace of mind.

What Happens To Joint And Survivor Annuity If The Survivor Dies First

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can you remove a joint owner from an annuity?

Removing a joint owner from an annuity can be complex and depends on the contract terms. Some annuities allow it, while others don’t. Potential tax consequences may also apply. Consult a financial advisor.

Can you add a different survivor to a joint and survivor annuity?

Changing the survivor on a joint and survivor annuity is often not allowed once payments have begun. Contract terms and regulations dictate flexibility. Consult your contract and a financial advisor.

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

I’m a licensed financial professional focusing on annuities and insurance for more than a decade. My former role was training financial advisors, including for a Fortune Global 500 insurance company. I’ve been featured in Time Magazine, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, SmartAsset, Entrepreneur, Bloomberg, The Simple Dollar, U.S. News and World Report, and Women’s Health Magazine.

The Annuity Expert is an online insurance agency servicing consumers across the United States. My goal is to help you take the guesswork out of retirement planning or find the best insurance coverage at the cheapest rates for you. 

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