Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA)

What Is a Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA)?

A qualified joint and survivor annuity (QJSA) provides a lifetime payment to an annuitant and spouse, child, or dependent from a qualified plan. QJSA rules apply to money-purchase pension plans, defined benefit plans, and target benefits. They can also apply to profit-sharing and 401(k) and 403(b) plans, but only if so elected under the plan.

Key Takeaways

  • A qualified joint and survivor annuity provides lifetime payments to spouses, children, or dependents.
  • A QJSA generally requires at least a 50% survivor annuity.
  • If the participant is in poor health, a QJSA may not be a good investment.

Understanding a Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA)

The plan document of a qualified QJSA plan usually provides the annuity payout percentage, but the general requirement is that the survivor annuity must be at least 50% and no more than 100% of the annuity paid to the participant. If the participant is unmarried, the annuity is paid under the incidental benefit rule or follows the minimum distribution requirements.

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), "a qualified plan like a defined benefit plan, money purchase plan or target benefit plan must provide a QJSA to all married participants as the only form of benefit unless the participant and spouse, if applicable, consent in writing to another form of benefit payment." For more on QJSA rules, the IRS provides an information page. Rules governing QJSAs can be found in Title 26, Chapter I, Subchapter A, Section 1.401(a)-20 on the Federal Register.

Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity: Features and Considerations

Qualified joint and survivor annuities for married participants have the following features.

  • Retirement payments are made at regular intervals over retirement (primarily monthly).
  • After death, the plan will make a monthly payment to a surviving spouse of at least 50% of the original benefit payment.

Like many annuities, a QJSA provides a lifetime benefit to a primary participant and spouse via monthly payments. As such, they should be factored into any financial planning and retirement income and expense scenarios. Such a product is not subject to diminishing payments due to poor stock market performance. QJSA distributions, once initiated, are not changeable.

Also, distributions in addition to the regular monthly payment are not allowed. If the participant is in poor health, a QJSA (like an annuity) may not be a good investment of the assets required to fund such an investment vehicle. Payments may also lose purchasing power over time unless adjusted for a cost-of-living increase.

Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity Example

An individual's employer-sponsored 401(k) plan offers a QJSA that provides a monthly $1,500 retirement income at age 65. It also provides for a $1,000 monthly retirement benefit for the spouse when that individual dies. That benefit is paid until the surviving spouse dies. The individual may choose to receive a lump-sum distribution of benefits, but only with the written consent of their spouse, witnessed by a notary public or a plan representative.

One exception is that a plan may pay a lump-sum distribution to a participant without first obtaining their (and their spouse's) permission if that sum is $5,000 or less. If a participant gets divorced they may be required to treat their former spouse as a current spouse as part of a qualified domestic relations order or according to the terms of the divorce. If a divorced participant wants to change their beneficiary of survivor benefits, they have to contact a plan administrator.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Topics - Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity." Accessed Nov. 13, 2021.

  2. Cornell Law School. "26 CFR § 1.401(a)-20 - Requirements of Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity and Qualified Preretirement Survivor Annuity." Accessed Nov. 13, 2021.

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Types of Retirement Plan Benefits." Accessed Nov. 13, 2021.

  4. U.S. Department Of Labor. "QDROs-The Division of Retirement Benefits Through Qualified Domestic Relations Orders," Page 3-10. Accessed Nov. 13, 2021.

Take the Next Step to Invest
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.