Explaining the What is the “Restore” Option for Pensions, Part 3 of a 3 Part Series on Pensions

Contributed by: Nick Defenthaler, CFP® Nick Defenthaler


Selecting your pension benefit option as you near retirement could quite possibly be the largest financial decision you ever make.  If you’ve received a breakdown of the various ways you can elect to have your pension benefits paid and you’re feeling overwhelmed, you are certainly not alone!  In many cases, employers give you the option to select from upwards of 30 different options that have various survivor benefits, lump-sum payouts, Social Security bridge payments and more.  Is your head spinning yet? 

One of the more appealing pension options that our team is seeing more and more of is the “restore” option.  The restore feature of a pension is a way to protect the person receiving the pension if their spouse dies before them.  If that were the case, the restore option allows the retiree to “step-up” to the higher single/straight life payment.  Similar to the survivor benefit, the restore option is another layer of “insurance” to protect the retiree from being locked into a permanently reduced pension benefit if their spouse pre-deceases them. 

Let’s take a look at an example of the restore feature:

Tom (age 61) is retiring from XYZ Company in several months.  Tom would like to evaluate his pension options to see which payment would be best for him and his wife Judy (age 60).  Tom has narrowed it down to 3 options:

Option 1:

  • $45,000/yr single/straight life (no survivor benefit)
    • Payment would cease upon Tom’s passing – $0 to Judy

Option 2:

  • $41,000/yr 50% survivor option
    • Judy would receive a $20,500/yr benefit during her lifetime if Tom pre-deceases her

 Option 3:

  • $40,200/yr 50% survivor option with “restore” feature
    •  Judy would receive a $20,500/yr benefit during her lifetime if Tom pre-deceases her
    • Tom would step-up to a $45,000/yr benefit (straight/single life benefit figure) if Judy pre-deceases him

The more Tom and Judy have discussed their overall financial plan; they are not comfortable selecting the single/straight life option and risking Judy not receiving a continuation of benefits if Tom pre-deceases her.  However, because Judy has had some health issues in the past, they feel the 50% restore payment option makes more sense for their situation because it is very possible that Judy will die before Tom.  They are comfortable with an $800/yr reduction in payment to have the “insurance” of Tom stepping up to the higher single/straight life option if he survives Judy. 

While the restore option for Tom and Judy seems to make perfect sense, there truly is no a “one size fits all” pension option that works for everyone.  Every situation is very unique and it’s important that you evaluate your entire financial picture and other sources of retirement income to determine which pension option is right for you and your family.

Click to see part 1 of pension blogs How to Choose a Survivor Benefit for Your Pension and part 2 What You Need to Know About Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation or PBGC

Nick Defenthaler, CFP® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® Nick works closely with Center clients and is also the Director of The Center’s Financial Planning Department. He is also a frequent contributor to the firm’s blogs and educational webinars.

The information contained in this blog does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Nick Defenthaler, CFP© and not necessarily those of Raymond James. This is a hypothetical example for illustration purpose only and does not represent an actual investment. This is a hypothetical example for illustration purpose only and does not represent an actual investment. Prior to making an investment decision, please consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation.