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Deferred Member Frequently Asked Questions

TERMINATING EMPLOYMENT

What if I terminate employment with the County or other SDCERA participating employer without retiring?
If you terminate employment without retiring and leave your contributions on deposit, you become an SDCERA Deferred Member.
As a Deferred Member, you can:

  1. Leave your SDCERA contributions on deposit, and
    1. If you are vested, you may collect a lifetime monthly benefit when you meet the minimum retirement age and time in service requirements to retire.
    2. If you are not vested, you may retire and receive a lifetime benefit, beginning at age 70.
    3. You may establish reciprocity if employed by a reciprocal agency in the future.

    –OR–

  2. Request a refund of your contributions.
    1. If you elect to receive a refund of your SDCERA contribution, you are choosing to permanently forfeit your right to receive a lifetime monthly benefit. You also forfeit your right to establish and maintain reciprocity with a qualifying California public retirement system and to receive a disability benefit (if you are eligible to apply).
    2. Additionally, the refund of your Member contributions may have adverse tax consequences.
Before you request a refund of contributions, you should consult a tax or financial advisor to make sure you understand all the implications of doing so.

Should I contact SDCERA when I terminate employment with the County or other participating employer?
Yes. If you are leaving to work for another public agency or do so within 6 months, you may be able to establish reciprocity. You can contact SDCERA or learn more under the Reciprocity section.

 

RECIPROCITY

What is reciprocity?
Reciprocity is an agreement between certain California public agency employers that allow eligible Members to combine their years of service at both agencies to meet vesting and eligibility requirements for each employer's retirement plan. Reciprocal retirement systems use your highest final average salary under any reciprocal system when calculating your retirement benefit.

Generally, in order to establish reciprocity, you must enter a reciprocal employer's retirement system within six months of terminating your Membership in the first employer's retirement system. You must also leave your contributions on deposit with the respective retirement systems and retire on the same date from all reciprocal systems. You can learn more under the Reciprocity section.

How do I establish reciprocity?
Establishing reciprocity requires that each retirement system confirm the work history and Membership details of the requesting Member.

 

BENEFICIARY

How do I designate a beneficiary?
You must submit a Beneficiary Designation form.

If you are married or in a registered domestic partnership at the time of your death and you name someone other than your spouse or Registered Domestic Partner as your beneficiary, your spouse or Registered Domestic Partner will retain the right to claim those assets after your death unless your spouse or Registered Domestic Partner forfeits their rights in writing.

If you designate more than one beneficiary, each will share the benefit according to the percentage you assign to them.

You can download the Beneficiary Designation form.

What benefits will my beneficiary(ies) receive?
It depends on your Membership status and the beneficiary's eligibility at the time of your death.

If you are vested, your beneficiary may receive a one-time death benefit, a lifetime monthly retirement benefit or a combination of the two.

If you are not vested, your beneficiary may receive a one-time death benefit and a refund of your accumulated SDCERA contributions and interest.

If you are not active in a reciprocal agency your beneficiary(ies) may be entitled to a refund of your accumulated contributions and interest only. You can learn more under the Reciprocity section.

When should I designate a beneficiary?
Immediately. Because you start earning benefits when you become a Member, if you die before you are vested, your designated beneficiary may be eligible to receive benefits.

You should also update your beneficiary after any milestone event that could impact your beneficiary (e.g., marriage, divorce, birth of a child).

Beneficiary designations you make with your employer do not apply to SDCERA benefits.

When does my SDCERA beneficiary designation take effect?
On the date SDCERA receives your completed form. Subsequent beneficiary designations supersede prior beneficiary designations.

How can I make the death benefit process easier for my designated beneficiary?
Make sure you keep your SDCERA beneficiary's contact information up-to-date so we may contact them upon your death. Notify your beneficiary that you have named them to receive possible benefits so that they contact SDCERA upon your death.

Can I designate my trust as a beneficiary?
Yes, but a trust can only receive a lump-sum benefit. A trust cannot receive recurring monthly benefits.

 

DIVORCE

I'm getting a divorce. What do I need to do?
Because California considers retirement benefits earned during marriage to be community property assets, they must be considered in your property settlement agreement and may be divided by the court. As part of the marital dissolution process, you must join SDCERA as a party to the dissolution proceeding and have SDCERA's Legal Department review your draft domestic relations order (DRO) prior to filing it with the court.

My divorce is not yet final. Can I retire now?
Yes. If you are in the process of a divorce but still want to retire, you may submit your retirement application at any time. The filing of or outcome of a divorce proceeding does not impact your retirement date.

What is a Domestic Relations Order (DRO)?
A DRO is a stipulation signed by all parties and a judge identifying how retirement benefits are to be divided. Sample DROs may be requested by calling the SDCERA Member Service Center at 619.515.6800.

Do I need to file any other document with the court prior to submitting the DRO to SDCERA?
Yes. SDCERA will not accept a DRO until you have filed a joinder with the court and it has been served on SDCERA. SDCERA will identify any changes to be made and return the DRO to the parties for them to finalize and sign. Once the parties have signed the DRO, SDCERA will sign the DRO and return it to the parties to file it with the court.

What if my SDCERA benefit is not discussed in my DRO?
A DRO that does not address SDCERA benefits will not be accepted by SDCERA.

How long will it take SDCERA to process my domestic relations order (DRO)?
Generally, DROs are processed within 30 days after SDCERA receives the court's signed order.

Will SDCERA notify my former spouse of any portion of a benefit they are eligible to receive?
SDCERA does not provide actuarial valuations of a Member's retirement benefits, legal advice, or tax advice concerning the division of a Member's benefits. An actuary may be retained by the parties to determine the present value of the benefit. After the DRO is completed, the parties will be notified of the portion of the benefit they will be receiving.

Can my former spouse contact SDCERA and discuss my benefit?
By law, a Member's retirement records are confidential. To release information about a Member's account, SDCERA must receive one of the following:

  • Written request from the Member authorizing the release of the specific information to be provided to the spouse or former spouse; OR
  • Subpoena duces tecum, which may be served on SDCERA by mail

What if I am legally separated but not divorced?
When a legal separation or marital dissolution action has been filed, the Member should notify SDCERA immediately in writing. The non-Member has an interest in the Member's retirement account if he/she was married to an SDCERA Member while the Member worked for the County of San Diego or participating employer. To protect the non-Member's interest in the plan, SDCERA should be notified in writing that the non-Member is asserting a claim for community property interest in the Member's benefit.

What happens if a spouse or former spouse asserts a claim for a community property interest in the Member's benefit?
If the Member has not yet been retired, SDCERA is unable to distribute any payments from the Member's account until the legal separation or dissolution is resolved. If a Member is retired, SDCERA is required to withhold the spouse's or former spouse's community property share from the monthly retirement benefit pending the completion of the separation or dissolution.

What if the court awarded the Member the retirement as his/her sole and separate property?
Provide SDCERA proof that the court awarded the retirement benefit to the Member as his/her sole and separate property as soon as possible so that your retirement application processing will not be unnecessarily delayed.

What is the SDCERA process for Dissolution or Legal Separation?

  1. Notify SDCERA in writing of pending dissolution or legal separation
  2. Prepare and file Joinder
  3. Serve SDCERA with Joinder
  4. Prepare DRO and submit draft to SDCERA for review/approval
  5. Execute approved DRO and return to SDCERA for signing
  6. File DRO with court
  7. Return conformed copy of court-approved DRO to SDCERA
  8. Update beneficiary designations upon dissolution or legal separation

What if I have multiple DROs from different divorces on file with SDCERA?
Each DRO will be processed based on the community property interest specified in the DRO and the retirement benefit that is available to each former spouse. Subsequent former spouses will not have a community property interest in the amount awarded to previous former spouses.

The San Diego County Employees Retirement Association (SDCERA) website provides general information only. SDCERA makes no representations or warranties, express or implied, with respect to the materials found on this website.

SDCERA is governed by the California Constitution, the County Employees Retirement Law of 1937 (Government Code Section 31450 et seq.), as adopted and implemented by the County of San Diego Board of Supervisors and the SDCERA Board of Retirement, the California Public Employees' Pension Reform Act of 2013 (Government Code Section 7522 et seq.), the Internal Revenue Code, and various other rules and regulations, all of which are subject to change. In the event of any conflict between these governing authorities and the information contained on this website, the governing authorities take precedence.

The information on this website is not intended to provide legal, tax or financial advice. SDCERA Members who have these or related questions are encouraged to consult an appropriate professional.