A recent Money Makeover story about a Seattle couple considering retirement raised questions about the options available under the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement System Plan 2, also known as PERS 2.

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News flash: Washington state pension rules are … complicated.

A recent Money Makeover story about a Seattle couple considering retirement raised questions about the options available under the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement System Plan 2, also known as PERS 2.

What’s a “survivor benefit”? Can it be changed? What’s the difference between a “survivor benefit” and a “beneficiary”?

The latest PERS 2 handbook, published by the state Department of Retirement Systems, needed 18 pages to address those and other questions. Even more information is available to PERS 2 enrollees when they log onto their online accounts at the state retirement agency.

The terminology can be challenging.

A “beneficiary designation,” for example, refers to the person who will receive what remains of the pensioner’s PERS 2 assets in the plan — contributions plus interest — after he or she dies. PERS 2 enrollees can change their beneficiary any time before they retire.

A “survivor benefit,” on the other hand, refers to who would receive some or all of a PERS 2 enrollee’s lifetime pension benefits after death.

“There’s lots of confusion about this,” said Seth Miller, assistant director of the Retirement Services Division at the state Department of Retirement Systems.

PERS 2 participants have to pick one of four benefit options at retirement. The options range from no survivor benefit to 100 percent survivor benefit, in which the survivor receives the same PERS 2 payments as the pensioner for life.

Choosing a survivor benefit isn’t always easy, because increasing the lifetime benefit for the survivor reduces the lifetime benefit for the pensioner. Also, the survivor benefit, once chosen, is not easily changed.

Windows for changing a survivor benefit open for only a handful of major life events: divorce, remarriage or the death of the designated survivor. Another opening, rarely encountered, occurs for those who leave retirement, return to work with PERS benefits, and retire again.

Only PERS 2 enrollees who pick someone other than their spouses for survivor benefits can switch to the no-survivor benefit option at any time after retirement.

The Department of Retirement Systems retires about 12,000 people a year, Miller said, and more than half of those retirees choose one of the survivor benefits.

For more information, the PERS 2 handbook is posted online at https://www.drs.wa.gov/member/handbooks/pers/plan-2/