Death benefit disputes
Disputes about death benefits are common. In addition to the benefits which have accumulated in the fund at the date of death, many funds provide substantial life insurance benefits, which are added to the accumulated benefit.
However, the death benefit is usually not paid according to the A document that sets out what a person wants to happen to their money and other property after they die. of the deceased but is paid according to the Power to choose whether to do something or not. For example, a judge may have discretion to allow a party extra time to complete a document if it would be unfair to enforce the legal time limit. of the trustee of the fund in accordance with the A formal legal document setting out the rights and obligations of all the parties to a trust.. The A type of property ownership or arrangement where one party, known as the trustee, holds property or money for the benefit of another party, referred to as the beneficiary. A formal legal document that is used for specific purposes, such as trusts, some types of ownership of land, and agreements where no money is going to be paid. Deeds must clearly state that they are a deed, and they usually include the words ‘signed, sealed and delivered’. They are also called ‘contracts under seal’, although attaching a seal with wax is no longer necessary. usually sets out a description of the class of people to whom the benefit can be paid; typically, the immediate family of the deceased or those wholly or partially dependent on the deceased.
A member can nominate the recipient of a death benefit in such a way as to make the nomination binding and avoid having the trustee make a decision and possibly begin a dispute. It must be renewed every three years to remain binding.
Disputes can arise between possible beneficiaries about whether, for example, a particular person is wholly or partially dependent on the deceased; or, if more than one person satisfies the description of the class of beneficiaries, whether the trustee should exercise its discretion to determine how the benefit should be divided between the claimants. These problems become acute when the deceased was involved in more than one family during life.
Factors taken into account by trustees include:
- whether the deceased nominated a preferred (1) Someone whose money or property is being looked after for them by someone else (called a trustee). (2) A person who is left something in a will, also sometimes called a legatee. See also trust. and, if so, whether any event has occurred since the nomination which might have invalidated the nomination;
- the comparative financial need of the claimants;
- any amount to which a claimant is entitled from the All the property a person has, including real property and personal property. It is often used to describe property belonging to someone who has died, or the property of a bankrupt. of the deceased;
- the extent of the financial dependency of the competing claimants on the deceased; and
- the closeness of the relationship between the competing claimants and the deceased.
A potential beneficiary who is dissatisfied with a decision made by a trustee can complain to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (see ‘Review by the Australian Financial Complaints Authority’, below).
Superannuation and family law
A person’s superannuation entitlements can be divided between married and de facto couples. The division can be Done by your own free will. See also community treatment order (CTO). or ordered by the An independent body that hears legal claims brought by parties and decides between them. Serious cases are heard by a judge and jury, or just a judge. Less-serious cases are heard by a magistrate..
Regulations set out the methods of valuing superannuation interests. Whether a benefit is a defined benefit or an accumulation benefit makes a difference to the valuation method. The regulations also set out the way in which the payment split is to be put into effect and also the information that the trustees have to provide to the parties.
The valuation and splitting of a benefit can be postponed. This can be useful if a defined benefit or a partially vested accumulation interest is involved. A superannuation benefit may be subject to a ‘caveat’ to prevent it being paid out until the non-entitled partner’s interest is determined and paid. The starting point for splitting superannuation is an equal division of benefits accumulated during the relationship, but certain factors (e.g. responsibilities for children under 18 and preserving farms) may be taken into account.
A new interest can be created for the non-member partner in funds regulated by Commonwealth superannuation laws, or the amount can be rolled over into a new fund. The amount will be preserved as if it had not been divided.
Couples can make binding superannuation agreements about how the superannuation will be divided if their relationship fails.
Disability benefit disputes
Disputes about total and permanent disability benefits are also common, since a A finalisation, especially a decision made by a court or tribunal to finalise (determine) a case. of whether the member is disabled as defined by the trust deed must be made. Such benefits are often provided by way of an insurance policy between the trustee and an insurance company. So, a dispute can also arise as to whether the person is disabled as defined in the insurance An agreement that the law will enforce..
Other disputes can arise about whether a person is covered by insurance at a particular time, and by which insurance company. These disputes occur because the trustee has changed insurer. The questions of when incapacity occurs, and which insurer is liable at that time, can also arise.
Structure of disability benefits
The definition of ‘total and permanent disability’ varies. A common definition requires the person to have been absent from work due to sickness or injury for at least six months and is unlikely, in the opinion of the trustee or insurer, to ever work again in any profession, trade or occupation for which the person is reasonably suited by education, training or experience.
Work for which the person is ‘reasonably suited by education, training or experience’ is work for which the person is neither overqualified nor unqualified. For example, a carpenter who could work as a clerk might be regarded as totally and permanently disabled within this definition because such work is not suitable, given his carpentry experience.
Other common definitions require the person to have been absent from work due to sickness or injury for at least six months and to be unlikely, in the trustee’s opinion, to ever again work in their usual occupation (an easier test for the member to satisfy), or unlikely to engage in any gainful occupation for which they are qualified by education, training or experience or could be qualified by retraining (a more difficult test). While the ‘unlikely to’ test takes into account the question of whether the person could attract an employer, some insurance policies only insure against the person being ‘unable to engage’ in a gainful occupation for which they are qualified by education, training or experience. This is a more difficult definition to satisfy because it arguably does not take into account the question of whether the person could attract an employer.
Some insurers only provide an ‘Activities of daily living’ definition, which the Australian Competition and Under the Australian Consumer Law, a person who buys goods or services for less than $40 000 or for personal or home use. Commission has called ‘essentially junk insurance’. It is worthwhile checking what form of definition the insurer applies to you.
Trustees often, but not always, finance the provision of death and total and permanent disability benefits through a group life insurance policy. Where the trustee is a commercial organisation, the insurer is usually a related company.
Where the benefit is insurance-funded, sometimes the member is only entitled to the benefit if the insurer pays the insured benefit to the trustee. But there are still two decisions to be made. The insurer must decide whether the member is entitled to the insured benefit, and the trustee must decide whether the member is entitled to a disability benefit.
The trustee must not allow the insurer to dictate their decision. If the trustee considers that the insurer should pay the benefit, the trustee may have a duty to press the insurer for payment.