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Husband fails in attempt to claim wife's death benefit

24 April 2019 Muvhango Lukhaimane , Pension Funds Adjudicator
Muvhango Lukhaimane , Pension Funds Adjudicator

Muvhango Lukhaimane , Pension Funds Adjudicator

A Durban man has failed in his effort to prevent the allocation of a death benefit of almost R4-million into his late wife’s estate on the basis that investigations into the death had not been finalised.

Krean Naidoo of Umhlatuzana Township complained to the Pension Funds Adjudicator Muvhango Lukhaimane about Coca Cola Shanduka Beverage Provident Fund (first respondent) and wanted sanctions imposed on the fund for its conduct.

However, the complaint was dismissed on the grounds that the complainant had excluded himself from being a legal dependant of the deceased.

The dead woman Ms S Naidoo was a member of the first respondent until she passed away on 24 June 2016. The complainant was the spouse of the deceased.

Following her demise, a death benefit in the amount of R3 829 618.42 became available for distribution to her beneficiaries. The board of the first respondent resolved to pay the death benefit into the deceased’s estate account.

The complainant was aggrieved with the board’s decision. He submitted that he was the legal spouse of the deceased. He also said the deceased had passed away due to unnatural causes and the matter was under police investigation.

The complainant said on 6 June 2018, he visited the first respondent to provide proof that he was not financially dependent on the deceased. He was advised that the matter will be referred to the board of management of the first respondent for a decision. He was also informed that although the deceased had a Will, this will not guide the decision of the board in the distribution of the death benefit.

The complainant submitted that he was further advised that as the deceased had passed away due to unnatural causes, it required a clearing statement from the investigating officer that he and the deceased’s family were not implicated in her death.

The complainant said on 31 July 2018, the board resolved to pay the deceased’s entire death benefit into the latter’s estate late account. The first respondent advised him that he was not eligible for a death benefit. Further, the deceased did not complete a beneficiary nomination form and her last Will did not affect the board’s decision.

The complainant submitted that on 8 August 2018 and 17 August 2018, he raised further enquires which were not properly addressed by the first respondent. He submitted that the first respond refused to provide proper feedback to him.

He was also advised that the investigation into the death of the deceased was finalised. However, from his numerous follows-up with the investigating officers, this appeared to be untrue.

The complainant wanted the board of the pension fund to re-investigate the allocation of the death benefit only once the police investigation was finalised.

The first respondent submitted that the deceased had no children and was married to the complainant at the time of her death. The deceased was survived by her parents and two sisters. The deceased did not complete a beneficiary nomination form.

The complainant and the deceased were married out of community of property. The deceased moved out of the common home in November 2015 and thereafter lived alone until the time of her death.

The first respondent submitted that prior to her death, the deceased had initiated divorce proceedings against the complainant. Further, the complainant and deceased agreed in a deed of settlement that neither party had any claim to the assets of the other.

The deceased had a Will in which she appointed her parents as her sole beneficiaries. In the event of them predeceasing her, her entire estate would then devolve upon her two sisters. The Will was declared valid by the High Court following an application by the deceased’s parents which was opposed by the complainant.

The first respondent submitted that the complainant was not financially dependent on the deceased. The first respondent attached a copy of an email dated 30 May 2018, wherein the complainant confirmed that he was not financially dependent on the deceased.

The first respondent submitted that on 31 July 2018, the board resolved to pay the entire death benefit into the deceased’s estate based on the following reasons:


•The deceased lived alone since November 2015, until the date of her death;
•The deceased and the complainant were estranged with the intention to annul the marriage;
•There was no written evidence that the deceased intended to reverse her decision as alleged by the complainant;
•The complainant confirmed that he was not financially dependent on the deceased;
•The deceased did not have dependants or nominees as she did not complete a beneficiary nomination form;
•The deceased’s estate was declared solvent.

The first respondent spoke to the investigating officer who confirmed that nobody was implicated in the death of the deceased. The investigation was, for all intents and purposes, finalised by the time the board made its decision to pay the death benefit into the dead woman’s estate account.

The first respondent submitted that it attempted to resolve all the complainant’s queries in a professional and courteous manner. However, it seemed that the complainant may have misunderstood the board’s obligations in dealing with a death claim.
In her determination, Ms Lukhaimane said the complainant and the deceased were estranged since November 2015 and were no longer living together on the date of her death.

Further, prior to the death of the deceased, she had initiated divorce proceedings against the complainant and they signed a deed of settlement wherein they agreed that neither party had any claim to the assets of the other.

“The deceased had a Will in which she appointed her parents as her sole beneficiaries.

“The complainant confirmed to the first respondent that he was not financially dependent on the deceased. Therefore, by agreement with the deceased, the complainant excluded himself from being a legal and/or factual dependant of the deceased.

“It follows that his exclusion from the allocation of the death benefit was equitable in the circumstances,” Ms Lukhaimane said.

She found that the payment of the death benefit into the estate account was justifiable under the circumstances. Thus, the complaint was dismissed.

 

 

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