What happens to my superannuation when I die?

Date: Jul 21, 2011

The assets and property of a deceased person - known as an estate - are divided up according to the details of their will.

If no will exists, the estate is divided up by an administrator appointed by the court.

But did you know that your superannuation may be treated differently?

Superannuation is a compulsory retirement fund contributed to by your employer and usually managed by a third-party company - although self-managed funds are becoming increasingly popular.

Such funds are not always considered to form part of a person's estate. As such, a person's will does not have the power to discern who will gain access to it.

Instead, these funds are controlled by a trustee who looks after your superannuation and is responsible for distributing its benefits on your death.

A fund is usually divided between the deceased person's spouse and dependants at the discretion of the trustee.

You can issue a trustee with instructions for this division by providing them with a Binding Death Benefit Nomination. This can help to ensure that your superannuation is distributed according to your wishes.

The trustee will assume you have considered the circumstances of your dependants and will no longer exercise discretionary powers over the fund's distribution.

This means that your superannuation will be divided according to the terms you set out - including the dependants listed and the amounts they receive.

It is a good idea to get as much information as possible before committing a Binding Death Benefit Nomination to avoid having your super fund involved in a costly estate dispute should a loved one feel they are overlooked.

If you do not issue instruction to your trustee, they will divide you fund according to the laws governing superannuation.

What this means is that the trustee will be free to distribute your fund's benefits amongst your dependants according to their judgement of what is reasonable.

One thing to be aware of is that money from a superannuation account left to a beneficiary may be taxable at a rate of up to 31.5 per cent.

Unfortunately, your funds trustee may not be as aware of your loved ones' circumstances as you are.

By making use of your family lawyer's assistance in estate planning - including the issue and renewal of Binding Death Benefit Nominations - you can take into account any financial concerns you may have regarding the division of your superannuation fund.