As an SMSF trustee, you need to take special care when paying death benefits as you are responsible to ensure that the payment rules are met. Strict rules apply, affecting who can receive a death benefit, the form in which the death benefit can be paid and the timing of such a payment.
Firstly, death benefits can only be paid either to dependents of the deceased member or the estate of the deceased.
Second, the law limits the group of dependents who are eligible to receive a pension on the death of the deceased member.
Finally, trustees must pay a death benefit as soon as possible after the death of the member. Additionally, each death benefit interest can only be paid to each dependant as either:
- a maximum of two lump sums (an interim and final lump sum), or
- a pension or pensions in retirement phase, or
- a combination of both.
It is the limit of a maximum of two death benefit lump sums per dependent that trustees need to keep track of to ensure that the cashing rules are not inadvertently breached, especially where the death benefit is being paid as a pension.
Given the account-based nature of death benefit pensions that can be paid by an SMSF trustee, an SMSF member is generally afforded the flexibility to nominate to convert a death benefit pension into a lump sum payment. This process is generally referred to as the commutation of a pension although may be subject to specific restrictions found in a trust deed.
A partial commutation is where the beneficiary requests to withdraw a lump sum amount less than their total pension entitlement, allowing their death benefit pension to continue. This is common where members withdraw their required minimum drawdown as a pension with any additional income needs met by accessing multiple lump sums from their pension account. This strategy allows the death benefit pension to continue without breaching the superannuation death benefit rules, despite payments in excess of the maximum two lump sum limit.
A full commutation will result in the death benefit pension ceasing at the time the member decides to withdraw their entire pension entitlement as a lump sum. Despite the number of lump sum death benefits previously received, the law allows the beneficiary to roll over the lump sum resulting from a full commutation to another superannuation fund for immediate cashing as a new death benefit pension.
However, where a lump sum resulting from the full commutation of a death benefit pension is paid out of the superannuation system, further clarity is being sought from the ATO to ascertain whether or not this will be treated as an additional lump sum death benefit that would count towards the maximum two lump sum cashing limit. Until further clarity is provided by the ATO, caution needs to be exercised before a death benefit pension is fully commuted and paid to the dependant, especially where the dependant has previously received a lump sum death benefit.
As an SMSF trustee you need to be aware of the restrictions placed on the payment of death benefits to eligible dependants of a deceased member. Trustees who ignore these limitations risk breaching superannuation standards and potentially being liable to be fined by the Regulator.
The information in this article contains general advice and is provided by ExpertSuper™ Pty Ltd as an authorised representative of Primestock Securities Ltd AFSL 239180. That advice has been prepared without taking your personal objectives, financial situation or needs into account. Before acting on this general advice, you should consider the appropriateness of it having regard to your personal objectives, financial situation and needs. You should obtain and read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) before making any decision to acquire any financial product referred to in this article. Please refer to the FSG (available here) for contact information and information about remuneration and associations with product issuers.This information should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional advice, and we encourage you to seek specific advice from your professional adviser before making a decision on the matters discussed in this article. Information in this article is current at the date of this article (22 Nov 2019) and we have no obligation to update or revise it as a result of any change in events, circumstances or conditions upon which it is based.