One of the questions I receive from most retirement fund members is about who has a claim to their retirement funds if they die in service.
As a member of the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) one of the most important documents you need to keep up to date is your beneficiary nomination form. This will inform the trustees as to who your legal and financial dependants are, as well as their contact details. It will make it easier for the fund to make the relevant payments, ensuring your family receives the urgent financial support they need.
It is important to note that while your nomination form can assist the trustees in identifying and contacting beneficiaries, the trustees are still obliged to identify all legal or financial dependants and ensure that the death benefit is distributed equitably amongst the dependants.
The trustees will do an investigation into the dependence of any surviving legal dependants. Legal dependants include a spouse, parents, children, etc. However, anyone who can prove that they were financially dependent on the deceased has a rightful claim on some of the proceeds. This could include a child from another relationship, a parent, or even another partner who was financially supported by the member.
Once the trustees have identified all the dependants, they distribute the benefits according to the level of dependence. For example, if a member of the fund was married and had one adult child who was employed, then the spouse would receive the full benefit.
However, if the child was still living at home, or studying, and therefore dependent on the deceased, then they could have a claim. This does assume that there were no other dependants. Minor children from other marriages or relationships would also be considered in the dependency assessment.
Benefits are based on how long the member was in service at the time of death. If a member dies with less than ten years’ service, the lump sum which will be distributed is based on either the member’s final salary (average of last two years per definition) or the value of the member’s pension in the fund at that time, whichever is greater.
If a member passes away with more than ten years’ service, a lump sum (death-in-service gratuity) is paid to beneficiaries and a monthly pension is paid to the spouse. If the member was a single parent, the minor children receive a child’s pension.
What does a beneficiary nomination form do?
A nomination form is completed while you are still alive and can only be changed by the member of the fund. It is used to identify potential legal/financial dependants, or other beneficiaries if you do not have any dependants.
If you are not married and do not have children or any other dependants, your gratuity will still be paid out to anyone you choose – including your parents or siblings.
The nomination form does not, however, supersede the responsibly of the trustees to provide for financial dependants.
If, for example, the nominated beneficiaries are not financially dependent on the deceased and there are other financial dependants not included on the form, the nominated beneficiaries may receive no money. Only in cases where there are no legal or financial dependants do the trustees distribute death benefits in line with the beneficiary nomination.
Make sure that the total percentage provided for each beneficiary adds up to 100%. You cannot, for example, nominate three beneficiaries giving them each 50%.
How does one prove financial dependence?
In the case of a spouse and minor children, financial dependency is assumed ‒ no further proof is needed.
Financial dependence can also be proved by a divorce order or by supplying bank statements proving that the deceased paid for certain expenses.
Tuition fees, bond repayments, medical aid and any other expenses that were paid by the deceased can be used to prove financial dependence.
It is important to understand who does not qualify as a financial dependant as this can become a contested issue, especially if there were relationships outside the marriage.
A financial/legal dependant includes:
- A spouse. In the case of customary marriage, if there are two valid spouses, both of them will get an equal share of both gratuity and annuity.
- A child under the age of 18, or a child who is still receiving financial support such as tuition.
- A parent who is receiving financial support.
A financial dependant does not include:
- An adult child who is not receiving financial support from the member.
- A former spouse or partner who has not received any financial support and financial support is not stipulated in the divorce agreement.
If there are no financial dependants and the member has specified the beneficiary on the nomination form, then payment would be made.
Scenario 1: A member has adult children from a previous relationship who are not receiving financial support. The member is married and has young children with the current partner.
Likely outcome: The trustees will only consider the spouse and minor children as beneficiaries for distribution.
Scenario 2: A member has adult children from a previous relationship and is paying their tuition. The member is married and has young children with the current partner.
Likely outcome: The trustees will distribute the retirement fund among the spouse, young children and adult children in relation to level of dependency. As each case is treated individually, it depends on how many adult children there are. Adult children are usually given a percentage not exceeding 20% if still studying. The age of children is taken into consideration when percentages are determined. The gratuity will be shared amongst all dependants and the spouse will also receive a monthly pension.
Scenario 3: The member has adult children from a previous relationship who are not receiving financial support. The member is not legally married but living with a long-term partner.
Likely outcome: The long-term partner needs to apply to be recognised as the life partner of the deceased in order to be recognised. If the life partner’s application is approved, he/she will receive a share of the gratuity and the monthly pension. In a case where the life partner is not approved but the partner can prove financial dependency on the deceased, the gratuity will be shared among all qualifying dependants, however the partner will not receive the spousal pension.
Where can members get the nomination form?
The nomination form can be obtained from GPAA regional offices, your HR department, or the GEPF website.
Forms can be submitted at the various regional offices, to your HR department, or can be emailed to email@example.com.
Register your spouse or life partner
As your spouse or life partner is entitled to an annuity when you die, it is important that you register him/her by providing your human resources department with either a certified copy of your marriage certificate, customary union certificate, lobola agreement, civil union certificate, or a certificate confirming your marriage in any other religion.
This article was sponsored by the GEPF.