Estranged husband loses bid to obtain deceased wife’s R4m fund benefits
Pension funds adjudicator finds that the fund followed the law to the letter by paying into the deceased's estate
An estranged husband has failed to get his hands on his wife’s death benefit of almost R4m from Coca Cola Shanduka Beverage Provident Fund.
The Durban man, Krean Naidoo, approached the Pension Funds Adjudicator because he was unhappy that the fund paid the death benefit into his deceased wife’s estate.
He complained to the adjudicator, Muvhango Lukhaimane, about Coca Cola Shanduka Beverage Provident Fund and wanted sanctions imposed on the fund for its conduct.
He told the adjudicator that he was the legal spouse of the deceased and asked whether the decision of the board of trustees of the fund to pay the money into his wife’s estate was equitable. He also asked the adjudicator to order the board to re-investigate the allocation of the death benefit only once the South African Police Service investigation into the death of his wife was complete. She died from unnatural causes.
In June 2018, Naidoo had been advised by the fund that his wife’s death was being investigated by the police and that that the police had to clear the family from being implicated in her death.
In July, the fund had advised him that the investigation into his wife’s death had been completed, but he told the adjudicator that his own follow-ups with the investigating officers indicated this to be false. He also complained to the adjudicator that the fund had not properly addressed his further inquiries in August.
However, Lukhaimane dismissed Naidoo’s complaint because he was not a legal dependant of the deceased.
In its submission to the adjudicator, the fund explained its decision to pay the death benefit into Mrs Naidoo’s estate.
The fund said that the member was married out of community of property to her husband and they did not have children. She had moved out of the common home in November 2015 and thereafter lived alone until the time of her death in June 2016.
Furthermore, Naidoo had initiated divorce proceedings against her husband and they had agreed in a deed of settlement that they did not have any claims to the assets of the other. The fund said there was no written evidence that Naidoo intended to reverse her decision, as alleged by her husband.
Naidoo was survived by her parents and two sisters, and in her will she nominated her parents as heirs, failing which her sisters were to inherit. Her will was declared valid by the High Court following an application by her parents, which was opposed by Mr Naidoo.
The fund provided the adjudicator with written proof — an e-mail from Naidoo — that he was not financially dependent on the deceased.
The adjudicator was also informed that the fund had been in contact with the investigating officer who confirmed that nobody was implicated in Naidoo’s death. It was for these reasons that the fund decided to pay the death benefit to her estate at the end of July 2018.
The fund said it attempted to resolve all Mr Naidoo’s queries in a professional and courteous manner. However, he may have misunderstood the board’s obligations in dealing with a death claim.
Lukhaimane said in the determination that as Naidoo had confirmed to the fund that he was not financially dependent on his wife, he was excluded as a legal and/or factual dependant.
The Pension Funds Act governs the distribution of death benefits and obliges the board of trustees of a retirement fund to identify the beneficiaries of a member who has died. The board has the discretion to decide the proportions and the manner in which it chooses to distribute death benefits to the beneficiaries, she said.
The act allows death benefits to be paid into an estate in two cases. Firstly, where the deceased member had no dependants and did not nominate a beneficiary and secondly where the fund is not able to find any beneficiaries within 12 months from the person’s death, the adjudicator says.
Naidoo did not have any legal dependants and she did not complete a beneficiary nomination. She had initiated divorce proceedings prior to her death and she and Mr Naidoo had agreed that they did not have claim to each other’s assets, she concluded.
In her determination, Lukhaimane confirmed that the payment of the death benefit into the estate of Naidoo was justifiable in the circumstances and she dismissed Mr Naidoo’s complaint.