Trustees of superannuation funds are overturning the wishes of deceased policy holders, ignoring written instructions in wills and giving away millions in death benefits to people who claim they are entitled to the money. Cases concerning super death benefits comprise a third of all complaints made to the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal, the body established to oversee disputes relating to regulated super funds.

This is further complicated by the increase in non-traditional family structures, with disputes extending to past spouses, adult children from former relationships, current and former de facto spouses, stepchildren and children of de facto spouses.

SCT chairwoman Jocelyn Furlan said people needed to realise that when they nominated a person to receive their death benefit, this was not binding on the super fund’s trustees – and the trustees should also make sure people were aware of this when signing up to a fund.

Even “binding nominations”, were not necessarily binding since super funds had the discretion to apportion death benefits as they saw fit to dependants of the fund member, said Chris Kennedy, the director of wealth advisory firm William Buck.

According to published SCT decisions, complaints are also occurring where a person does not name anyone as their beneficiary.

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