Til death (or retirement) do us part

Ryan retired in 2015, and was receiving an annual payment from his work’s superannuation scheme. Under the superannuation scheme, Ryan could choose a dependant to receive his payments after he passed away.

Ryan had recently remarried, so he contacted his superannuation scheme to remove his ex-wife as his designated dependant and add his new wife. However, the superannuation scheme’s trustee told him he could not change his designated dependant now he had retired.

 

Dispute

The trustee said that, under its Trust Deed, it could not allow Ryan to change his dependant. The Trust Deed only allowed ‘members’ to change their dependants, and the term ‘member’ only included participants while they were employed by the scheme provider. Ryan was no longer employed by the company, he was no longer a ‘member’, and he could not change his dependant.

Ryan thought his superannuation scheme should be able to respond to a life event as common as finding a new partner. He did not think it was fair that his ex-wife would receive his superannuation payments if he passed away, while his new partner would receive nothing.

Ryan complained to FSCL.

 

Review

We reviewed the terms of the Trust Deed, and found that the trustee’s reading was unnecessarily technical, narrow, and restrictive. Read as a whole, it was clear that the Trust Deed intended to give members the power to change their designated dependants after they retired.

Resolution

We wrote to the trustee and explained our view. After receiving independent legal advice, the trustee accepted our view and agreed to allow Ryan to change his designated dependant.

The trustee also said it would write to any of its members who might have been affected by its decision, to let them know that they could change their dependants.

 

Insights

Your interpretation of a document, especially a complex legal document, can seem like the only reasonable reading. However, occasionally an independent view can reveal another perspective. When parties to a dispute each interpret a document differently, FSCL can help reach a resolution by providing an independent view.

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