Insights / October 16th, 2018

What happens to a couple's money when one partner dies?

How fast are superannuation benefits paid out

How promptly superannuation benefits are paid out to a surviving spouse and/or dependants of a deceased will depend upon the requirements of the superannuation fund. If the fund requires a final death certificate (as opposed to an interim death certificate), and there is an investigation into the cause of death, it can take six months or longer for the final certificate to be issued with the benefit likely to be paid some weeks later. If the fund accepts an interim death certificate, payment can occur as early as two months post death. The distribution of the superannuation will also depend on whether a binding death benefit nomination has been made (and is valid), or if the benefit is to be paid into the estate. If to be paid into the estate, Probate or Letters of Administration will be required.

Dealing with property assets

How real property (land and houses) is dealt with after the death of a spouse will depend upon how the property is held. If the couple hold the property as joint tenants, the surviving spouse becomes the sole registered proprietor (owner) upon lodgement of an Application to Note Death with the Lands Title Office (with a copy of the death certificate). Joint tenancy is the most common form of property ownership between spouses and means the deceased’s share in the property is not included in their estate. If the property is held by the couple as tenants in common, the deceased’s share of the property forms part of his/her estate and must therefore, be dealt with in accordance with the terms of their Will or, if the spouse dies intestate (i.e. without a Will), via Letters of Administration. As with any asset that falls into the estate of a deceased, it is at risk of an inheritance claim by beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries of the deceased.

Savings accounts

If the money is held in a joint savings account, upon presentation of a death certificate, the bank will note the death of the spouse on the account. If the money in the account is held only by the deceased spouse, the asset forms part of their estate and therefore has to be dealt with pursuant to the terms of a will, or if no will, via the rules governing intestate estates.

Government pension payments

Government pension payments cease on death and the surviving spouse needs to contact Centrelink urgently to notify them of the change of circumstances so that payments can be adjusted.

Transfer of other assets

The surviving spouse should do a review of their deceased spouse’s assets and memberships. For instance, if shares were jointly held, ownership can be transferred to the sole surviving spouse by completing and lodging the necessary documents at the relevant share registry. Motor vehicle ownership can be transferred by completing and lodging the necessary forms with the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure. The surviving spouse should also notify Medicare, the ATO and a private health fund, (if applicable).

Understanding the process

Usually it takes 3-4 weeks for a death certificate to be issued. Certified copies of the death certificate are usually required to deal with jointly held assets (in addition to any other documents required).

In relation to assets that were held solely by the deceased at their death, if the deceased left a valid Will, a Grant of Probate may be required to deal with the assets. Obtaining a grant could take up to six months or possibly longer depending on the assets. If there was no Will, Letters of Administration may be required.

If assets are jointly held, the surviving spouse should be able to arrange the transfer of ownership inexpensively and without legal assistance.

However, if a Probate or Letters of Administration are required, it is strongly recommended that a legal representative be engaged.

The cost of obtaining a Grant of Probate will depend on a number of matters, including the gross value of the assets. However, for a simple estate comprising a house, bank accounts and a small shareholding, it could cost between $2000 and $4000, including the filing fee charged by the Supreme Court Registry.

For further information or to arrange an interview contact Corporate Conversation on 08-8224 3535.

Click on the following link to read the related article "Death of a spouse: What happens to a couple’s money" published by News.com.au on 16 October 2018.