Mrs D (PO-20255) (Distribution of death benefits)


Upholding Mrs D’s complaint, TPO found that a provider had made insufficient enquiries of the potential beneficiaries for a death benefit and directed it to make a fresh decision.

Facts

Mr and Mrs D married in 1981.

In 1987, Mr D took out a pension with the provider and completed an expression of wish (“EOW”) specifying that, in the event of his death, his benefits should be paid to Mrs D.

In 2007, Mr and Mrs D separated but did not divorce.

In 2015, Mr D completed a will in which he outlined the financial responsibilities / dependency between him and Miss Y. A further will was drawn up in April 2017 but was not witnessed. This later document elaborated on the instructions given in 2015.

Mr D died in May 2017.

The provider contacted Mrs D to inform her that she was named in Mr D’s EOW form and ask her to complete and return a claim form for his death benefit. The solicitors acting for Mr D’s estate informed the provider that the death benefits should be paid to Miss Y and explained why this was the case. Mrs D made further submissions, partly rebutting the solicitors’ assertions. In particular, she explained that she was Mr D’s widow, not his previous partner.

The provider decided to pay the death benefits to Miss Y.

Mrs D formally complained to the provider about its decision. Ultimately the case came before TPO.

Adjudicator’s opinion

The Adjudicator concluded that further action was required by the provider. Having received contradictory information, it ought to have requested clarification, as well as evidence, to support the arguments being made, before it reached a decision. The provider’s failure to test the solicitors’ counterclaim before deciding how to distribute the death benefits rendered the decision-making process procedurally unfair.

TPO’s decision

TPO agreed with the Adjudicator. She found that the provider had made insufficient enquiries of both Mrs D and Miss Y to ascertain the extent of their respective dependence before deciding how to distribute the benefits due under the policy.

She therefore directed the provider to:

  • make a fresh decision about how to distribute the death benefits
  • in communicating its decision to the potential beneficiaries, (i) state its reasons, (ii) highlight the rules used to make the decision and (iii) highlight the information / evidence taken into account to reach the decision
  • pay Mrs D £500 in recognition of the significant distress and inconvenience caused.

Comment

A reminder for trustees of the importance of having an appropriate procedure in place for distributing death benefits.