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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

‘My late son left a pension in his will – what happens to it now?’

Expression of wish forms

To help the pension provider make their decision your son may have been asked to complete an expression of wish or nomination form when he joined the pension scheme. This would have allowed him to nominate his beneficiaries, making your son’s wishes clear about what he would have wanted to happen to his pension following his death. 

Before any death benefits are paid out, the pension provider will carry out an investigation to find out who the benefits should go to. This includes looking at any information it has on record, such as an expression of wish form, or information it has been able to get hold of after death, such as a copy of the will.

Completing an expression of wish form is entirely voluntary so it’s worth checking with your son’s pension provider if they have one on record. Without any instructions from your son, it may mean a delay in paying out the death benefits as the provider will need to collect information to help with their decision-making process.  

It’s important to understand that an expression of wish form is not legally binding. This is where it’s different from a will. Although pension providers will seek to accommodate your son’s wishes, they do have a legal duty to ensure that the pension is paid to the appropriate people taking into account the information they have managed to gather.  

If there are different beneficiaries in the expression of wish and will, the provider will use its discretion to decide who the benefits should be paid to following its investigation. It’s likely the provider would look at when both were completed. Generally, if both are recent and there appears to be no conflict between possible beneficiaries as to who benefits should be paid to, a provider may well take account of the expression of wish over the will.

Warning: not all pension funds have discretion over payments

However, not all pension plans are set-up this way, so may not give the pension provider any discretion on how the funds are paid out on death. Instead, the policy may dictate that lump sums must be paid to the estate on death. 

It’s also possible that your son may have completed a written direction, which is where he would have told his pension provider exactly who should receive the death benefits.  

Get in touch with the pension provider

It’s important that you contact your son’s pension provider and make them aware of his death, providing the original death certificate. This means that the process of paying out the death benefits can begin.

Find out about:

  • the arrangements for paying out the death benefits
  • what will be paid
  • whether the provider has some discretion or whether benefits have to be paid to his estate or to a trust
  • if your son completed an expression of wish form
  • and what evidence or additional information is needed for you to claim (including whether you have to provide a copy of the will).

Pensions doctor Kate Smith, of pension firm Aegon, solves your retirement issues. Write to Kate with your pension problem via pensionsdoctor@telegraph.co.uk. Columns are published twice a month on Tuesday mornings

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