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Ask Colley: Death benefits and indexation of the transfer balance cap

Mar 11, 2021, 15:23 PM
By Graeme Colley
Graeme-Colley_90x90mm

Indexation of the Transfer Balance Cap (TBC) to $1.7 million from 1 July 2021 has an impact on reversionary pensions commenced since 1 July 2020. But the same can’t be said for death benefit pensions which are left up to the decision of the surviving beneficiary. You could say that reversionary pensions provide some advantages in their ability to access a higher TBC.

If a member of an SMSF commences a pension from the fund, the trust deed will usually permit it to have a reversionary or non-reversionary beneficiary. If a member chooses a reversionary pension they will nominate a dependant, usually their surviving spouse, as the reversioner to automatically receive the pension from the time of their death. In some cases it is possible to amend the member’s pension terms so it converts from a non-reversionary to reversionary pension or vice versa if the change is made prior to their death.

On the death of the member, a reversionary pension becomes automatically payable to the surviving dependant and is reported to the ATO for Transfer Balance Cap purposes as at the date of the member’s death. However, the information provided to the ATO is not counted against the reversioner’s Transfer Balance Cap until the anniversary of the deceased’s death. The purpose of the delay is to provide the reversioner with some time to adjust their life after the death of a loved one. The main benefit for super purposes is that the surviving dependant is able to retain any pension(s) they are receiving plus the value of any reversionary pension in a tax exempt environment in the fund for at least a year after the member’s death.

In contract to a reversionary pension, if a surviving dependant decides to commence a death benefit pension it will commence from the amount in the deceased’s accumulation account and/or the amount remaining after a non-reversionary pension has ceased. For Transfer Balance Cap purposes the amount that commences the death benefit pension is counted on its commencement day. It is not given the 12 month leeway provided to reversionary pensions.

Indexation of the Transfer Balance Cap from $1.6 to $1.7 million from 1 July 2021 allows anyone who has become entitled to a reversionary pension on or after 1 July 2020 to have access to some, if not all, of the $100,000 indexed amount. The reason is that the 12 month delay in counting the reversionary pension will occur from 1 July 2021 which is after the indexation has taken place.

The following case studies compare how a reversionary and death benefit pension of the same amount are counted for Transfer Balance Cap purposes.

Case Study 1

Carmilla was in receipt of an account based pension which had a balance of $1.3 million when she died on 1 August 2020. She nominated her husband, Marco, as her reversioner. The balance of the pension at the time of Camilla’s death was reported to the ATO and will be counted as a credit against Marco’s Transfer Balance Cap on 1 August 2021.

As Marco has never been in receipt of a superannuation income stream the balance of the reversionary pension will be counted against the $1.7 million indexed Transfer Balance Cap. This would leave him with an unused cap amount of $400,000 which could be used to commence another income stream from his superannuation balance.

If Camilla commenced a non-reversionary pension instead and it had a balance of $1.2 million when she died on 1 August 2020 it would be up to Marco to commence a death benefit income stream. If he commenced the income stream on 1 October 2020 the balance would be counted against the

$1.6 million Transfer Balance Cap. This would leave him with an unused cap amount of $300,000 which could be used to commence an income stream from his superannuation balance.

Case Study 2

Maurice had a balance of $900,000 in his account based pension at the time of his death on 1 December 2020 and named Jill as his reversioner. Jill commenced an account based pension on 1 July 2018 with a balance of $1.2 million which was counted as a credit against her Transfer Balance Cap.

As Jill has used up $1.2 million or 75% of her Transfer Balance Cap she will only get the benefit of part of the indexed amount which is the unused percentage of the Cap. Therefore, her Transfer Balance Cap limit will increase from 1 July 2021 by $25,000 or 25% of her unused Cap, from $1.6 million to $1.625 million.

Jill will need to decide before 1 December 2021, which is the anniversary of Maurice’s death, on what to do with the income streams that she is entitled to. Otherwise she will end up with an amount that is in excess of her Transfer Balance Cap. The excess will be $475,000 which is the difference between Jill’s indexed Transfer Balance Cap of $1.625 million less the combined balance of the pensions counted against the cap which is $2,100,000 ($1.2 million plus $900,000).

There are probably a number of options Jill has to deal with the excess, which would include:

· Commuting the balance of the pension she commenced in the fund by $475,000, and

‐ transferring the amount to her accumulation account in the fund, or

‐ withdrawing it as a lump sum from the fund, or

‐ a combination of both

· Commuting $475,000 from Maurice’s reversionary pension and she will be required to withdraw it as a lump sum. Jill does not have the option of transferring a death benefit to her accumulation account in the fund.

The most likely tax effective option for Jill would be to maximise the amount retained in the fund by partially commuting her pension and transferring it to her accumulation phase account in the fund.

If Maurice had not nominated a reversioner for his pension, she would be limited to using $400,000 to commence the death benefit pension and would be required to take the remainder of Maurice’s death benefit as a lump sum ($500,000).

Case Study 3

Christina and Wayne both commenced account based pensions on 1 July 2019 with $1.6 million which used up 100% of their Transfer Balance Caps of $1.6 million. They nominated each other as their respective reversioners. Wayne died on 1 January 2021 and Christina became entitled to the reversionary pension.

For Transfer Balance Cap purposes the balance of Wayne’s pension was $1.4 million as at 1 January 2021. The balance was reported to the ATO at that time and will be counted against Christina’s Transfer Balance Cap on 1 January 2022 which is the anniversary of Wayne’s death. However, as Christina has used up 100% of her $1.6 million cap when her account based pension commenced on 1 July 2019 she will not receive any benefit of indexation.

It will be up to Christine to decide what to do with the pensions she is receiving before 1 January 2022 when Wayne’s reversionary pension is counted against her Transfer Balance Cap.

Christine has a number of options which are similar to the Case Study 3, which would include:

· Commuting the balance of the pension she commenced in the fund by $1.4 million, and

‐ transferring the amount to her accumulation account in the fund, or

‐ withdrawing it as a lump sum from the fund, or

‐ a combination of both

· Commuting the whole of Maurice’s reversionary pension and withdraw it from the sum as a lump sum. Jill does not have the option of transferring the reversionary benefit to her accumulation account in the fund.

Summary

Deciding to commence a reversionary pension or non-reversionary pension depends on a number of things to consider. The indexation of the Transfer Balance Cap and how a reversionary pension can access the indexed amount is illustrated above and is just one of those considerations.