Pension funds fall into a different category of your estate when you die and any value of the fund at time of death or death benefit amount in your pension fund can not be bequeathed to anyone as with other assets. The unfortunate thing about a death benefit claim is that it is a very complicated process and can take a long time.

Death benefit distribution

If you are involved in one of these death benefit claims against a pension fund, be patient. You will get a lot of documents and instructions on how and what documents are required to make a successful claim. Read these documents very carefully and provide ALL of the information and documentation they ask for. Any missing or partially completed document will make the process longer, so get everything together exactly as it is requested, make copies and deliver the documents to the pension fund administrators offices and get a proof of delivery signed, you may need this.

The main reason for the lengthy process before proceeds are distributed, is the onus being on the trustees to take care of the deceased’s dependents, even if those distributions are contrary to the wishes of the deceased. The intention of Section 37C of the pension funds act is to protect dependants, even over the clear wishes of the member.  The section of the act strives to ensure that no one who was financially dependent on the member is left without support.

Pension funds in your estate must be distributed to your dependents or those who relied on you as a breadwinner on your death, this is a legal obligation of the trustees of your estate and could be dependents or nominees.


The Act defines dependants as spouses, children, anyone proven to have been financially dependent on the member at the time of their death, anyone entitled to maintenance, as well as anyone who may in the future have become financially dependent on the member.


A nominee is any party (natural person, trust or legal entity) whose details the member provided to the retirement fund in writing indicating that they should be considered by the trustees for a possible allocation of the death benefit. Examples would be one or more dependants, or a person who is not a dependant, such as a friend of
the member

The trustees are required in terms of the act, to conduct an investigation into each dependants financial circumstances, find all of the dependents and then make the decision on the apportionmet of the death benefit. The act allows the trustees 12 months to complete this process but there are circumstances which could delay the process, like the determination of the cause of death in unnatural circumstances. This further requires the trustees to ensure that no nbeneficiary had anything to do with the death of the member. Completion of Police investigations can take some time.

Pension funds are also not accessible to creditors and cannot be attached. of course there are always exceptions to the rule but here we are assuming that you have not purposefully tried to hide any of your assets in a pension fund. The only creditor that has the ability to access pension funds is the receiver of revenue. Apart from that, your dependents have sole entitlement to the funds in your pension fund.