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Binding Death Benefit Nominations: What You Need to Know

Binding Death Benefit Nominations: What You Need to Know

By Prime Advisory, 31 August 2020

By Stephen Lynch, Somerville Legal.

What is a binding death benefit nomination and why is it important? This article reveals all.

Your money, your wishes.

Just as it is desirable to maximise wealth during your lifetime, it is important to ensure that in the event of your death, your assets pass to the people you wish to benefit.

For most Australians, superannuation is one of the most significant assets they have, and ensuring that it is paid to the appropriate people is a critical element of estate planning.

One of the most common mistakes people make is thinking that their superannuation is automatically an estate asset, and therefore covered by their will.

In fact, superannuation is a separate type of asset that is held by the superannuation fund and paid out by the trustee of the fund upon the death of the fund member.

In fact, in most cases, it is the trustee, and not the member, who decides who gets the member’s superannuation death benefits, and in what proportions.

For most people, the only way to ensure they, and not the trustee, control who their superannuation benefits pass to upon death is to make a binding death benefit nomination (BDBN).

This is a specific form that directs the trustee on how to pay the member’s superannuation upon death.

Why Have a Binding Death Benefit Nomination?

The advantages of having a binding death benefit nomination in place include the following:


Just as having a will is important to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes upon death, deciding who should get your superannuation is equally significant.

Most super funds’ rules state that unless there is a BDBN in place, the trustee has complete discretion as to whom to pay the person’s superannuation.

This is as long as the recipient is a dependant of the deceased membersuch as a spouse or child, including an adult childor the member’s legal personal representative, i.e. their estate.

If you want to make the decision regarding payment of your super, rather than leaving it to the trustee to decide, a BDBN is critical.


For many people, it is not just that they don’t want the trustee of the super fund to decide who gets the person’s superannuationit is that they have specific intentions about how all of their estate is to be distributed.

For example, they may want a spouse to get the super, but the children to get the non-super assets.

A BDBN provides the peace of mind that your wishes will be followed in relation to your super.

This allows you to make other decisions, such as gifts during your lifetime, that will ‘even up’ the ledger.


According to the Federal Government’s superannuation laws, superannuation death benefits can only be paid to a person’s dependantssuch as their spouse or childrenor estate.

If you want your super to pass to someone elsesuch as your parents, a sibling, or a charityyou will need to have a BDBN directing the trustee to pay your super to your estate. You can then stipulate that the proceeds are to pass to the intended beneficiary.

Or, if you want your superannuation to be held for the benefit of your children, but do not want them to have control until a later agesay, 25 or 30having a BDBN in favour of your estate and a will that establishes testamentary trusts for your children may be the answer.

Without a BDBN, your will may contain very specific provisions as to how your superannuation is to be distributed, only for the trustee to bypass your estate altogetherin which case the terms of your will would not apply.

Speed of Payment

When a person dies, the executor of their will would in most cases need to obtain a grant of probate of the estate from the Supreme Court.

Although probate is usually a relatively simple process, there can be delays in obtaining probatefor example, due to a dispute over the terms of the will, or delays in obtaining the details about each asset that needs to be disclosed to the court.

If there is a BDBN in place that directs the trustee to pay the superannuation to one or more dependants, i.e. not to the estate, the trustee may be willing to pay out the superannuation before probate is granted.

Without a BDBN, even if the trustee was inclined to pay the superannuation to the deceased member’s dependants, the trustee may await probate so as to obtain the executor’s consent to the trustee bypassing the estate.

Similarly, if there were no BDBN, there may be competing claims from dependantse.g. the deceased’s spouse vs his or her children from an earlier marriage.

Before making a determination, the trustee would in all likelihood need each claimant to provide a substantial amount of information and would take some time to go over those details before making their decision.

Such delays may be avoided if a BDBN is in place.

Self-Managed Super Funds and Binding Death Benefit Nominations

If a person has a self-managed super fund (SMSF), there are several factors that will influence who would control that SMSF upon the person’s death.

Without a BDBN, whoever controls the SMSF may have the same discretion to decide how the super will be paid.

If that person is a dependant, they could exercise that discretion in favour of themselves to the exclusion of their other family members, regardless of the wishes of the deceased.

There have been several instances where this has occurred, with devastating results for family relationships.

Of course, a BDBN may not be the best way forward in your particular circumstances. There are some scenarios where flexibility is more important than control.

In all cases, the decision as to whether or not a BDBN is appropriate for you should be made only after seeking the advice of your financial advisor and estate-planning solicitor.

Beware the Non-Binding Death Benefit Nomination

Many people believe they have a binding death benefit nomination in place, when in fact their nomination is a non-binding one.

A non-binding nomination indicates your preference to the trustee, but the trustee is not bound to follow it.

If your nomination as to whom is to receive your superannuation death benefits was made by simply ‘ticking a box’ when you filled out your application for membership of the super fundand was not done by way of a separate form with adult witnessesthen in all likelihood your death benefit nomination is non-binding rather than a BDBN.

There have been many cases where the trustee has acted contrary to the wishes set out in the deceased member’s non-binding nomination.

Accordingly, non-binding nominations should be treated with extreme caution, and advice sought from your financial advisor and estate-planning solicitor.

Beware the Lapsing Period of Binding Death Benefit Nominations

Many BDBNs will lapse after three years, after which they cease to be binding on the trustee. Others are called non-lapsing nominations and will remain in place until revoked.

Be careful to ensure you know whether or not your BDBN needs to be renewed every three years.

Remember, superannuation represents a significant part of most people’s wealth. Therefore, careful consideration needs to be given as to whom superannuation may be paid to in the event of death and whether there are any specific wishes as to how it is to be paid.

A binding death benefit nomination is a critical tool for many people in ensuring their superannuation is properly administered upon their death, and should be carefully considered after obtaining specialist advice.

Expert Assistance Is Here

Need a hand untangling the ins and outs of binding death benefit nominations? We’re here to help.

Get in touch with the expert team at PrimeAdvisory, and we’ll walk you through the entire process.

Call +61 02 9415 1511 or send an email.

See what’s possible with Prime.


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      The information contained on this website has been provided as general advice only. The contents have been prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. You should, before you make any decision regarding any information, strategies or products mentioned on this website, consult your own financial advisor to consider whether that is appropriate having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs.