Quarterly Trustee Update – December 2021
The ombudsman ruled in a death benefits case that the trustee was entitled to conclude that the complainant was not the biological child of the deceased participant and therefore did not fall into the category of beneficiaries potentially eligible to receive any or part of the flat-rate benefit (Miss CS PO-21507).
The Trustee had delegated to the Plan Administrator the authority to investigate and make decisions regarding death benefits in certain circumstances. Following the death of the member (who had not completed a will form), the administrator obtained the contact details of the member’s cousin and wrote to him attaching a declaration form which he believed should be completed by the representative. member’s staff. The form was completed by the member’s sister, who declared that the member was celibate, intestate and had no children at the time of her death. The administrator subsequently paid the full lump sum to the member’s sister.
The trustee subsequently learned that the deceased member had made a will in which he bequeathed most of his estate to the complainant’s mother, with whom the deceased member had cohabited from September 2000 to December 2013, when the relationship took hold. end and the member has moved in with his sister. The complainant was born in 2002. She understood that the deceased member was her father.
Following the complaint, the trustee sought legal advice and reviewed the evidence regarding the complainant’s relationship with the deceased member. She identified the following evidence to support the conclusion that the complainant was not the member’s biological child: the member was not named as the father on the complainant’s birth certificate; the member’s will described the complainant as his partner’s child, not the member’s child; the member’s former partner (who originally filed the complaint) had not been able to provide evidence to support a father / daughter relationship; the member’s sister’s testimony was that the member had no children; and no DNA evidence had been provided. The evidence pointing the other way was as follows: the complainant and her mother characterized the member as the complainant’s father; a possible unfavorable inference that the member’s sister refused to donate a DNA sample; the member named the complainant on his employer’s Christmas voucher program; and a colleague had mentioned that the member had a child.
The Trustee concluded that the evidence was not strong enough to meet the required standard of proof for the Trustee to conclude that the Complainant was the Member’s biological daughter.
The Ombudsman noted that the evidence did not all point to the same direction. He concluded that in such circumstances, the trustee had to draw a conclusion on the balance of probabilities. After reviewing the available evidence, he concluded that the Trustee’s decision that the Complainant was not the Member’s biological child was[traduction]”Within the range of decision that a reasonable trustee could have taken” and was not perverse. The decision should therefore stand. However, the Ombudsman awarded the complainant Â£ 500 for the distress and inconvenience suffered as a result of the plan administrator failing to follow directions given to him by the Administrator, who said an investigation should be conducted with immediate coworkers of the deceased member in the event of service.
When investigating the situation of a deceased member in order to decide on the distribution of a lump sum death benefit, trustees may be faced with conflicting information from different family members. This determination shows that the ombudsman accepts that trustees may have to make a decision “on the balance of probabilities” when faced with conflicting evidence. Encouraging members to complete the expression of wishes forms and making sure they are kept up to date can help avoid this kind of predicament in the first place.