EXPLAINER | For how long can I still claim unpaid benefits from a life policy or investment?

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Photo: File
  • Billions of rands in unclaimed benefits are being held by insurers, unit trust companies and retirement funds. 
  • Most life insurers and investment houses - if they are members of ASISA - will pay up what's owed no matter how long the beneficiary takes to make a claim.
  • Smart About Money outlines what to do if you think you may have funds in unclaimed benefits due to you. 

There are billions of rands of unclaimed benefits held by life insurance companies, unit trust companies and retirement funds.

Some of the money may be owed to you if you had a policy, investment or retirement savings you have not claimed or you are beneficiary on a policy or an heir of someone who has not claimed their savings.

Unclaimed retirement savings are dealt with in terms of the Pension Funds Act. 

READ | South Africans have yet to claim R33.5 billion in unpaid life policy and investment proceeds

For how long can I claim unpaid benefits?

Most life insurers and investment houses will honour a claim on a policy or for investment proceeds no matter how long it takes for the policyholder, beneficiary, investor or heir to come forward.

This is because most insurers and investment houses are members of the Association of Savings and Investments South Africa (ASISA).

ASISA members have agreed not to rely on the Prescription Act in terms of which a claim can prescribe after three years.

Instead they have agreed to abide by ASISA’s Standard on Unclaimed Assets in terms of which unpaid money can be claimed at any time and will never become the property of the company or its shareholders.

Insurers and investment houses that are not ASISA members may or may not rely on the Prescription Act, depending on the terms of the contract terms and what Treating Customers Fairly principles the company applies.

Not sure of the company name?

What can you do if you do not know the name of the company or it has changed its name?

  • If the insurer or investment company has changed its name, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority should be able to advise you of the company's new name or whether a different insurer or investment house has possibly taken over all or part of the original insurer or investment house's business.
  • If you do not know the name of the insurer or investment house, you will need to contact each insurer and investment company.
  • You can check the list of ASISA members here.

Will the insurer or investment house contact me?

Companies have committed to reminding policyholders, beneficiaries and heirs of their entitlement to any money held on their behalf.

However, if your contact details have changed and you, or the policyholder did not inform them, they may be unable to reach you. They will try to trace you possibly even using social media searches or tracing agencies.

If a tracing agency is used, the tracing process can be audited by the life insurer or investment house.

READ | Unclaimed pension benefits have increased to over R47bn, shows regulator's latest study

How the money will be invested?

If all reasonable efforts to trace you over a three-year period are exhausted, life insurers and investment companies can invest the money for commercial returns from socially responsible investments, such as those to develop new suppliers. A valid claim to the assets will still, however, be met.

If you were invested in a policy where the company has promised to meet a particular return or investment goal over a period, the insurer can invest the unclaimed funds however it thinks is appropriate once the term has expired.

But if the policy proceeds or investment were invested in the market at your risk, the insurer or investment house must aim for investment returns in line with “reasonable expectations”.

Be aware

Many life and funeral policies do not have any value if you stop paying the premiums and the policy lapses. When the policy lapses you are no longer covered. This also means the beneficiaries have no claim. Read more: Does a life policy have a value that should be paid to me when I cancel it?  and: What happens if you skip a payment on a life, disability or severe illness policy?

This article was first published on SmartAboutMoney.co.zaan initiative by the Association for Savings and Investment South Africa (ASISA).

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