The former wife of a deceased man and their three children turned to court to challenge the fact that a pension fund allocated his entire payout – about R1.2m – to his girlfriend.

The woman, only identified in a Western Cape High Court judgment as Ms A, was regarded as the life partner of the deceased at the time of his death, according to a Saturday Star report.

Momentum saw it fit to allocate the entire pension payout to her.

However, the former wife and children vehemently opposed this.

The deceased had divorced his ex-wife in 2008. She and the three children of that marriage were aggrieved by the allocation and at first lodged a complaint with the Pension Funds Adjudicator.

The complaint was dismissed, which led to the applicants instituting the current proceedings. Upon the death of the deceased, a trust was created by virtue of his will. The deceased bequeathed his estate to the trust, of which his three children are income and capital beneficiaries.

The trust received R41,418,384.93 from the deceased estate, including R7,072,097.06 from various policies of the deceased.

The deceased and Ms A were involved in a relationship since 2015. An investigation by the forensic department of the pension fund confirmed that the relationship between them was similar to that of a married couple.

Acting Judge S Hockey said the law confers a discretionary power on a pension fund to distribute pension benefits on the death of a member after the needs and dependency among the deceased’s dependants and nominees have been identified.

It is incumbent on the board to identify the dependants of the deceased as well as the persons whom the deceased may have nominated to receive the proceeds of the death benefits. 

The fund, acting through its board, must distribute the death benefits in a reasonable manner and in accordance with the law. 

According to the Saturday Star report, the essence of the grievance of the former wife and children (who are inheriting from the rest of the estate) is that the entire death benefit was allocated to the girlfriend solely on the basis that she was involved in a relationship with the deceased, with whom she had lived before his death.

They also take issue with the fact that they were not consulted, nor were they provided with information upon which the board relied to make a decision.

The forensic investigation report, however, stated that the couple were very happy and engaged to be married. It was found that she did qualify as a dependent of the deceased.

Hockey said it was clear that the board took into account that the trust would continue to meet the wife and children’s financial needs, and it was also clear that they would be far better off financially than the girlfriend.

The judge concluded that the board’s decision regarding the distribution of the death benefit to the girlfriend was within its power and both reasonable and equitable.

Full Saturday Star report