For most people, life insurance provides a safety net against unexpected events. This is particularly the case if you have a mortgage, debts or family who are dependent on you earning an income.
In many cases, life insurance has been automatically offered through superannuation.
Although 85% of people hold life insurance this way, a recent survey found one third of them don’t even realise.i
Now some superannuation members may have lost their insurance cover and may not be aware of it.
Millions could lose cover
Concern that superannuation balances were being eroded through insurance premiums and fees has led the government to introduce Protecting your Superannuation legislation.
As a result, from 1 July this year your insurance cover is to be cancelled, if your fund has been inactive for more than 16 months.ii
Letters were sent towards the end of the financial year to those with inactive funds, advising you to contact your fund to make a contribution or risk losing your life cover. If you didn’t respond, your life insurance policy may have been cancelled.
It’s estimated that up to 3 million superannuation members may have been affected.iii And while you can buy a new life insurance policy, you may not be able to reactivate your previous one unless your fund offered an extension of the deadline to reactivate cover. If not, you may have to face a medical examination and/or pay higher premiums in order to take out a new policy.
Younger members to opt-in
It is also proposed (although not yet legislated) that new superannuation fund members who are aged under 25 will no longer be given automatic life insurance cover as they have in the past. Instead, they would be given the opportunity to opt-in to cover.
The argument in favour of this move is that young people with no responsibilities, have nothing to insure. But once you buy a home, get married or become a parent, the need for life insurance becomes paramount.
As you get older, once the family has flown the nest and you have paid off all your debts, the need for life insurance may reduce. However, with a blended family, a life insurance policy in superannuation can prove a good financial strategy to ensure the right beneficiaries receive your money. That’s because superannuation ‘death benefits’ don’t form part of your Will but are paid out separately to your nominated beneficiaries.
SMSFs may also be caught out
Up until now, some Self Managed Superannuation Fund members have deliberately kept a public offer superannuation fund active to take advantage of the cheaper insurance. But as stated above, if that public offer fund is inactive and an election to maintain cover has not been made, then cover may be lost.
The beauty of having life insurance in superannuation is that the premiums are generally cheaper because you are charged at a group rate. In addition, it won’t affect your cashflow as premiums come out of your superannuation. Of course, that is the point of this legislation. The monies available for investment to build your balance for retirement may be eroded through those very premiums.
Another precautionary note is that it may be harder to access a payout through superannuation if you need to make a claim. If you haven’t correctly nominated a beneficiary in your superannuation, then it is the trustees who decide who receives the payout. And because the insurer makes the payment via the fund, this can also take longer.iv
What happens next?
As part of the Protecting your Super changes, inactive funds with balances less than $6000 will see the monies transferred to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). The ATO will then endeavour to amalgamate this money with an active superannuation fund of yours or hold the money for you until it is claimed.
If this happens, investment returns on the money held by the ATO may be significantly less than if you invested through your super.v
Don’t wait until you need to make a claim to discover you don’t have any insurance cover after all. If you have any questions about the changes or your insurance needs in general, give us a call on 03 5434 7600.