Demystifying Superannuation Death Benefits


When planning for the future, understanding what happens to your superannuation (super) after you’re gone is crucial. Let’s break down the complex jargon into simple terms so you can make informed decisions about nominating beneficiaries.

What happens to your super when you’re no longer around?

Unlike your other assets, your super doesn’t automatically become part of your estate. Instead, it’s held in trust by the trustee of your super fund. To determine where your super goes, you have two main options: your estate or a nominated beneficiary.

Option 1: Paying to your estate

If you choose to direct your superannuation death benefit to your estate, you’ll need to nominate your ‘legal personal representative’ (LPR), usually the executor of your estate. This means your super funds will be handled according to your Will. It’s essential to keep your Will up to date to ensure your wishes are carried out correctly.

Option 2: Paying to a beneficiary/dependant

If you prefer your superannuation death benefits to go directly to someone, that person must be a ‘dependant’ for super purposes. A dependant, in this context, is someone recognised by superannuation law who can receive the benefit directly from the fund.

Who qualifies as a dependant?

Super dependants include spouses, children (including adult children), financial dependants, and interdependent partners. It’s important to note that while financially independent adult children qualify as super dependants, they might not be considered tax dependants.

Understanding tax implications

Tax laws come into play to determine who pays tax on the superannuation death benefit. Tax dependants generally receive more favourable tax treatment, while non-tax dependants may be subject to taxation. It’s essential to be aware of these distinctions to make informed decisions when nominating beneficiaries.

Tips for nominating beneficiaries

Suppose you want to leave your super to someone not considered a dependant under superannuation law. In that case, you can nominate your LPR and then use your Will to specify how you’d like the superannuation death benefits distributed. This approach allows you to include individuals like parents, financially independent siblings, cousins, or friends.

Definition of dependent

Super dependent? Tax dependent? Can death benefits be received directly as a lump sum? Can death benefits be received as an income stream?
Spouse (incl. de-facto and same-sex) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Former spouse No Yes No No
Children under age 18 Yes Yes Yes Yes(1)
Children aged 18 or over Yes No Yes No
Interdependent relationship Yes Yes Yes Yes
Financial dependent Yes Yes Yes Yes
An individual who receives a super lump sum because the deceased died in the line of duty(2)  










1. Income stream must be commuted by the time the child turns 25 unless the child has a prescribed disability.

2. The deceased died in the line of duty as a member of the Defense Force, Australian Federal Police, the police force of a state or territory, or as a protective service officer.


Navigating the intricacies of superannuation death benefits may seem daunting, but with a clear understanding of your options and the different types of dependants, you can make decisions that align with your wishes. Keep your nominations updated, and if in doubt, seek professional advice to ensure your super is handled as you intend. Planning for the future doesn’t have to be complicated—just take it one step at a time.