Death Benefits - frequently asked questions

Important note

HMRC’s newsletter 158 has provided the following update on:

Lump sum death benefits (LSDBs) — payments from funds which crystallised prior to 6 April 2024

Pension scheme newsletter 157 confirmed that the payment of a LSDB from funds which crystallised prior to 6 April 2024 may be limited by the permitted maximum. This is unintentional. The policy is that the payment of LSDBs from such funds are entirely tax-free. The government will therefore bring forward legislation to resolve this issue.

Until the amending legislation is effective, legal personal representatives may wish to delay requesting the payment of a lump sum death benefit where the payment would be made from funds which crystallised prior to 6 April 2024.

Yes. On death before age 75 benefits would pass to the trust without any tax deducted. On death after age 75, the provider will deduct a tax charge of 45% (known as a special lump sum death benefit charge). Beneficiaries can off-set the tax paid on the lump sum death benefit by the scheme administrator against the tax due on this trust payment. This may lead to a refund of tax.

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM073010: Taxable lump sum death benefit payments to a trust - refund of tax to trust beneficiary

If an individual is under age 75 when they die, the fund will pass on completely free from income tax to any nominated beneficiary as a lump sum (subject to the lump sum and death benefit allowance), drawdown pension or annuity. For more information see our article on the Taxation of pension death benefits.

It’s worth remembering a dependant’s scheme pension is still liable for income tax, irrespective of the age at death. A scheme pension is not tested against the lump sum and death benefit allowance.

If an individual is over age 75 when they die, the tax charge on any income or lump sum payment is at the recipient’s marginal rate of income tax. There is no test against the lump sum and death benefit allowance on any taxable benefits.

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM073100: Taxation of a defined benefits lump sum death benefit
HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM073200: Taxation of an uncrystallised funds lump sum death benefit
HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM073500: How a drawdown pension fund lump sum death benefit is taxed
HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM073600: Taxation of a flexi-access drawdown fund lump sum death benefit
HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM072110: Death benefits: types of pension: dependants' scheme pension: How a dependants’ scheme pension is taxed

Most payments, where the individual dies under age 75, must be made within two years of the scheme administrator being notified of the death of the individual (or the date the scheme administrator could first reasonably have been expected to know of the individual's death). Any payments to an individual made after the 2-year period is taxed at the recipient's marginal rate of tax, but there is no test against the lump sum and death benefit allowance on these payments. 

The 2-year rule also applies to any beneficiary drawdown or beneficiary’s annuity.

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM073100: Taxation of a defined benefits lump sum death benefit
HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM073200: Taxation of an uncrystallised funds lump sum death benefit
HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM073500: How a drawdown pension fund lump sum death benefit is taxed
HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM073600: Taxation of a flexi-access drawdown fund lump sum death benefit
PTM072430 – Death benefits: types of pension: beneficiary’s flexi-access drawdown from 6 April 2015: where a beneficiary had not designated funds in an arrangement into a drawdown pension fund before 6 April 2015
PTM072210 - Death benefits: types of pension: beneficiary's annuity: taxation of beneficiary’s annuities

No. If the 2-year rule doesn't apply, from 6 April 2024, tax-free lump sum death benefits are tested against the deceased’s lump sum and death benefit allowance, rather than the lifetime allowance.

Any lump sum death benefit paid from funds that crystallised prior to 6 April 2024 are not tested against the lump sum and death benefit allowance

 

No, joint-life annuities can be paid out to any beneficiary, if this is agreed when the annuity is bought.  If an individual dies under the age of 75 with either uncrystallised rights or unused funds remaining in a drawdown pension, a beneficiary's annuity bought with the funds is paid tax-free.

However, the above does not currently apply to scheme pensions. This means that the payment of a dependants’ pension paid from a defined benefit scheme will continue to be taxed at the dependant’s marginal rate, regardless of the age of the individual when they died.

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM072200: Death benefits: types of pension: beneficiary's annuity
HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM072110: Death benefits: types of pension: dependants' scheme pension: conditions

No, annuity payments can be guaranteed for any period if this is agreed when the annuity is bought.

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM62400: Guaranteeing a lifetime annuity contract

When an individual dies with uncrystallised benefits before age 75, these are tested against the lump sum and death benefit allowance if paid out as a lump sum.

Tax-free lump sum benefits in excess of the lump sum and death benefit allowance are taxed at the recipient’s marginal rate of income tax. It is the personal representatives responsibility for working out any chargeable amount over the remaining allowance of the deceased and reporting this to HMRC.

If the death benefits are paid out as income (drawdown or annuity) there will be no income tax charge.

If the individual dies aged 75 or over, any death benefits, whether paid out as a lump sum or taken as income, are subject to income tax at the recipient’s marginal rate of income tax.

Tax-free lump sum payments (where the individual dies under 75) must be made within two years of the scheme administrator being notified of the death of the individual. Any lump sum payments made after the two-year period will be taxed at the recipient's marginal rate of income tax.

For a beneficiary’s annuity purchased from uncrystallised rights or from unused funds remaining in a drawdown pension, the beneficiary must be entitled to the annuity within two years of the scheme administrator being notified of the death of the individual, or they become taxable at the recipient's marginal rate of income tax.

On death after age 75, any death benefits are subject to income tax at the marginal rate of the beneficiary. The option to take tax-free cash dies with the individual.

As the individual will be taking the discretion away from the scheme administrator/trustee, any benefits paid will normally be included in the deceased individual’s estate and may be subject to inheritance tax. If the benefits are left to a spouse or civil partner these will usually be exempt from inheritance tax. 

Death benefits - nominating beneficiaries

Here are some of the more frequently asked questions we've been asked about nominee flexi-access drawdown and successor flexi-access drawdown.

The individual can't dictate what form of death benefit the spouse can receive; nor can they influence what happens on the spouse's death.

All the individual can do is state who they'd like death benefits to be paid to on their death. If the scheme administrator is using their discretion, they use this information as a guide when deciding on the beneficiaries.

What format the death benefits take is down to the beneficiary who will choose from the options the scheme offers. If they choose flexi-access drawdown, they will be asked who they want any remaining funds to be paid to on their death.

If each succeeding beneficiary chooses nominee or successor flexi-access drawdown, it's possible for the death benefits to pass down the generations. However, as each generation can withdraw as much or as little as they like, the number of generations receiving benefits is likely to be limited.

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM000001: Nominee

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM000001: Successor

They do if they want the death benefits split in these proportions.

However, if they're nominating, say the children so that they can be offered the option of flexi-access drawdown, it would be less confusing to state the reason for nominating the children on an attached piece of paper.

The next question gives an example of when it might be useful to do this. 

If they were dependent on the individual, they could. If they weren't dependent on them, this option would only be available if the individual had nominated them.

Non-dependent children who haven’t been nominated could only be paid a lump sum death benefit.

So, if an individual wants non-dependent children to have flexi-access drawdown as an option while a dependant is alive, they will need to be nominated.

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM000001: Nominee

The nomination form is being used for two purposes.

  • One is to tell the scheme administrator how they want death benefits to be split on their death (if in fact that's what they want to happen).
  • The other is to nominate a beneficiary so that they can receive nominee flexi-access drawdown if need be.

The individual can explain their wishes on a separate sheet of paper attached to the nomination form.

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM000001: Nominee

A dependant or named beneficiary can choose to take their benefits as nominee or successor flexi-access drawdown. The scheme administrator can only nominate a beneficiary to receive flexi-access drawdown where there is no surviving dependant or named beneficiary. If there is a surviving dependant or member nominee, the scheme administrator wouldn't be able to pay flexi-access drawdown to anyone else; only lump sums could be paid.

Apart from being good practice, it is imperative that an individual nominates and keeps their nominated beneficiaries up to date if they want them to have access to all death benefit options available under the scheme including flexi-access drawdown.

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM000001: Nominee

HMRC Pensions Tax Manual PTM000001: Successor

Disclaimer

The information provided is based on our current understanding of the relevant legislation and regulations and may be subject to alteration as a result of changes in legislation or practice. Also it may not reflect the options available under a specific product which may not be as wide as legislations and regulations allow.

All references to taxation are based on our understanding of current taxation law and practice and may be affected by future changes in legislation and the individual circumstances of the investor.