SOME CLARITY ON THE ACCRUAL OF LIVING ANNUITIES AT DEATH OR DIVORCE CM v EM (1086/2018)  ZASCA 48;  3 All SA 1 (SCA); 2020 (5) SA 49 (SCA) (5 May 2020)
Keywords:living annuity, accrual system, divorce or death
A conventional life annuity is a contract in terms whereof an annuity underwriter guarantees a periodical payment to an insured in exchange for an initial non-refundable premium. The insurer pools all the annuity premiums together and assumes both the investment performance and the mortality risk by way of actuarial comparisons. The annuitant’s income is guaranteed for life or for a minimum period.
Living annuities on the other hand are regulated by the Long-Term Insurance Act 52 of 1998 and are market-linked investments (with no income guarantee) in respect of which the annuitant annually chooses the drawdown rate – currently between 2.5 and 17.5 per cent per annum (compare Regulations in terms of s 36 of the Pensions Act 24 of 1956 and s 106(1)(a) read with s 108(1) of the Financial Sector Regulation Act 9 of 2017.) When an annuitant dies, the death benefit is payable to a nominated beneficiary or the estate of the insured. A pension-interest benefit is an asset for the purposes of the division of an estate at divorce, and includes both pension and provident funds. Living annuities, however, do not fall within the definition of “pension interest” as defined in s 1 of the Divorce Act.
In CM v EM ((1086/2018)  ZASCA 48;  3 All SA 1 (SCA); 2020 (5) SA 49 (SCA) (5 May 2020)), the Supreme Court of Appeal, in an appeal from the full court of the Gauteng Division of the High Court, sitting as court of appeal, had the opportunity to determine where the ownership of capital invested in the form of a living annuity vests, as well as whether the value of an annuitant spouse’s right to future annuity payments is an asset in his or her estate and therefore subject to accrual. Accrual in respect of an estate is the amount by which the net value of the estate at the dissolution of a marriage exceeds the net value of that estate at the commencement of the marriage. At the dissolution of a marriage owing to death and subject to the accrual system, the spouse whose estate shows no accrual, or a smaller accrual than the estate of the other spouse, has a claim against the other spouse or his or her deceased estate.
It is submitted that some implications of the accrual dispensation, particularly within the context of certain pension and financial products, are still in their discovery phase, nearly 40 years after their introduction. In the absence of any reference to a living annuity in an antenuptial contract, the question was always whether such an investment is subject to the accrual system at divorce or death. In the context of a life assurance policy, the surrender value of the policy was taken into account in the event of divorce, but in the event of death, the question was whether, for accrual purposes, the factor taken into account should be the surrender value or the policy proceeds.
As only assets that form part of the estate of a spouse can be considered for accrual purposes, the very nature of a living annuity had to be investigated in the matter of CM v EM (supra). This case was an application for special leave to appeal from the full court in the matter of Emilio Pietro Valfredo Montanari v Charmaine Helen Montanari (Montanari v Montanari).
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