AFCA, BDBNs, Superannuation

Federal court upholds BDBN decision

Corbisieri Nguyen BDBN AFCA Nguyen v Australian Financial Complaints Authority [2024] FCAFC 77 Federal Court

The Federal Court has ruled a suicide note sent via text message was not sufficient to terminate a relationship for the purposes of a binding death benefit nomination.

The full Federal Court has upheld the Australian Financial Complaints Authority’s (AFCA) original decision to validate a binding death benefit nomination (BDBN) on the basis there was no formal termination of the relationship between the parties involved.

In the case of Nguyen v Australian Financial Complaints Authority [2024] FCAFC 77, Victorian man Pino Corbisieri took out an insurance policy with NM Superannuation Pty Ltd and nominated his de-facto partner, James Nguyen, to receive 100 per cent of the BDBN, valued at $1.122 million, upon his death.

However, on the morning of his death, Corbisieri sent a message via WhatsApp to his sister stating he wanted all his property and assets to go to his family and Nguyen should receive nothing because “he has put me in the position or stage of my life where I had enough”.

The superannuation trustee decided Nguyen was not Corbisieri’s spouse at the time of his death and refused to pay the benefit. Nguyen then filed a complaint with AFCA, which overturned the trustee’s decision last May and awarded 100 per cent of the death benefit to him.

Corbisieri’s mother, Rosario, who was executor of his will, appealed AFCA’s decision and argued the message indicated an intent to end the relationship, disqualifying Nguyen from accessing the benefit.

The court found the message was an “unequivocal statement” of Corbisieri’s intention to end the relationship and Nguyen appealed this judgment, seeking to reinstate AFCA’s original decision.

In the latest hearing, Justices Snaden, McElwaine and Meagher examined the rules of the superannuation fund, particularly rules 7.10D and 1.1, which define the beginning and end of a relationship and the definition of a spouse.

“In my view the resolution of this appeal begins and ends with the text of the rules of the AMP Superannuation Savings Trust. Rules 7.10A-7.10D are concerned with [BDBNs],” Justice McElwaine stated.

“AFCA did not err in law in finding that rule 7.10D(d) was not engaged before the deceased committed suicide. The text message was itself ineffective to terminate the relationship. With respect to the learned primary judge, the respondent’s appeal to his Honour raised a false issue by focusing on the effect of the text message, which distracted attention from the provisions of the rules.”

The Federal Court ruled in favor of Nguyen, stating he was entitled to the benefit because he and Corbisieri were living together when the deceased passed away.

“In my view, the textual link between entering into and terminating a de-facto relationship is clear. It is coincident with commencing to live with a person on a genuine domestic basis in a relationship as a couple and ceasing to do so,” Justice McElwaine said.

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