Money and Markets

More than R17 billion remains unclaimed in forgotten unit trusts and policies – here’s how to find out if you are owed money

Business Insider SA
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  • Almost 150,000 policies and unit trusts remain unclaimed in South Africa.
  • Many of the policies belonged to people who have died, and whose heirs are not aware of their investments.
  • Some investors have also emigrated. 
  • There is no central point to find out whether you are owed money - you have to contact companies directly.
  • For more, go to Business Insider SA.

Last year, South African financial companies traced the owners of unclaimed policies and investments to the value of R8.1 billion – but the recipients of more than 147,000 policies and unit trusts have still not been found.

Accordingly, some R17.1 billion remains stuck in unpaid policies, the Association for Savings and Investment South Africa estimates.

Companies are obliged to search for investors for at least three years after assets are categorised as “unclaimed”.

First, there needs to be a “trigger event” that requires a company to investigate whether a customer’s contact details are still current and what they want to do with their investment.  

“Trigger events” include when a payment made to a customer is returned by the bank, or, for example, when a customer turns 80. That triggers the requirement to get in touch and check that all details are up to date.

Depending on the outcome of the investigation after the trigger event, the company may categorise the asset as “unclaimed”. Once this happens, they have three years to search for the owner. 

It’s remarkable that in this age of social media, companies are still struggling to find people, says Rosemary Lightbody, senior policy adviser at ASISA. “Still, we see that even while companies are spending much effort and time, including paying for tracing agents,  they are not getting hold of beneficiaries.” 

It is thought that many of the unpaid claims are for deceased investors, whose heirs and other beneficiaries may be unaware of their investments. Also, some older investors may have developed dementia, and may have forgotten about their policies.

Emigration is another factor, with investors moving overseas and not alerting local companies.

“Some of them may also not think that the rand value of their investments here is worth the hassle of completing forms and migrating the money,” says Lightbody.

According to ASISA rules, once all reasonable efforts to trace the customer, heirs or beneficiaries have been exhausted over a three-year period, the assets may be used for socially responsible investments.

But ASISA members have also committed to pay out unpaid claims at any point, no matter how many years have passed – as long as you can prove that you are the legal beneficiary of the claim.

Here’s what to do if you suspect that you are due an unclaimed investment

Contact the company directly

There’s no central point to find out if you have an unpaid claim, or if you stand to inherit money from a policy or unit trust.

You have to contact all the companies that you think may hold the policy or unit trust.

You can find a list of the ASISA members' contact details here (under "Unpaid Claims").

Lightbody recommends emailing the companies, not calling. This means you will have email records to track your progress.

Documents required

Companies each have their own verification requirements for different products.

In the case of looking for a policy of a deceased, it is preferable to have that person’s ID number, and if you do have it, you will generally not need to also have the account or policy number, says Lightbody.

“But if you have the account/policy number and full names of the customer, but no ID, the company may well accept that as a starting point.”

Make sure you have detailed information

Once it is confirmed that there is an unpaid policy or unit trust, you will have to prove to the satisfaction of the company that you are entitled to the money.

This is relatively straightforward when it’s your own investment.

If you’re an heir or beneficiary, you may have to submit documents – generally at least the death certificate will be a pre-requisite in most cases.

Make sure that your investments don’t end up being unclaimed

Update your contact information

Make sure that the financial institution has your latest information – as well as the details of all your beneficiaries.

Inform your heirs of your investments

This is getting even more important in the digital age. These days, fewer people get paper statements posted to them, which means it is getting even harder for families to confirm whether the deceased owned investment products, says Lightbody.

Ensure that your financial adviser has your details

Keep your financial adviser updated about how to get hold of you, and who is entitled to your benefits when you die.

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