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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

What happens to your company pension when you die

There are different kinds of company (occupational) pensions and the scheme rules vary from company to company. Find out what typically happens to a company pension when you die and how to get help and advice if you need it.

Types of company pension scheme

There are two main types of company pension scheme:

Salary-related (or 'defined benefit') scheme

The amount you get is based on your salary and the number of years you have been in the scheme.

Money purchase (or 'defined contribution') scheme

The amount you get is based on how much you and your employer have contributed to your fund and how the money has been invested. At retirement, the money you have built up in your fund is used to provide your pension. Usually it is used to buy an annuity (a regular income payable for life from an insurance company).

If you die after you have retired and there is a guarantee period

Most pensions have a guarantee period of five (or less commonly, ten) years. If you die within that time, the balance of the guarantee period is paid. It is sometimes paid as a lump sum to the person you nominate or to your estate.

There may also be a pension payable to your husband, wife or civil partner, usually for the rest of their life. Some schemes provide pensions for partners who are not married or in a civil partnership. Not all schemes do though, so it is important to check what your scheme provides.

Salary-related schemes

The rules of your scheme will tell you whether there is a pension for your partner and if so, how much. In most schemes, it is around half, but it can be as much as two-thirds.

Money purchase schemes

If your fund is used to buy an annuity, you can usually choose the level of pension payable to your partner if you die. This can be up to two-thirds of the maximum pension the scheme could have provided for you.

If you die after you have retired and there is no guarantee period

If there is no guaranteed period, or if you die outside of that period, this will affect any pension payable to a surviving partner. Any decision will be based on options you would have been given when you retired.

You would normally make the decision on whether to provide a survivor’s pension when you retire. You can find out what happens in your scheme by asking the scheme’s trustees or administrators.

If you die before retirement

Find out more about the benefits your estate may be entitled to if you die before retirement. What happens to your pension fund will depend on the scheme’s rules and whether you have a final salary or money purchase scheme.

'Expression of wish' forms

When you join a company's scheme, you will probably be asked to fill in an 'expression of wish' form. This states who you would like any lump sum benefits to be paid to.

The trustees of your scheme will usually make the final decision about who receives your lump sum benefits. They will usually follow what you have requested on your form, so it is important to amend it if your circumstances change.

Where to get help and advice

You can get help and advice about your company pension from the following organisations:


Your scheme's trustees have a duty to look after your interests or, if you die, your dependants' interests. The scheme’s trustees or administrator should be able to answer any questions you have.

Independent financial adviser (IFA)

For independent advice, you could talk to an IFA. You may have to pay a fee, so it is best to check beforehand.

The Pensions Advisory Service

If you are not satisfied with the trustees' advice, or if you have a complaint, The Pensions Advisory Service can offer independent guidance.

The Pensions Ombudsman

The Pensions Ombudsman can investigate complaints about the running of pension schemes, or disputes about trustees' decisions.

The Pensions Regulator

If you are worried about the way your company pension scheme is run, you can contact The Pensions Regulator.

Additional links

Being enrolled into a workplace pension

Starting from October 2012, millions of workers will be enrolled into a workplace pension

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