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If you’ve elected to run your own SMSF, chances are you’ve also taken a proactive and responsible approach to insurance.
Regardless of whether you already have life insurance outside super or in a pre-existing super fund, when you start an SMSF you need to jump through a few hoops regarding your insurance strategy.
SMSF trustees must consider whether to take out appropriate insurance cover for each member of their fund as part of preparing their investment strategy.
What are the rules?
It’s a legal requirement for all super funds (including SMSFs) to prepare a documented investment strategy during the SMSF’s set-up process.
This strategy (including any insurance coverage) must be reviewed regularly by fund trustees to ensure that it continues to reflect member needs and circumstances as they change over time.
Trustee compliance with their fund’s investment strategy is one of the facets that is checked as part of their annual audit by a licensed SMSF auditor.
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The Super System Review conducted by the Federal Government in 2015 found that less than 13% of SMSFs have insurance coverage for their members. But that doesn’t necessarily make the other 87% of funds non-compliant with super legislation.
The government report found that SMSF members were more likely than those in other superannuation sectors to hold insurance outside super. This finding led to the conclusion that SMSFs should not be required to provide a default level of insurance for members, as many public sector funds do.
But SMSF trustees were not let off the hook completely. They must still thoroughly consider each member’s financial situation to determine if they have an appropriate level of insurance cover. Important considerations include:
- their current level of debt
- whether they have any dependants and, if so, how those dependants could be provided for if the SMSF member died or was unable to work for any reason.
What types of insurance cover are SMSFs allowed to provide?
SMSFs are allowed to provide any type of insurance cover that meets one of the following superannuation conditions of release:
- death (life insurance)
- permanent incapacity which causes the fund member to permanently cease working (total and permanent disability insurance or TPD)
- temporary incapacity which causes the fund member to temporarily cease working (income protection insurance), and
- the diagnosis of a terminal medical condition (by two medical professionals) that is likely to result in the member’s death within two years. Terminal illness benefits are generally an option available with life insurance policies.
Each of the above conditions of release allows a fund member to access their super regardless of whether or not they have reached their preservation age.
The benefits of purchasing insurance through an SMSF
The main benefits of purchasing member insurance through an SMSF are:
- The premiums are tax-deductible from the fund’s earnings in its annual tax return, provided the SMSF is listed as the policy owner and the SMSF member is the insured person. In contrast, life and TPD premiums are not tax-deductible if an SMSF member chooses to have this coverage outside super. Income protection insurance is tax-deductible outside super, provided the member has no cover within their fund.
- The premiums are paid by the fund, so a fund member’s personal cash flow isn’t affected.
- The insurance cover can usually be tailored to the member’s individual circumstances, unlike the group insurance cover that is generally provided for members of large public super funds. This tailoring can help to ensure that an SMSF fund member isn’t underinsured.
Are SMSF insurance premiums competitive?
SMSFs may pay higher premiums than larger public funds because the larger funds can often negotiate bulk premium discounts with insurance providers.
However, some insurance companies offer policies specifically for SMSFs that can allow them to combine and benefit from lower group insurance rates. So potentially, SMSF premiums can be cheaper than (or at the very least comparable to) the premiums that individual members will often pay when dealing directly with insurance companies.
Can I transfer my personal life insurance policy to my SMSF?
Yes. However, it’s important to remember that it’s a legal requirement to keep SMSF assets separate from members’ personal assets.
If you transfer your personal life insurance policy to your SMSF, the ownership of the policy must be transferred from your name into the name of your SMSF. You remain as the life insured.
You may be charged a fee by your insurance provider for doing this, but you’ll gain the benefit of your SMSF being able to claim your premiums as a tax deduction.
What other types of insurance can SMSFs purchase?
Beyond life insurance, total and permanent disability insurance and income protection insurance, there are other types of insurance cover that SMSFs can purchase, including:
- Property insurance. If your SMSF holds residential or commercial property in its investment portfolio, it’s crucial to have adequate property insurance. This helps safeguard the value of the property against damage or destruction.
- Trustee insurance. This type of cover can help protect an SMSF trustee’s personal assets from legal liability in the event of any serious breaches of their legal obligations.
It’s no longer possible for SMSFs to buy trauma insurance (cover for a person suffering a stroke or heart attack) for members, unless the policy was taken out prior to 1 July 2014.
The rules were changed because trauma insurance usually pays a lump sum benefit whether the person who has suffered the trauma ceases work or becomes permanently disabled or not. For that reason, trauma insurance doesn’t satisfy a super condition of release.
It’s also worth noting that SMSFs can’t purchase insurance policies for cover such as health insurance because it doesn’t satisfy the sole purpose test. The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) requires super funds to be maintained for the sole purpose of providing retirement benefits to their members (or to their dependants if any of their fund members die before retiring).
SMSFs trustees are legally obliged to consider insurance cover for each member of their fund as part of preparing their fund’s investment strategy. But this doesn’t mean insurance inside your SMSF is compulsory. Members may already have an appropriate level of cover outside the fund, though there are benefits that insurance inside your SMSF may provide.
The information contained in this article is general in nature. It’s best to seek independent professional advice to determine whether your SMSF should take out insurance cover that’s appropriate for the specific needs and circumstances of your members.
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