Of Designated Beneficiaries, Funeral and Death Benefits

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Many members are still unaware of the
legalities imposed by the Social Security Act of 1997, thus, their tendency to argue with the frontliners of the Social Security System (SSS), armed with a mistaken notion of their entitlement. Our frontliners who are sometimes (or often) accused of being mean and discourteous, face daily bouts of vexation and harassment from irate members. I would fondly refer to them as our “battered employees”. If only to disabuse our beneficiaries of what they may have mistaken as their right, we once more cite here an instance of a legal wife insisting on her survivorship pension despite her disqualification. We are very conscious that the funds of the SSS belong to its members, thus, our beneficiaries should understand, we must exercise extra caution and prudence in the grant of benefits. So the story goes–

Margie is the legal wife of Carlo. The two had no children. One day, Carlo suffered a stroke. He was paralyzed and bedridden so he was spoonfed and made to wear diapers. Margie could not accept her fate and scorned Carlo’s disability, thus, she left her husband on his own inside their house, most of the time. When Carlo’s brother, Marlon, found out about Carlo’s pitiful state, he immediately fetched the latter so he could take care of his brother. Margie gladly obliged.

After two (2) years of being paralyzed, Carlo died. Margie came rushing on the last day of her husband’s wake, purporting herself as the grieving wife. But even before Carlo can be interred, Margie already filed for an SSS claim for Funeral Benefit, thus, she was able to collect P20,000.

Her application for Death Claim was however, questioned by Marlon, her brother-in-law who alleged abandonment as a ground to disqualify Margie. Per records of the SSS, Marlon is the designated beneficiary of Carlo. He is also the one who shouldered the funeral expenses of his brother. Margie, for her part, claims she did not abandon her husband, it was her brother-in-law who took Carlo from her. Marlon however, showed proof that Margie never came for her husband and only reappeared during his wake.

If you’ve been reading Your SSS Corner since day one, by now you can conclude that marriage alone does not make a spouse an automatic beneficiary. But before we delve further, we must first erase the confusion on SSS funeral and death claims. These two are different. Funeral benefits are paid to the person who defrayed expenses for the member’s wake, funeral or burial services. It can be granted to any person, without need of establishing relationship, for so long as he/she can show proof of his expenses for the funeral. It used to be a maximum of P20,000, but the amount was increased for those who pay higher monthly premiums. Death benefits on the other hand, are due to the primary, secondary, designated beneficiaries or legal heirs, in that order, one excluding the other. It is computed on the basis of the member’s contributions and years of SSS payments.

Going back to Margie, the SSS investigation revealed that she indeed did not spend for her estranged husband’s funeral but she managed to obtain a receipt from a funeral parlor. Margie confessed she claimed the proceeds because she asserts herself as the legal wife. The law is however clear on this, the funeral benefit should be paid to the person who defrayed the funeral expenses and not because one is an immediate relative. Thus, arises a situation when a ‘live in partner’ who spends for the member’s funeral/burial can claim for SSS funeral benefits even if a legal wife exists.

In my earlier columns, I pointed out that the primary beneficiaries are the legal and dependent spouse and the children of the member, whether legitimate or illegitimate as long as they are below 21 years of age. If there are no primary beneficiaries, the secondary beneficiaries who are the dependent parents of the member, should claim. In the absence or disqualification of either, however, the designated beneficiary should come next in the order of preference.

In the case of Carlo, Margie should be disqualified on the ground of abandonment, because she is not a dependent spouse. Since both of his parents, the secondary beneficiaries are already dead, the SSS shall look at the person designated by the member. This stresses the importance of the forms filled up by the member, for some may not understand the portion that requires them to put the name of their designated beneficiary. They are the third in the order of preference. It should be stressed, however, that any such designation is subject to SSS rules. In several SSS legal opinions, only persons who are obliged to support each other as provided for by  Art. 195 of the Family Code, can become designated beneficiaries.

Now as between the brother who has been designated as the member’s beneficiary and the estranged wife, who gets to collect the death benefit if both parents of the deceased member are already dead?

Obviously, the SSS will grant in favor of the designated beneficiary if there are no primary beneficiaries or if the same is disqualified and if there are no secondary beneficiaries. In this case, the brother’s claim as a designated beneficiary will prevail over the estranged legal wife’s claim.

NEXT WEEK:  “Ako Legal Wife”

For questions on your SSS membership, rights, benefits and obligations, please feel free to visit our Legal Department-Luzon North I at SSS Harrison Road, Baguio City or write us through Baguio Herald Express.

Atty. Russel L. Ma-ao
Social Security System
Operations Legal Department
Luzon North I

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. James 1: 5