CLAIM SETTLEMENT PROCESS FOR DECEASED ACCOUNTS IN BANKS

RBI has issued a Master Circular on Customer Service in Banks on July 1, 2015. RBI explained the Settlement of claims in respect of deceased depositors in bank. As per the circular, RBI has simplified the procedure the settlement process in deceased account payment. According to provisions of the Banking Regulation Act, Banks should adhere to the provisions of Sections 45 ZA to 45 ZF of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 and the Banking Companies (Nomination) Rules, 1985. The process of settlements are explained according to the cases in deceased accounts.

Accounts with survivor/nominee clause: In the case of deposit accounts where the depositor had utilized the nomination facility and made a valid nomination or where the account was opened with the survivorship clause ("either or survivor", or "anyone or survivor", or "former or survivor" or "latter or survivor"), the payment of the balance in the deposit account to the survivor(s)/nominee of a deceased deposit account holder represents a valid discharge of the bank's liability provided :

  1. the bank has exercised due care and caution in establishing the identity of the survivor(s) / nominee and the fact of death of the account holder, through appropriate documentary evidence;
  2. there is no order from the competent court restraining the bank from making the payment from the account of the deceased; and
  3. it has been made clear to the survivor(s) / nominee that he would be receiving the payment from the bank as a trustee of the legal heirs of the deceased depositor, i.e., such payment to him shall not affect the right or claim which any person may have against the survivor(s) / nominee to whom the payment is made.

It may be noted that since payment made to the survivor(s) / nominee, subject to the foregoing conditions, would constitute a full discharge of the bank's liability, insistence on production of legal representation is superfluous and unwarranted and only serves to cause entirely avoidable inconvenience to the survivor(s) / nominee and would, therefore, invite serious supervisory disapproval. In such case, therefore, while making payment to the survivor(s) / nominee of the deceased depositor, the banks should desist from insisting on production of succession certificate, letter of administration or probate, etc., or obtain any bond of indemnity or surety from the survivor(s)/nominee, irrespective of the amount standing to the credit of the deceased account holder.

Accounts without the survivor / nominee clause: In case where the deceased depositor had not made any nomination or for the accounts other than those styled as "either or survivor" (such as single or jointly operated accounts), banks are required to adopt a simplified procedure for repayment to legal heir(s) of the depositor keeping in view the imperative need to avoid inconvenience and undue hardship to the common person. In this context, banks may, keeping in view their risk management systems, fix a minimum threshold limit, for the balance in the account of the deceased depositors, up to which claims in respect of the deceased depositors could be settled without insisting on production of any documentation other than a letter of indemnity.

Premature Termination of term deposit accounts: In the case of term deposits, banks are required to incorporate a clause in the account opening form itself to the effect that in the event of the death of the depositor, premature termination of term deposits would be allowed. The conditions subject to which such premature withdrawal would be permitted may also be specified in the account opening form. Such premature withdrawal would not attract any penal charge.

Treatment of flows in the name of the deceased depositor: In order to avoid hardship to the survivor(s) / nominee of a deposit account, banks should obtain appropriate agreement / authorization from the survivor(s) / nominee with regard to the treatment of pipeline flows in the name of the deceased account holder. In this regard, banks could consider adopting either of the following two approaches:

The bank could be authorized by the survivor(s) / nominee of a deceased account holder to open an account styled as 'Estate of Shri ________________, the Deceased' where all the pipeline flows in the name of the deceased account holder could be allowed to be credited, provided no withdrawals are made.                                             OR

The bank could be authorized by the survivor(s) / nominee to return the pipeline flows to the remitter with the remark "Account holder deceased" and to intimate the survivor(s) / nominee accordingly. The survivor(s) / nominee / legal heir(s) could then approach the remitter to effect payment through a negotiable instrument or through ECS transfer in the name of the appropriate beneficiary.

Interest payable on the deposit account of deceased depositor: In the case of a term deposit standing in the name/s of

  1. a deceased individual depositor, or
  2. two or more joint depositors, where one of the depositors has died,

the criterion for payment of interest on matured deposits in the event of death of the depositor in the above cases has been left to the discretion of individual banks subject to their Board laying down a transparent policy in this regard.

In the case of balances lying in current account standing in the name of a deceased individual depositor/sole proprietorship concern, interest should be paid only from 1st May, 1983, or from the date of death of the depositor, whichever is later, till the date of repayment to the claimant/s at the rate of interest applicable to savings deposit as on the date of payment.

Time limit for settlement of claims: Banks should settle the claims in respect of deceased depositors and release payments to survivor(s) / nominee(s) within a period not exceeding 15 days from the date of receipt of the claim subject to the production of proof of death of the depositor and suitable identification of the claim(s), to the bank's satisfaction.

Banks should report to the Customer Service Committee of the Board, at appropriate intervals, on an ongoing basis, the details of the number of claims received pertaining to deceased depositors / locker-hirers / depositors of safe custody article accounts and those pending beyond the stipulated period, giving reasons therefor.

Claim Forms to be made available: With a view to facilitate timely settlement of claims on the death of a depositor, banks are advised to provide claim forms for settlement of claims of the deceased accounts, to any person/s who is/are approaching the bank / branches for forms. Claim forms may also be put on the bank’s website prominently so that claimants of the deceased depositor can access and download the forms without having to visit the concerned bank/branch for obtaining such forms for filing claim with the bank.

Access to the safe deposit lockers / Return of safe custody articles to Survivor(s) / Nominee(s) / Legal heir(s): For dealing with the requests from the nominee(s) of the deceased locker-hirer / depositors of the safe-custody articles (where such a nomination had been made) or by the survivor(s) of the deceased (where the locker / safe custody article was accessible under the survivorship clause), for access to the contents of the locker / safe custody article on the death of a locker hirer / depositor of the article, the banks are advised to adopt generally the foregoing approach, mutatis mutandis, as indicated for the deposit accounts. Detailed guidelines in this regard are, however, as follows:

Access to the safe deposit lockers / return of safe custody articles (with survivor/nominee clause): If the sole locker hirer nominates a person, banks should give to such nominee access of the locker and liberty to remove the contents of the locker in the event of the death of the sole locker hirer. In case the locker was hired jointly with the instructions to operate it under joint signatures, and the locker hirer(s) nominates person(s), in the event of death of any of the locker hirers, the bank should give access of the locker and the liberty to remove the contents jointly to the survivor(s) and the nominee(s). In case the locker was hired jointly with survivorship clause and the hirers instructed that the access of the locker should be given over to "either or survivor", "anyone or survivor" or "former or survivor" or according to any other survivorship clause, banks should follow the mandate in the event of the death of one or more of the locker-hirers.

However, banks should take the following precautions before handing over the contents:

(a) Banks should exercise due care and caution in establishing the identity of the survivor(s) / nominee(s) and the fact of death of the locker hirer by obtaining appropriate documentary evidence;

(b) Banks should make diligent effort to find out if there is any order from a competent court restraining the bank from giving access to the locker of the deceased; and

(c) Banks should make it clear to the survivor(s) / nominee(s) that access to locker / safe custody articles is given to them only as a trustee of the legal heirs of the deceased locker hirer i.e., such access given to him shall not affect the right or claim which any person may have against the survivor(s) / nominee(s) to whom the access is given. Similar procedure should be followed for return of articles placed in the safe custody of the bank. Banks should note that the facility of nomination is not available in case of deposit of safe custody articles by more than one person.

Banks should note that since the access given to the survivor(s) / nominee(s), subject to the foregoing conditions, would constitute a full discharge of the bank's liability, insistence on production of legal representation is superfluous and unwarranted and only serves to cause entirely avoidable inconvenience to the survivor(s) / nominee(s) and would, therefore, invite serious supervisory disapproval. In such case, therefore, while giving access to the survivor(s) / nominee(s) of the deceased locker hirer / depositor of the safe custody articles, the banks should desist from insisting on production of succession certificate, letter of administration or probate, etc., or obtain any bond of indemnity or surety from the survivor(s)/nominee(s).

Access to the safe deposit lockers / return of safe custody articles (without survivor/nominee clause): There is an imperative need to avoid inconvenience and undue hardship to legal heir(s) of the locker hirer(s). In case where the deceased locker hirer had not made any nomination or where the joint hirers had not given any mandate that the access may be given to one or more of the survivors by a clear survivorship clause, banks are advised to adopt a customer-friendly procedure drawn up in consultation with their legal advisers for giving access to legal heir(s) / legal representative of the deceased locker hirer. Similar procedure should be followed for the articles under safe custody of the bank.

Preparing Inventory: Banks should prepare an inventory before returning articles left in safe custody / before permitting removal of the contents of a safe deposit locker as advised in terms of Notification DBOD.NO.Leg.BC.38/ C.233A-85 dated March 29, 1985. The inventory shall be in the appropriate Forms set out as enclosed to the above Notification or as near thereto as circumstances require.

Banks are not required to open sealed/closed packets left with them for safe custody or found in locker while releasing them to the nominee(s) and surviving locker hirers / depositor of safe custody article.

Further, in case the nominee(s) / survivor(s) / legal heir(s) wishes to continue with the locker, banks may enter into a fresh contract with nominee(s) / survivor(s) / legal heir(s) and also adhere to KYC norms in respect of the nominee(s) / legal heir(s).

Simplified operational systems / procedures: As per the direction of Reserve Bank, the Indian Banks' Association (IBA) has formulated a Model Operational Procedure (MOP) for settlement of claims of the deceased constituents, under various circumstances, consistent with the instructions contained in this circular, for adoption by the banks. The banks should, therefore, undertake a comprehensive review of their extant systems and procedures relating to settlement of claims of their deceased constituents (i.e., depositors / locker-hirers / depositors of safe-custody articles) with a view to evolving a simplified policy / procedures for the purpose, with the approval of their Board, taking into account the applicable statutory provisions, foregoing instructions as also the MOP formulated by the IBA.

Settlement of claims in respect of missing persons: Banks are advised to follow the following system in case a claim is received from a nominee / legal heirs for settlement of claim in respect of missing persons: -

The settlement of claims in respect of missing persons would be governed by the provisions of Section 107 / 108 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Section 107 deals with presumption of continuance and Section 108 deals with presumption of death. As per the provisions of Section 108 of the Indian Evidence Act, presumption of death can be raised only after a lapse of seven years from the date of his/her being reported missing. As such, the nominee / legal heirs have to raise an express presumption of death of the subscriber under Section 107/108 of the Indian Evidence Act before a competent court. If the court presumes that he/she is dead, then the claim in respect of a missing person can be settled on the basis of the same.

 Banks are advised to formulate a policy which would enable them to settle the claims of a missing person after considering the legal opinion and taking into account the facts and circumstances of each case. Further, keeping in view the imperative need to avoid inconvenience and undue hardship to the common person, banks are advised that keeping in view their risk management systems, they may fix a threshold limit, up to which claims in respect of missing persons could be settled without insisting on production of any documentation other than (i) FIR and the non-traceable report issued by police authorities and (ii) letter of indemnity.

Customer guidance and publicity: Banks should place on their websites the instructions along with the policies / procedures put in place for giving access of the locker / safe custody articles to the nominee(s) / survivor(s) / Legal Heir(s) of the deceased locker hirer / depositor of the safe custody articles. Further, a printed copy of the same should also be given to the nominee(s) / survivor(s) / Legal Heir(s) whenever a claim is received from them.

Banks should view these instructions as very critical element for bringing about significant improvement in the quality of customer service provided to survivor(s) / nominee(s) of deceased depositors / locker hirer / depositor of safe custody articles.

 

 

 

Books Written by Abinash Mandilwar