Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Coming home** by extending trust vesting dates

View Legal blog - Coming home** by extending trust vesting dates by Matthew Burgess

As mentioned in last week’s post, the need to ‘read the deed’ is critical on a number of levels, particularly in relation to the vesting date of a trust.

A previous post also explores when a court may approve the extending of a vesting date for a trust.

The two other main pathways that may assist in this regard are:
  1. using a specific power in the trust deed that allows the vesting date to be extended; and
  2. using the variation power (if it is broad enough).
Whether a general power of variation will be broad enough was considered in the case of Andtrust v Andreatta [2015] NSWSC 38.

Essentially the decision confirms that where a trust deed contains a power to vary the trust, it should be assumed that the power includes the ability to extend the vesting period, subject to the perpetuity period rules.

In particular, it was held:
‘It does not seem to me to be stretching language unduly to say that a trust to distribute or hold income up until a defined date, and upon that date to distribute capital, is “varied” if that defined date is extended. Thus, as a matter of language, it seems to me that the power to vary the trusts set out in the deed should be taken to include a power to vary them by extending the time for which they are to endure.’
In other words, as explored in other View posts, any variation power should generally be construed widely and beneficially, including in relation to the ability to extend a vesting date even if there is no specific power to do so (see cases such as Kearns v Hill (1990) 21 NSWLR 107 and Nisus Pty Ltd [2022] NSWSC 369).

However, where there is not a sufficiently wide power to vary a trust in relation to the vesting date (or indeed no power to vary at all), the conservative view is that court approval is required.

This said, as explored in other View posts, variation of the terms of a trust may be able to be achieved with the unanimous consent of the beneficiaries if all are in being, sui juris and absolutely entitled (see the rule in Saunders v Vautier (1841) 4 Beav 115). In this style of situation it may also be prudent to have the settlor be a party to the variation deed, if they are alive and have capacity.

As usual, please make contact if you would like access to any of the content mentioned in this post.

** For the trainspotters, the title of today's post is riffed from the Fine Young Cannibals song ‘Johnny come home’.

View here:

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Embrace the ceremony** and ‘read the deed’

View Legal blog - Embrace the ceremony** and ‘read the deed’ by Matthew Burgess

As highlighted in previous posts, the need to ‘read the deed’ before making any variation to a trust deed is critical – and a case that remains a leading example of the mantra is Jenkins v Ellett [2007] QSC 154.

Broadly the background in this case was as follows:
  1. A principal under a trust deed had the ability to remove and appoint the trustee of the trust.
  2. The principal purported to relay on a power of variation to remove himself as principal and name a replacement, which effectively changed the schedule to the trust deed that automatically appointed the principal’s legal personal representative (LPR) as his replacement on death.
  3. When the LPR of the principal purported to exercise the principal powers following the death of the original principal and was challenged, the Court held that the previous attempted variation was invalid, effectively confirming the LPR’s authority to act as the principal.
  4. The attempted variation was held to be invalid because the relevant power in the trust deed was crafted so that it could only be used in relation to the ‘trusts declared’, and in particular did not extend to varying the schedule to the trust deed.
Generally the decision here is cited as authority for a number of principles including:
  1. If an attempt is made to made to amend fundamental provisions (such as appointor powers or indeed the amendment power itself), there must be a specific ability to do so under the trust instrument. This said, if the power to vary under a deed is wide, this can allow a trustee to change an appointor without their consent; and without destroying the substratum of the deed (see Cihan v Cihan [2022] NSWSC 538, a case explored in other View posts);
  2. conversely, ancillary provisions should be able to be amended so long as there is a robust power of amendment in the trust deed;
  3. this said, the trust deed may expressly prohibit certain amendments, thereby effectively ‘hard wiring’ those clauses;
  4. furthermore, the exercise of a power of amendment must comply with any restrictions on the exercise of power, for example the need to obtain prior consent from a principal or appointor. The case of Re Cavill Hotels P/L [1998] 1 Qd R 396 (which has featured in previous posts) is also often quoted in this regard);
  5. any power of variation should be construed widely and beneficially, such that (as one example), even if there is no specific power to amend or extend a vesting date, a wide power of variation will give this ability (see Nisus Pty Ltd [2022] NSWSC 369);
  6. in situations where the purported amendment is not within the powers under the deed (or has the consequence of destroying the ‘substratum’ of the trust) it will be held to be invalid and ineffective; see for example Kearns v Hill (1990) 21 NSWLR 107.
As usual, please make contact if you would like access to any of the content mentioned in this post.

** For the trainspotters, the title of today's post is riffed from the New Order song ‘Ceremony’.

Listen here:

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

SMSFs and non-arm’s length income: right here; right now**

View Legal blog - SMSFs and non-arm’s length income: right here; right now** by Matthew Burgess

One issue to remember with SMSFs is that any income derived by an SMSF as a beneficiary of a trust can be subject to penalty tax.

In particular, income earned other than through holding a fixed entitlement, is non-arm’s length income, and will be taxed according to the non-arm’s length income provisions of the Tax Act at a flat rate of 47%.

Income derived by a superannuation fund as a beneficiary of a fixed trust will also be non-arm’s length income if:
  1. the fund acquired the entitlement under a scheme, or the income was derived under a scheme, the parties to which were not dealing with each other at arm’s length; and
  2. the amount of the income is more than the amount that the fund might have been expected to derive if those parties had been dealing at arm’s length.
To avoid the impact of the non-arm’s length income rules, it is therefore vital for SMSFs to ensure that:
  1. no distributions are made to a SMSF from a discretionary trust; and
  2. where a SMSF owns units in a unit trust, the unit trust is a fixed trust for tax purposes.
From a planning perspective, given the Medicare and other surcharges, there may in fact be a saving on overall tax payable by triggering the non-arm’s length income rules by (for example) distributing from a family trust to a SMSF and capping the tax rate at 47%.

It is also relevant to note that the non-arm’s length income rules may apply where a SMSF allows its fixed entitlement to remain as an unpaid present entitlement, as this generally does not reflect an arm’s length arrangement.

When allowing unpaid present trust entitlements in favour of a SMSF, it is therefore necessary to ensure that interest on those unpaid distributions is paid by the trust at market rates as would be the case if the SMSF and trust were dealing with each other at arm’s length.

As usual, please make contact if you would like access to any of the content mentioned in this post.

** For the trainspotters, the title of today's post is riffed from the Fatboy Slim song 'right here, right now’.

View here:

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

SMSFs and public trading trusts: More** lessons from days gone by

View Legal blog - SMSFs and public trading trusts: More** lessons from days gone by Matthew Burgess

A unit trust is often an attractive investment vehicle for taxpayers, as it can offer many similar benefits to a corporate structure, with the following additional benefits not available to companies:
  1. access to the general CGT 50% discount (33% for unit trusts where units are owned by SMSFs);
  2. the ability to issue units with different rights to income and capital;
  3. no requirements for formal disclosure to ASIC and other regulatory bodies;
  4. ensuring asset protection risks are isolated from other assets; and
  5. no requirements for a formal audit.
In particular, unit trusts are often viewed as the preferred structure for holding capital appreciating assets where there are unrelated third party investors.

Traditional unit trusts provide that the beneficial interest in the trust property is held in proportion to the units held by each unitholder.

It is important however to understand that under the Tax Act, a unit trust may be deemed (for tax purposes) to be a ‘public trading trust’.

Where a unit trust is deemed to be a public trading trust, the trust is taxed as if it were a company, and all of the tax advantages outlined above will effectively be lost. For example:
  1. the trust’s income (regardless of whether it is distributed or not) is taxed at the corporate tax rate;
  2. specifically, capital gains are taxed at the corporate tax rate, with no access to the general CGT discount;
  3. there may be insufficient franking credits for intended distributions due to (for example) depreciation rules;
  4. if the trustee of the trust is unaware that it is in fact a public trading trust, it may be held that all distributions are unfranked dividends causing significant excess tax to be paid; and
  5. there will be a timing delay for the unitholder in receipt of income, as the tax paid by the unit trust is refundable via a franking credit when the unitholder ultimately lodges its tax return.
A unit trust may be deemed to be a public trading trust where it is a ‘public unit trust’ (a term defined under the Tax Act).

Historically, a unit trust could be deemed to be a public trading trust where one or more SMSFs held a right to 20% or more of the income or capital of the trust and a number of other technical rules were satisfied.

Changes in 2016 however removed the 20% tracing rule for public trading trusts for SMSFs. This means, a unit trust where units are owned via one or more SMSFs should never be taxed as a company.

Generally unit trusts owned by SMSFs avoiding being treated as a company for tax purposes will be a preferred outcome.

There are however a range of issues that need to be managed, including the non-arm’s length income rules that may mean that if the unit trust is not ‘fixed’ (an issue explored in many other View posts), any income derived by the SMSF will be taxed at penalty rates.

As usual, please make contact if you would like access to any of the content mentioned in this post.

** For the trainspotters, the title of today's post is riffed from the Sisters of Mercy song 'More’.

View here:

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

All of this; and nothing** - Default beneficiaries and bankruptcy

View Legal blog - All of this; and nothing** - Default beneficiaries and bankruptcy by Matthew Burgess

Following on from the posts over the last few weeks, it is important to be aware that some commentators argue that the interest of a default beneficiary constitutes property that may vest in the trustee in bankruptcy if a default beneficiary is declared bankrupt.

It has generally been argued that the interest of default beneficiaries is of a different character from that of a discretionary object and may well be property of a bankrupt (see - Dwyer v Ross (1992) 34 FCR 463).

However, it has also been argued that the interests of takers in default do not have a vested interest in the assets of the trust until the trust vests, and until that event occurs, the assets of the trust have not been the subject of an effective appointment.

That is, such interests can be deferred or taken away at any time prior to vesting or termination of the trust and, accordingly, such interests are ‘mere expectancies’ in respect of property that is not capable of vesting in a trustee in bankruptcy.

The preferred position adopted by the cases remains that a default beneficiary does not have an interest in trust assets that amounts to property that is attackable by a trustee in bankruptcy.

This said, it is always appropriate, when establishing a trust, to consider carefully who should be nominated as the default beneficiaries to ensure that the assets of the trust do not become unnecessarily exposed to claims against those beneficiaries if the law in this area changes.

As usual, please make contact if you would like access to any of the content mentioned in this post.

** For the trainspotters, the title of today's post is riffed from the Psychedelic Furs song 'All of this and nothing’.

Listen here:

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

A room without a door** - Default income provisions for family trusts

View Legal blog - A room without a door** - Default income provisions for family trusts by Matthew Burgess

Following last week’s post, another issue that arises relatively regularly in relation to family trusts is the trust deed not containing a default provision for the distribution of trust income.

While there are many competing arguments, the preferred position appears to be that the absence of such a clause should not make the trust invalid.

This said, without the inclusion of a default income provision, it will generally be the case that a failure by a trustee to validly distribute income in any particular year will mean that the income is accumulated and the trustee will be taxed.
An earlier post, explains that where the trustee is liable to tax this will generally be at the maximum rate of personal tax – that is including the Medicare levy and similar surcharges and without access to the general 50% CGT discount.

As usual, please make contact if you would like access to any of the content mentioned in this post.

** For the trainspotters, the title of today's post is riffed from the Psychedelic Furs song 'Love my way’.

View here:

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Trust deeds and default provisions – (Forever) Now:** who wants to be the test case?

View Legal blog - Trust deeds and default provisions – (Forever) Now:** who wants to be the test case? by Matthew Burgess

We have received some feedback about the following comment in a recent post, namely:

‘There is also a risk that if there is no valid default or gift over provision, then the assets of the trust pass on a resulting trust to the settlor. This outcome is at best problematic, particularly given that the settlor is often an unrelated third party such as an accountant or lawyer.’ (extracted from an earlier post)

The debate about whether discretionary trusts need provisions that detail how assets will be distributed in the event of a trustee failing to make a decision is longstanding, and arguably unresolved.

For those wishing to avoid being the subject of the next test case to resolve the issue, the conservative view appears to be that the lack of a default provision for capital means the trust may be held to be void. If this is the case, the invalidity will be deemed to be from the date of creation of the trust, however only if the trustee fails to make a determination to distribute all of the capital on or prior to the vesting day.

While it is often possible to amend a trust deed to insert a default provision for capital, this amendment can potentially result in capital gains tax and stamp duty being payable on the gross assets of the trust – generally an unacceptable risk.

Specific advice should always be obtained, however practically the approach adopted is often as follows:
  1. continue to use the trust for the assets that it already owns;
  2. take all reasonable steps to ensure that the trustee exercises its discretion prior to the vesting day to distribute the capital of the trust to any of the named beneficiaries;
  3.  where possible (once the lack of a default provision is identified), ensure that the trust does not acquire any further assets; and
  4. if the group wishes to acquire further assets within a trust structure, a new trust should be established ensuring that it has none of the technical deficiencies the problematic trust deed contains.
As usual, please make contact if you would like access to any of the content mentioned in this post.

** For the trainspotters, the title of today's post is riffed from the Cold Chisel song 'Forever Now’.

View here: