Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Unit trusts and excluding trustee Liability**

When establishing a unit trust structure, it is important to ensure the deed is properly crafted to expressly limit liability of the unitholders for debts of the trust.

As is well known, in a corporate structure, shareholders are not liable for the debts of the company.

Similarly, there is generally no right of indemnity for a trustee of a discretionary trust from the beneficiaries of the trust as they are not absolutely entitled to the trust assets.

In relation to unit trusts however there is a general principle that unless specifically excluded by the trust deed, the trustee will have a right of indemnity for the liabilities of the trust against both the trust assets and the unitholders.

Failing to exclude this right of indemnity against the unitholders can therefore significantly undermine the asset protection advantages offered by structuring the investment through a unit trust.

The position in relation to unit trusts was confirmed in the decision in JW Broomhead (Vic) Pty Ltd (in liq) v JW Broomhead Pty Ltd & Anor (1985) 3 ACLC 355. As usual, if you would like a copy of the case please contact me.

In this case a liquidator of a trustee company of a unit trust was able to force the unitholders to make good the deficiency of trust liabilities over its assets. The unitholders would have not been liable however if the trust deed had contained the relevant exclusion.

Including this type of exclusion expressly in a unit trust deed has been a relatively standard practice by most deed providers since this decision, for firms that do specialise in the area.

Where the exclusion does not exist in a current deed it is normally possible to implement the provisions by a deed of variation, so long as there are no potential issues on foot.

** For the trainspotters, the title today is riffed from Lorde’s song of the same name from 2017 listen hear (sic):