Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Sometimes** unit holders do have liability – another lesson from the leading case

Last week’s post featured a detailed look at the decision in JW Broomhead (Vic) Pty Ltd (in liq) v JW Broomhead Pty Ltd & Anor (1985) 3 ACLC 355 with reference to disclaimers. 

Previously the decision has also featured in posts in relation to the fact that a trustee of a unit trust will have a right of indemnity for the liabilities of the trust against both the trust assets and the unitholders, unless this is excluded by the trust deed. 

Where a trust deed is not crafted to exclude unitholder liability the question becomes the basis on which unitholders are liable. That is jointly, or severally. 

Broomhead addresses the question bluntly by confirming (unlike a partnership) the liability is several, capped at each unitholder’s percentage interest in the trust. 

In particular, the court confirmed that there is no justification for treating any one beneficiary as liable to pay the full amount of the trustee's indemnity. The beneficiaries are not jointly entitled to the whole trust fund. Each one is separately entitled to a separate part. 

Thus, the proportionate liability of a separate beneficiary (is) the same as (their) proportionate right to benefit. 

Further, each beneficiary bears the proportion of the trustee’s indemnity for liabilities incurred, correspond(ing) to the proportion of (their) beneficial interest when the liabilities were incurred. (Each unitholder’s) share of liability is limited to that proportion, even though other beneficiaries are not liable to indemnify or are unable through insolvency to meet their liability. 

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** for the trainspotters, ‘Sometimes’ is a song by Yello. Listen hear (sic):