Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The Mirror (man)** test - trustee powers of investment

Previous posts have considered various aspects of a trustee's powers.

Given another 30 June is on the horizon, it is timely to remember that the scope of a trustee's powers is often limited when relying on the provisions of the state based legislation in the area - reinforcing the preference to have comprehensive powers set out under the trust deed wherever possible.

The decision in G v G (No. 2) - [2020] NSWSC 818 is a useful point of reference in this regard.

The case involved the powers of a trustee of a protected estate (where the underlying sole beneficiary had lost capacity to manage their own affairs). As there was no trust deed regulating the trust, the relevant trusts act applied.

The key question in contention was whether the trustee had the power to invest assets of the trust in a retail superannuation fund (as opposed to a self managed superannuation fund).

The reason for the proceedings being the view that a payment by a trustee (which it was argued that by analogy, included a protected estate manager) into a superannuation fund is not an 'investment' of trust property by the trustee.

This was said to be because, by the payment into the fund, the trustee divests itself of trust property, loses control of that property and puts the property beyond the protective control of the court, albeit that, as a member of the fund, but without a property interest in the fund, the beneficiary (not the trustee) obtains a right to future benefits.

Furthermore, the trustee had arranged a binding death benefit nomination in favour of the legal personal representative of the estate of the beneficiary.

The court confirmed:
  1. The trustee had the power under the relevant legislation to invest, or to authorise a private manager to invest, a protected estate into membership of a Regulated Superannuation Fund (although perhaps not a self managed superannuation fund, without deciding that issue).
  2. This was at least in part because a protected estate manager stands in the shoes of the protected person and is the substitute decision maker. A protected estate manager does not hold property for the benefit of the protected person. Rather the protected estate manager controls the property which always remains in the name of the protected person.
  3. There was however no power under the legislation for the making of a binding, or indeed any other form of nomination, for the payment of a death benefit payable by the trustee of a superannuation fund.
  4. This was despite the fact that the court acknowledged that the prevailing view in Australia is that a binding death benefit nomination is not a testamentary act either because it is merely the exercise of a contractual right or the rules of the fund pursuant to which the nomination is given to the trustee confer a discretion on the trustee as to the identity of the person, or persons, to whom the benefit is to be paid.
  5. Rather it was held that the management of an estate terminates on the death of the protected person and therefore the manager's power to make a decision about what happens to the protected person's funds after their death cannot be valid.
  6. Thus, here, the proper course of action in relation to the nomination was there to be a separate court application authorising the effective making of a gift out of the estate of a protected person, and (perhaps) also an application for a statutory will (another topic considered regularly in View posts).
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** For the trainspotters, the title of today's post is riffed from the Human League song 'Mirror Man'.

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