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’.

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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’.

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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’.

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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’.

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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’.

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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’.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Dreamworld?** - Varying a power of variation

View Legal blog - Dreamworld?** - Varying a power of variation by Matthew Burgess

Previous posts have considered the issues about varying a trust that has not power to vary.

Previous posts have also looked at various aspects concerning the ability to vary trust instruments.

One iteration that is important to remember relates to attempts to vary problematic power of variation.

In other words, if a trust instrument has a variation power that is considered too narrow to achieve wider objectives, is it possible to use the pre-existing variation power to vary that clause of the trust instrument and create a wider power or variation?

As explained by the mantra ‘read the deed', the answer to this question will often depend on the exact terms of the trust instrument.

Very broadly however, the position appears to be as follows:
  1. If there is a restriction on how the variation power may be exercised, it is generally not possible to vary the power to remove that restriction.
  2. In other words, a trustee cannot implement steps indirectly to achieve something that is prohibited via direct action.
  3. The reason for this conclusion is largely based on the rule that a trustee has an overriding duty to comply with the terms of the trust instrument as articulated on the settlement of the trust.
  4. The corollary is also true – i.e. if the power of variation expressly contemplates itself being varied, then the trustee should be able to do so.
  5. As is almost always the case with the trust deeds, there are a number of related potential issues that should be considered depending on the factual matrix.
  6. For example, if a particular trust instrument prohibits distributions to a certain person, but not to a trust of which that person is a potential beneficiary, would a ‘back to back’ distribution from the initial trust to the second trust and then to the relevant person constitute a breach of trustee duties?
  7. There is certainly case law to support an argument that where a trustee takes steps to achieve an ulterior purpose, this can constitute a ‘fraud on the power', which means the arrangements may be held to be void by a court.
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 Midnight Oil song 'Dreamworld’ – inspired by the Cavill Hotels and Star Hotel mentions last week and the icon line ‘the breakfast Creek Hotel is up for sale’.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Star Hotel** - When two wrongs make anything but a right

View Legal blog -  Star Hotel** - When two wrongs make anything but a right by Matthew Burgess

Last week’s post considered one of the leading cases in relation to a failure to follow the specific requirements of a trust instrument when appointing a beneficiary.

In that case, the failure to validly appoint a beneficiary caused significant difficulties due to subsequent purported distributions of income to the party.

In summary, it was held as follows:
  1. The attempted distribution of income to an invalidly appointed ‘beneficiary' is a nullity.
  2. On this basis, the distribution can be set aside as void ‘ab initio' – in other words, the distribution itself is taken to never have occurred (this aspect of the decision relied on an earlier case of Re Cavill Hotels Pty Ltd [1998] 1 QdR 396.
  3. Where a purported distribution of income fails, the entitlement of valid potential beneficiaries will depend on the relevant original distribution minute initially.
  4. If the relevant distribution minute does not address who receives a failed distribution, then the default provisions, if any, under the trust instrument will apply.
  5. The ability for any default clause under a trust instrument to operate effectively will depend upon whether they do in fact trigger a distribution within the relevant income year. As profiled in an earlier post, some trust deeds do not operate effectively in this regard.
  6. 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.
Practically, a trustee would need to reimburse the trust (or each underpaid beneficiary) to the extent of the invalid distribution from their own assets.

Trustee Exposure also potentially extends to other losses, for example overpaid income tax that may have become unrecoverable from the Tax Office (eg due to being out of time).

While in theory the trustee would be entitled to recover amounts it personally compensates the trust for from the overpaid beneficiary, practically if that beneficiary does not have assets, recovery attempts may fail.

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 'Star Hotel’ – inspired by the Cavill Hotels case mentioned above.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

A seven nation army**? - How many resolutions does it take to create a valid appointment?

View Legal blog - A seven nation army**? - How many resolutions does it take to create a valid appointment by Matthew Burgess

Previous posts have looked at various aspects of trust related strategies recommended by accountant Steve Hart, that over time caught the attention of the Tax Office.

Previous posts have also considered various aspects of the mantra ‘read the deed'.

Recently, I was reminded of a decision, which highlights the importance of both of these concepts, namely the decision in Idlecroft Pty Ltd V Commissioner of Taxation [2004] FCA 1087.

The factual matrix in this matter was relatively complex. Arguably, the key aspect related to a purported nomination of a beneficiary.

The relevant clause in the trust instrument gave the principal of the trust the power to nominate beneficiaries by notice in writing to the trustee.

Under the purported written nomination, the principal did sign the document, however it was noted in the instrument that the signature was in his capacity as a director of the trustee company.

The court held that the document failed to satisfy the requirements under the trust deed for the principal to provide the trustee with written notification of the appointment of beneficiary.

In turn, this meant that the subsequent distributions of income to the beneficiary, who was not in fact validly appointed, failed.

Next week’s post will summarise some of the consequences of this failure.

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 White Stripes song '7 Nation Army’.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Trust deed without a power to vary: you'd better run, run, run** to court

View Legal blog - Trust deed without a power to vary: you'd better run, run, run** to court by Matthew Burgess

Posts over recent weeks have considered the issues about varying a trust that has no, or an inadequate, power to vary.

An iteration on the theme is set out in the decision of Budumu Pty Ltd [2021] NSWSC 522.

In this case a power to vary was granted under the trust instrument, however it was only able to be relied on during the life time of 2 named (primary) beneficiaries; both of whom had died by the time the variation was required.

Court approval was therefore needed, and granted, in order to ensure the trust avoided the land tax surcharge in relation to foreign beneficiaries.

A further example is provided in the decision of Casibond Pty Ltd: In the matter of George Tsivis Family Trust [2021] NSWSC 320. In this case, a trust deed had no formal power of variation, however did have the following provision:

'(The Trustee may) generally, determine all matters as to which any doubt, difficulty or question arises in relation to the Trust Fund and every such determination shall bind all parties interested in the Trust, but nothing in this sub-clause shall prevent the Trustee or any person interested in the Trust Fund from applying to the Court.'

This provision was held to be insufficient to allow the trustee to avoid the application of the foreign beneficiary surcharge, however again the court approved steps allowing the desired outcome.

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 Hunters and Collectors song 'Run, Run, Run'.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Little room** (to move) - Varying a power of variation

View Legal blog - Little room** (to move) - Varying a power of variation by Matthew Burgess

Posts over the last couple of weeks have considered the issues about varying a trust that has not power to vary.

Previous posts have also looked at various aspects concerning the ability to vary trust instruments.

One iteration that is important to remember relates to attempts to vary problematic power of variation.

In other words, if a trust instrument has a variation power that is considered too narrow to achieve wider objectives, is it possible to use the pre-existing variation power to vary that clause of the trust instrument and create a wider power or variation?

As explained by the mantra ‘read the deed', the answer to this question will often depend on the exact terms of the trust instrument.

Very broadly however, the position appears to be as follows:
  1. If there is a restriction on how the variation power may be exercised, it is generally not possible to vary the power to remove that restriction.
  2. In other words, a trustee cannot implement steps indirectly to achieve something that is prohibited via direct action.
  3. The reason for this conclusion is largely based on the rule that a trustee has an overriding duty to comply with the terms of the trust instrument as articulated on the settlement of the trust.
  4. The corollary is also true – i.e. if the power of variation expressly contemplates itself being varied, then the trustee should be able to do so.
  5. As is almost always the case with the trust deeds, there are a number of related potential issues that should be considered depending on the factual matrix.
  6. For example, if a particular trust instrument prohibits distributions to a certain person, but not to a trust of which that person is a potential beneficiary, would a ‘back to back’ distribution from the initial trust to the second trust and then to the relevant person constitute a breach of trustee duties?
  7. There is certainly case law to support an argument that where a trustee takes steps to achieve an ulterior purpose, this can constitute a ‘fraud on the power', which means the arrangements may be held to be void by a court.
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 White Stripes song 'Little Room’.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2024

When tax savings inspire courts to decide: Let's Groove** with a proposed trust variation

View Legal blog - When tax savings inspire courts to decide: Let's Groove** with a proposed trust variation by Matthew Burgess

Posts over recent weeks have considered various issues about courts varying a trust deed that has no sufficient power of variation.

One of the cases mentioned was the decision in Cecil Investments Pty limited [2021] NSWSC 211.

This decision (as well as TNB 878 Pty Limited – Brunskill Family Trust [2022] NSWSC 527) is also useful as it confirms that there have been a number of cases where it is has been held tax savings or advantages form a basis of expediency in the management and administration of trust property - one of the key tests that generally need to be satisfied.

In particular the decision lists the following examples:
  1. Re A.S. Skyes and the Trustee Act (1974) 1 NSWLR 597: “… the powers conferred on the Court should not be withheld merely because their exercise is sought to enable the avoidance of a revenue impost…”
  2. Stein v Sybmore Holdings Pty Ltd [2006] NSWSC 1004: “As well, the minimisation of the capital gains tax and stamp duty on the trust property provides a separate basis upon which the conferring of the power is expedient.”
  3. Application of NSFT Pty Ltd [2010] NSWSC 380: “modernisation of the trust deed ... with consequential tax benefits, is expedient in the management or administration of the property vested in the trustee…”
  4. Barry v Borlas Pty Ltd [2012] NSWSC 831: the scope of the court's powers includes preserving trust property and making it financially productive “…which included planning to minimise the impact of tax and duty on the trust property…”
  5. Soo v Soo [2016] NSWSC 1666: "… there are numerous decisions of this Court to the effect that the tax effective administration of a trust is a matter to which regard may properly be had in considering whether or not to exercise discretion".
The above summary largely reflects the conclusions in Kearns v Hill (1990) 21 NSWLR 107, another case featured in other View posts.

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 Earth, Wind and Fire song 'Let's Groove’.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2024

When you dream** of a better trust deed; however the court refuses to assist

View Legal blog - When you dream** of a better trust deed; however the court refuses to assist by Matthew Burgess

Last week's post considered the issues about varying a trust that has no power to vary, under the regime in New South Wales.

While in other states, for example Queensland, it is generally accepted there is a relatively wide power available to the courts to assist with amending trust deeds that do not have robust provisions, the rules in New South Wales are far more restrictive.

One further example in this regard is the decision in Application of Country Road Services Pty Ltd (In the matter of the Browne Family Trust) [2019] NSWSC 779.

In this case a desired amendment to a trust deed to appoint a related trust (that had losses) to allow distributions to it was rejected as not being 'expedient' (as required by the legislation in New South Wales).

The court confirmed that:
  1. The variation of the terms of a trust (including by way of conferral of some new power on the trustee) is not something within the ordinary and natural province of a trustee’s powers (unless the trust deed otherwise grants the relevant power).
  2. It is neither something that is ‘expedient’ that a trustee should do nor, fundamentally, something that is done ‘in management or administration of’ trust property.
  3. Rather, a trustee’s function is to take the trusts as it finds them and to administer them as they stand.
  4. A trustee should not be concerned to question the terms of the trust or seek to improve them.
  5. Thus, even where the trust instrument itself gives the trustee a power of variation, exercise of that power is not something that occurs “in the management or administration of” trust property. It occurs in order that the scheme of fiduciary administration of the property may somehow be reshaped.
  6. Ultimately, the Court’s power to amend a trust deed in New South Wales cannot be used to subvert the beneficial disposition in the trust instrument.
Similarly therefore, a request to amend a trust deed to extend the perpetuity period was held to be another example of the kind of order not authorised by legislation in New South Wales (see Cisera v Cisera Holdings Pty Ltd [2018] NSWCA 286), even though the trust was due to vest in around 7 years and would likely trigger significant capital gains tax costs at that point.

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 Simple Minds song ‘New Gold Dream’.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Salvation!** - Varying a trust deed when there is no power of variation

View Legal blog - Salvation!** - Varying a trust deed when there is no power of variation by Matthew Burgess

Pursuant to the Trusts Acts (and similar legislation) in most Australian states, there is an inherent power for a court to make variations to trust instruments.

This power can be extremely important where there is no, or a very narrow, power of variation in a trust instrument.

One of the leading cases in this area is Re Dion Investments Pty Ltd [2013] NSWSC 1941.

In broad terms, the case involved a trust deed setup in 1973, which the trustee was wanting to amend so as to be able to better manage the trust property. The relevant legislative provision in New South Wales gave the court the power to amend a trust instrument so long as it was ‘expedient' for the management or administration of trust property.

In rejecting a request to amend the deed by inserting a comprehensive variation power (which in turn would have allowed the trustee to make such changes to the trust deed as it deemed appropriate from time to time), the court confirmed:
  1. The legislative provisions did not allow the court to simply insert into the deed a comprehensive power of variation.
  2. Only specific powers (in contrast to wide discretionary powers) with respect to a particular dealing will be granted under the legislation.
  3. It was however permissible for the court to confer particular and limited powers in relation to certain issues such as how to account for income and capital gains and related tax driven provisions.
  4. Despite not originally crafting its variation request along the lines that the court said was permissible, the trustee was permitted to make further submissions in accordance with the court’s recommendations for immediate approval.
Interestingly, in the subsequent decision of Re Dion Investments Pty Limited [2020] NSWSC 1661, the court authorised a further variation to ensure the ‘foreign person’ land tax surcharge could be avoided. This was in light of the fact that the trust deed did not give the trustee the ability to exclude foreign persons as beneficiaries. In particular, the relevant power of variation was limited to 'trusts' (granted to persons who had all died and therefore had lapsed), not the ‘powers’ – a distinction explored in many previous View posts.

The court confirmed that the requirements in the legislation were all met, namely:
  1. There needs to be a 'proposed dealing', being a 'sale, lease, mortgage, surrender, release, or disposition, or any purchase, investment, acquisition, expenditure, or transaction'.
  2. The dealing must be in the Court’s opinion 'expedient'.
  3. The dealing must be incapable of being effected because of an absence of power.
Relevantly the court confirmed that the existence of a tax advantage can form the basis of the ‘expediency’ in the management and administration of trust property requirement; here the land tax saving was over $100,000. This conclusion was reached notwithstanding that the order would adjust or even destroy the rights of some (potential) beneficiaries to the extent that they met the definition of a 'foreign person'.

The same outcome was granted in the case of Cecil Investments Pty limited [2021] NSWSC 211, where the trust deed permitted only a variation to the 'powers' not 'trusts.

This case also confirmed that previous attempted variations to the trust deed were invalid as they breached the limitation set out in the power of variation against anything that purported to change beneficiaries who were takers-in-default of appointment.

As has been explained in numerous previous posts, a comprehensive power of variation is arguably one of the most important aspects of any trust deed.

It is important to keep in mind that the legislation is worded differently in each State, for example the Queensland Courts have a wider power than in NSW. Reference should therefore always be had to the specific wording of the legislation in the relevant jurisdiction.

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 Black Rebel Motor Cycle club song 'Salvation’.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

To avoid orphans** - you need to know who the parents are

View Legal blog - To avoid orphans** - you need to know who the parents are by Matthew Burgess

In theory, given modern science, the question of who is a parent of a child should be relatively easy to answer.

As the decision in Masson v Parsons [2019] HCA 21 highlights, the answering of this question is not always straight forward.

Briefly the factual matrix involved a female asking a male friend to be a sperm donor so she could carry and bare a child. The 'couple' each entered into longer term same sex relationships with other people, however the male friend was registered on the birth certificate of the father and was actively involved and helped finance raising of the child.

When a dispute arose in relation to living and caring arrangements for the child between the biological mother and father the court confirmed:
  1. There are at least three ways in which a person may be or may become a natural parent of a child depending on the circumstances of the particular case, namely genetically, gestationally and psychologically (see In re G (Children) [2006] 1 WLR 2305).
  2. The question of whether a person qualifies as a 'parent' is a question of fact and degree to be determined according to the ordinary, contemporary understanding of the word and the relevant circumstances of the case.
  3. To characterise the biological father of a child as a 'sperm donor' (and therefore not a 'parent') suggests that the man in question has relevantly done no more than provide his semen to facilitate an artificial conception procedure on the basis of an express or implied understanding that he is thereafter to have nothing to do with any child born as a result of the procedure.
  4. This said, it was unnecessary in this case to decide whether a man who relevantly does no more than provide his semen to facilitate an artificial conception procedure that results in the birth of a child falls within the ordinary accepted meaning of the word 'parent'.
  5. This was because in the circumstances of this case, the man provided his semen to facilitate the artificial conception of his daughter on the express or implied understanding that he would be the child's parent; that he would be registered on her birth certificate as her parent, as he was; and that he would, as her parent, support and care for her, which since her birth he had done.
As usual, if you would like access to any of the content mentioned in this post please make contact.

** For the trainspotters, the title of today's post is riffed from a line in the Beck song 'Orphans’.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Backdating legal documents not possible ... without a time machine**

View Legal blog - Backdating legal documents not possible ... without a time machine** by Matthew Burgess

As explored in other View posts, backdating legal documents is never permissible, regardless of the phrase used to describe the approach (eg ‘retro dating’, ‘pre-dating’, ‘intended date’).

The decision in Edwards & Anor v Brougham [2022] SASC 8 provides another example of the rules in this regard.

Relevantly the factual matrix involved a dispute about the trusteeship of a discretionary trust where:
  1. a sole individual trustee purported to transfer an asset of the trust to themselves (as a potential beneficiary of the trust);
  2. there was evidence confirming the appointor of the trust had exercised their power to unilaterally remove the trustee before the purported transfer;
  3. the trustee, on advice from a lawyer, backdated a deed of transfer to a date that was before the appointor removed the trustee.
In relation to the backdating, the court simply confirmed that it was 'not in itself effective to make a retrospective determination for the purposes of the trust deed'. The decision also confirmed:
  1. it is not necessary for a trust deed to have a condition for effective removal of a trustee the giving of notice to the trustee being removed;
  2. the key reason for not requiring a removed trustee to be notified is that a former trustee, who continues to exercise powers honestly without notice of their removal, will be protected in several ways, for example they are indemnified by trust assets (assuming they have acted honestly);
  3. Where two or more appointors are nominated, unless there is unambiguous wording to the contrary, the assumption is that the surviving appointor may act solely, that is, the appointment of two or more persons to an office is both joint and several;
  4. similarly, unless there is clear wording preventing the outcome, a trustee may also act as appointor;
  5. the court acknowledged that having a trustee also acting as the appointor of a trust was a 'relatively unusual' situation and 'would naturally be expected only as a measure of last resort', given that under the trust deed (as is often the case) the appointor was structured as a checking mechanism on the powers of the trustee.
Similarly in the case of Jaken Properties Australia Pty Ltd v Naaman [2022] NSWSC 517, the confession of backdating cast a significant shadow over the claims of one of the parties.

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 Alicia Keys song 'Time Machine'.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Your digital footprint (part II) – some further comments on ‘stayin’ alive’**

View Legal blog - Your digital footprint (part II) – some further comments on ‘stayin’ alive’** by Matthew Burgess

Last week’s post considered 6 of the key areas we suggest be captured on any checklist relating to a person’s digital footprint.

As promised, this week’s post lists a further 7 areas to consider, namely:
  1. Inventory of all electronic devices (eg smart phones, tablet, laptops, computers, reading devices, watches, fitness bands, headphones, dvds, hard drives, USB sticks, digital cameras etc)
  2. Review all apps on smart phones and tablets
  3. Digital/virtual life games (eg Second Life, Kaneva, Virtual Life, School of Dragons, Twinity etc)
  4. Online shopping (including payment gateways, buy/sell/swap services, ebay, Craiglist etc)
  5. Online interactive gaming
  6. Online gambling accounts (including Lotto, TAB, casino style games)
  7. Online memberships (including discussion groups, home delivery, associations, clubs, libraries, professional associations, hobby groups, frequent usage/loyalty/rewards programs, work or student alumni associations, dating and introduction services)
** For the trainspotters, the title of today's post is riffed from the Bee Gees song 'Stayin’ alive’.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Your digital footprint (part I) – a bit like stay(ing) alive**

View Legal blog - Your digital footprint (part I) – a bit like stay(ing) alive** by Matthew Burgess

A previous post has considered the key issues in relation to digital assets on death.

View also provides free access to a template memo of directions that has a section on digital assets.

One of the easiest ways to ensure a person’s digital footprint is identified and arguably the best way to achieve this is by using a checklist.

Where relevant the checklist should confirm contact details, user names, passwords, access codes, answers to security questions, log in pins, member numbers and payment arrangements.

Set out below are 6 of the areas we suggest be captured on any checklist – next week’s post will list a further 7.

In summary:
  1. Social media (including Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Google hang out, Tumblr, Yammer)
  2. Digital platforms (including Skype, YouTube, App Stores, blogs, online music and movie streaming, education and information services [eg TED, Udemy, podcasting, books], news feeds, magazines, software providers, personal websites, domain names)
  3. Online storage (including documents, personal information, photos, videos, personal health and fitness, dictation, blogs, data storage, diaries, journals, Moleskins, Evernote, back up storage services, Dropbox)
  4. Digital financial assets (rewards points, prepaid services, Bitcoin etc)
  5. Email accounts (including work, gmail, Hotmail, Bigpond, personal), including any automated responses and mail lists subscribed to
  6. Instant messaging and SMS services
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 Hamilton and the song 'Stay alive’.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2024

A cover is not the book** Taxation of executor’s commission

View Legal blog - A cover is not the book** Taxation of executor’s commission by Matthew Burgess

Generally, where a person acts as the executor of another’s estate, one of three approaches are adopted to financially recognise the time, energy and effort involved.

In summary, the approaches are:
  1. Reimbursement only – under this approach, all costs incurred by the executor (for example, engaging professional advisers) are reimbursed to the executor.
  2. Payment according to services performed – often, this will be calculated by reference to the number of hours spent, multiplied by an appropriate hourly rate.
  3. Commission.
The rules in relation to executor’s commission are relatively complex, largely based on case law that in some instances is hundreds of years old.

Importantly however, from a tax perspective, the Tax Office has confirmed that the payment of commission is essentially a reward for services rendered. This means that despite the fact that there is no formal employer/employee relationship, the income received by an executor must be included in their assessable income in the year it is derived and taxed at normal marginal rates.

This conclusion is explained in more detail in ATO ID2014/44.

Partly to counteract this outcome, and to provide a level of certainty as to the overall quantum of payment that is ultimately received by an executor, some will makers simply provide a specific cash gift to their executors under their will.

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 Mary Poppins Returns and the song 'A cover is not the book’.

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