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.

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** 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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