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Can a family discretionary trust distribute income to its corporate trustee?

Businesswoman piggybank desk

A family discretionary trust (FDT) often has a corporate trustee (TCo) for limited liability and other reasons. With a private company able to access a 30% or lower tax rate on an income distribution received from a FDT, distribution to a private company such as TCo can be a way to access a lower company income rate for a family that does not own or control a private company aside from TCo out of thrift.

But is it a good idea?

Distribution by a FDT to its corporate trustee, TCo, as a “bucket company”, is not necessarily allowable or advisable.

It needs to be understood that FDT deed terms, quality of the FDT deed and FDT set up, including attention to who is a beneficiary of the FDT, vary widely across Australia.

TCo needs to be a beneficiary of the FDT

FDT distributions can only be made to beneficiaries of the FDT. It follows that TCo would need to be entitled in its own right as a beneficiary to a distribution under the terms of the FDT deed. TCo may or may not be a named discretionary beneficiary under the FDT deed.

Many FDT deeds provide for a class of discretionary beneficiary which includes companies owned or controlled by a (some other) beneficiary of the FDT. Sometimes this class is referred to as “eligible corporations” which the FDT deed terms state become beneficiaries of the FDT. These provisions in FDT deeds, if they exist, vary too. Sometimes qualification within a corporate class of discretionary beneficiary turns on someone who qualifies as a beneficiary in the deed:

  • owning shares in the company; or
  • being a director of the company;

and it can be just one or the other and not necessarily both.

It can’t be assumed that:

  • beneficiary qualification in these ways is possible; or
  • that TCo meets these beneficiary qualifications;

without checking the FDT deed.

Consequences of distributing income to a non-beneficiary

Consequences of a FDT distributing trust income to a person or company who is not a beneficiary under the deed of a FDT can be:

  • failure of the distribution for legal and tax purposes so that the trustee of the FDT is assessed under section 99A of the Income Tax Assessment Act (ITAA) 1936 with income tax at the highest marginal rate; and/or
  • treatment of the FDT and distributions from the FDT as a sham by the Australian Taxation Office, other government departments, creditors or others.

Even where TCo may appear to qualify as a beneficiary due to the above, many FDT deeds have overriding exclusionary provisions which exclude persons and companies otherwise specified as beneficiaries from being beneficiaries for various reasons:

Excluded beneficiaries – conflict of interest

Frequently a trustee of a FDT is excluded from being a beneficiary because the trustee, which can exercise the discretion to select discretionary beneficiaries, is in a position of conflict of interest and so TCo, despite qualification as a beneficiary otherwise, is ultimately excluded from being a beneficiary of the FDT. More commonly FDT deeds contain other means which allow a family to control who becomes and acts as a trustee which displaces or should displace inapt conflict of interest considerations as a control redundancy within the deed.

Excluded beneficiaries – stamp duty

But even then a trustee, such as TCo, that may otherwise have qualified as a beneficiary, may still be excluded as a beneficiary by the FDT deed for stamp duty reasons. In New South Wales, in particular, an entitlement to concessional duty under sub-section 54(3) of the Duties Act (NSW) 1997 on a change of trustee of a trust that owns dutiable property can be lost where the a trustee can participate as a beneficiary of the trust.

The consequence of that is a change of trustee of a FDT, say by deed, is treated as a fully ad valorem dutiable transfer of all of the NSW dutiable property of the FDT to the new trustee/s.

Although this limitation of a duty concession varies from other exemptions and concessions applicable to changes of trustee of trusts in states and territories other than NSW, FDT deeds frequently exclude trustees from being beneficiaries out of an abundance of caution that this or a similar stamp duty concession may be lost where the trustee of the FDT is not excluded.

TCo can qualify as a beneficiary  – but what then?

If it can be confirmed that TCo does qualify as a beneficiary and is not ultimately excluded as a beneficiary under the trust deed of a FDT, distribution to TCo, rather than another discrete company is still not necessarily a good idea.

Managing TCo’s asset mix

Should TCo receive income from a FDT, and so come to have assets in its own right, TCo will need to manage its assets to ensure that property it holds in its own right and property TCo holds for the FDT are not mixed. A trustee of a trust has a fiduciary duty not to mix trust property with property held not on that trust. This trustee duty is often explicitly set out in FDT deeds.

In terms of title, property distributed to TCo in its own right will be indistinguishable so, without careful accounting and administration of TCo’s activities to ensure trust property isn’t mixed with non-trust property, there is the prospect that a family in control of a FDT may lose track of in which capacity the TCo is owning property and doing things. It will often fall to the accountant of the FDT to sort this out unless the FDT has a very capable and aware functionary administering the FDT for the trustee.

Serious tax risk of losing track of how TCo owns what

Tax risks of unpaid present entitlements (UPE) of TCo in its own right are also high following the recent Draft Taxation Determination TD 2022/D1 Income tax: Division 7A: when will an unpaid present entitlement or amount held on sub-trust become the provision of ‘financial accommodation’? – see our blog post – Draft ATO reimbursement agreement suite out in the wake of Guardian AIT https://wp.me/p6T4vg-q6. Under that draft determination a UPE of a FDT to a private company not detected and promptly repaid (has TCo repaid TCo?) or dealt with under a section 109N of the ITAA 1936 loan agreement, by the time the tax return of the company beneficiary for the income year in which the UPE arises is due, will likely precipitate a deemed and unfrankable dividend to the FDT.

Understanding a company can’t enter into a legally enforceable agreement with itself how could TCo even comply with section 109N as a way to avoid a deemed dividend?

Is distributing to TCo worth it?

Despite the above distribution by FDTs to their corporate trustee as a bucket company is commonplace but done without a keen appreciation of the risks of doing so. I don’t encourage FDTs to distribute to their own trustee even when I am familiar with the trust deed of the FDT. I appreciate there is a cost saving but the costs of running a separate “bucket company”, including the setup and annual ASIC fees and accounting costs, are or should be relatively low so be wary that multi-purposing of TCo can be a false economy for many families with FDTs when the above is taken into account.

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Statutory exemptions for a trust and containment

ContainedCube

Duty on transfer to a discretionary testamentary trust beneficiary

According to Revenue NSW section 63 of the Duties Act (NSW) 1997 does not extend concessional relief to the transfer of dutiable property by a testamentary trust (TT) trustee to a beneficiary.

Concessional duty of $50 applies to:

(a) a transfer of dutiable property by the legal personal representative of a deceased person to a beneficiary, being–

    (i) a transfer made under and in conformity with the trusts contained in the will of the deceased person or arising on an intestacy, or …

under sub-paragraph 63(1)(a)(i) of the Duties Act (NSW) 1007

Accepting that a TT trustee is a LPR of a deceased person, or at least disregarding cases where it is not the case, a transfer of NSW real estate by a TT trustee to a TT beneficiary named in the will of the deceased person (Will) in conformity with a TT in the Will appears to make out the requirement of the concession. But Revenue NSW differs.

In Revenue Ruling DUT 46 – Deceased Estates, Revenue NSW states at paragraph 30:

Testamentary trusts

30. Often a will may establish a trust with a named trustee and beneficiaries, with a gift to the trustee of that trust. A transfer from the legal personal representative to a beneficiary of the testamentary trust will not obtain the benefit of the section 63 concession, however, a transfer to the trustee of the testamentary trust will be liable to duty of $50 under sub-paragraph 63(1)(a)(i).

Revenue Ruling DUT 46 – Deceased Estates, Revenue NSW states at paragraph 30

Denial of concession explained?

There is no explanation in DUT 46 as to:

  • why a transfer to a beneficiary seemingly in conformity with the section 63 concession doesn’t attract the concession; or
  • how sub-paragraph 63(1)(a)(i) may apply where a beneficiary of a TT has an absolute or indefeasible interest in dutiable property under the TT in the Will.

Scope of statutory exemptions (concessions)

An adage and exhortation about stamp duty, statutory exemptions to duty and those who seek to rely on an exemption is:

find an exemption and get within it

could be trite.

A corollary of no lesser importance is that where a situation doesn’t meet all requirements of an exemption there will be no exemption.

Figuring out what Revenue NSW mean

I understand Revenue NSW to be saying that not all requirements of the formulation:

in conformity with the trusts contained in the will of the deceased person

are met in the case of transfer of dutiable property by a LPR to a TT beneficiary.

Some indication of what Revenue NSW means is at paragraph 7 of DUT 046 which states:

7. The transfer must be made both under and in conformity with the trusts of the will or arising on intestacy. It is not sufficient that the transfer not be inconsistent with those trusts.

with Sanders v Chief Commissioner of State Revenue [2003] NSWADTAP 22 cited in support.

Paragraph 7 hints at the problem an LPR or a TT trustee of a discretionary TT in a Will may have with the section 63 concession. A transfer to a specific discretionary beneficiary in a class of beneficiaries under a discretionary TT is not a stipulation of the testator contained in the Will. The transfer occurs instead because someone other than the testator has been given a power beyond the Will to decide who among the class of TT beneficiaries is to receive the dutiable property.

That exercise of discretion by a living person is extraneous to the Will but is authorised by the Will. Yet, because a discretionary TT beneficiary doesn’t take the dutiable property by direction of the testator and the Will, Revenue NSW seem to say that the transfer is not in conformity with the trusts contained in the Will. That is an undeniably strict interpretation of section 63 bearing in mind that a transfer to an identifiable discretionary beneficiary of a TT to give effect to a valid gift to the beneficiary in the Will is entirely within, anticipated by and “in conformity with” the wishes of a testator expressed in his or her Will.

To describe a transfer made in pursuance of a Will-reposed discretion to gift property among a class of named discretionary beneficiaries as a mere consistency with the Will is somehow inadequate.

Testamentary trust planning

An ongoing discretionary TT included in a Will by a testator may not necessarily be of use to or in the interests of TT beneficiaries who are to take the testator’s property. So a collapsible TT can be desirable and useful to a testator’s survivors instead. Broadly a collapsible TT is where a LPR, TT trustee or appointor is given ability under a Will to collapse a discretionary TT and take the TT property as if the Will had made a gift of the property bypassing holding the property on the TT.

Based on the above such a gift on collapse of a discretionary TT to a named beneficiary is or should be wholly in conformity with a stated gift in the Will and so should attract concessional duty under sub-paragraph 63(1)(a)(i). It follows that a collapsible TT can lead to a duty saving where:

  • the TT is over property including dutiable property;
  • the TT is collapsed, bypassed and doesn’t take effect as a TT; and
  • the dutiable property that was to be held on the TT is instead transferred to the named beneficiary expressly under the terms of the Will and the sub-paragraph 63(1)(a)(i) exemption can thus be made out.

Containment

So to achieve a stamp duty exemption in conformity with the trusts contained in the Will under the Revenue NSW regime no actions extraneous to the Will, such as the exercise of a Will-based discretion to distribute dutiable property to a TT beneficiary, are “within” the concession. That is: the gift pathway of the dutiable property from testator to beneficiary needs to be wholly contained in the Will.

Perpetuities

There is a curious comparison between the approach of Revenue NSW to duty on transfer by a LPR to a discretionary TT beneficiary and the approach of the Federal Court to the rule against perpetuities.

In an earlier blog How perpetuities law limits can impact trust distributions to other trusts I considered the “wait and see” rule as it applies to the perpetuities following the Federal Court decision in Federal Court in Nemesis Australia Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Taxation [2005] FCA 1273. What would the outcome in that case have been if such a narrow or strict approach to the “wait and see” rule, which is effectively an exemption from the common law rule against perpetuities now codified by statute in most states (the Perpetuities Rule), been taken?

All jurisdictions except South Australia have retained the Perpetuities Rule.

Uneasiness

I am uneasy about the Nemesis Australia decision as the last words in my blog suggest. If Nemesis Australia is later found by a court to be incorrectly decided then the consequences will be severe for trusts impacted: where the Perpetuities Rule applies to a trust, the trust is void and treated as if it was never valid. This harshness was the reason for the introduction of “wait and see” rule, under which dispositions of property under a trust, that would otherwise be void under the Perpetuities Rule, are not void from the outset and the parties can “wait and see” whether the disposition of property under the trust will vest within the applicable perpetuity period. Only where the property does not so vest is the trust then invalidated by the Perpetuities Rule.

Policy to prevent remoteness of vesting

The policy of the Perpetuities Rule (the Policy) is:

  • to prohibit lengthy remoteness of vesting of property interests in private hands and indestructible private trusts;
  • to limit property owners’ capacity to restrict free alienation of property ; and
  • to limit the control of property by trust founders or testators to a reasonable period.

The Perpetuities Rule applies to private trusts aside from charitable trusts and superannuation funds to achieve this Policy.

Significance of a trust discretion

The Nemesis Australia decision turned on the significance of an exercise of a discretion: it was found that the “wait and see” rule could be applied because the trustee of Trust B had a discretion to bring forward the vesting day and the parties could then “wait and see” whether the vesting day of Trust B will be brought forward by exercise of discretion to the earlier vesting date of Trust A. Should that happen property from Trust A, received into Trust B as a distribution from Trust A, would not vest outside of the Perpetuities Rule perpetuity period for property vested in Trust A. (See my blog  How perpetuities law limits can impact trust distributions to other trusts )

Disparity of approach to statutory exemptions

There is a disparity between how the “wait and see” rule was interpreted in Nemesis Australia where a discretion, whose exercise is not dictated by the terms of a trust, was acceptable to invoke the “wait and see” rule and Revenue NSW’s rejection of exercise of a Will-based discretion not dictated by a Will as not being in conformity with the trusts in a Will for section 63 of the Duties Act 1997 purposes.

There are a number of principles of statutory interpretation that can be applied to exemptions which were not considered in Nemesis Australia. These principles do not support a construction of the “wait and see” rule that saves a trust from being void under the Perpetuities Rule where the parties wait to see if a trust terms-based discretion will be exercised to bring forward the vesting date of the trust:

  • an interpretation of a statute which will permit a person to take advantage of his or her own wrong is to be resisted (Resistance); and
  • an interpretation of a statute that promotes the purpose of a statute is to be preferred to a literal construction (Preference).

Resistance

An instance of a Resistance given in Pearce & Geddes “Statutory Interpretation” 7th ed. is in Holden v. Nuttall (1945) VLR 171 where, on an application for possession of leased premises, a court was required by statute to take into account whether an order for possession would cause the lessee “hardship”. Evidence showed that the lessee had acted in a manner contrived by the lessee to enable him to take the benefit of the hardship exception. Herring CJ found that the meaning of “hardship” should be limited so that no injustice would be brought about by allowing a person to benefit from his or her own wrong.

This is comparable to where a trust is established with say a last vesting date of 160 years which is well beyond perpetuity periods allowed under Perpetuity Rules. (See also the similar hypothetical raised by the Respondent referred to in paragraph 43 in the judgement in Nemesis Australia.) This differs much from a case of say, a trust where when property may vest turns on a genuine and unplanned contingency or contingencies that may or may not occur within the perpetuity period, such as how long a beneficiary of a trust may live for, which is the type of contingency the “wait and see” rule ordinarily contemplates.

Still trust terms may allow a trustee, or some other person; a discretion to bring forward the vesting day as in Nemesis Australia, or even in the absence of a term allowing the bring forward of the vesting date of the trust, state law may allow a trustee to apply to a state court for a vesting order prior to expiry of the applicable perpetuity period. If Nemesis Australia is correctly decided the parties to the trust may then “wait and see” whether a vesting order is applied for and vesting happens within the perpetuity period of a trust flagrantly in breach of the Perpetuity Rule and the Purpose and, in the meantime, the trust would be valid.

But a 160 year last vesting date for a trust may be a wrong, such as considered in Holden v. Nuttall, by the founder of a trust. That is a wrong that is contrary to the Policy when considered in the context of the Policy. Shouldn’t a trust established on the premise of that wrong, if it is a wrong, be considered:

  • contrived to take advantage of the “wait and see” rule?; and
  • beyond what is meant as a “wait and see” under the “wait and see” rule?;

and denied “wait and see” exemption from the Perpetuities Rule?

Preference

The construction of the “wait and see” rule in Nemesis Australia is literal. The Preference, as Pearce & Geddes explain, is that an interpretation of a statutory provision under section 15AA of the Acts Interpretation Act (C’th) 1901 and comparable state and territory legislation should promote a construction of a statute based on the purpose of a statute as preferable to a literal construction.

Pearce & Geddes also refer to the explanation of Dawson J. in Mills v. Meeking (1990) HCA 6 at para. 19 as follows:

19. However, the literal rule of construction, whatever the qualifications with which it is expressed, must give way to a statutory injunction to prefer a construction which would promote the purpose of an Act to one which would not, especially where that purpose is set out in the Act. Section 35 of the Interpretation of Legislation Act must, I think, mean that the purposes stated in Pt 5 of the Road Safety Act are to be taken into account in construing the provisions of that Part, not only where those provisions on their face offer more than one construction, but also in determining whether more than one construction is open. The requirement that a court look to the purpose or object of the Act is thus more than an instruction to adopt the traditional mischief or purpose rule in preference to the literal rule of construction. The mischief or purpose rule required an ambiguity or inconsistency before a court could have regard to purpose: Miller v. The Commonwealth (1904) 1 CLR 668 at p 674; Wacal Developments Pty. Ltd. v. Realty Developments Pty. Ltd. (1978) 140 CLR 503 at p 513. The approach required by s.35 needs no ambiguity or inconsistency; it allows a court to consider the purposes of an Act in determining whether there is more than one possible construction. Reference to the purposes may reveal that the draftsman has inadvertently overlooked something which he would have dealt with had his attention been drawn to it and if it is possible as a matter of construction to repair the defect, then this must be done. However, if the literal meaning of a provision is to be modified by reference to the purposes of the Act, the modification must be precisely identifiable as that which is necessary to effectuate those purposes and it must be consistent with the wording otherwise adopted by the draftsman. Section 35 requires a court to construe an Act, not to rewrite it, in the light of its purposes.

Dawson J. in Mills v. Meeking (1990) HCA 6 at para. 19

The purpose of the Perpetuities Rule is the Policy. The Policy is defeated where a contingency that a trustee could apply for a vesting order prior to the expiry of the perpetuity period applicable to the trust prevents the Perpetuities Rule from taking effect in an abundance of cases. The Respondent’s submission referred to in paragraph 43 in the Nemesis Australia judgement cogently establishes why the Policy fails where the “wait and see” rule is applied literally but the Federal Court in the Nemesis Australia seemed to gives minimal credence or importance to the Policy as the legislative intent of the Perpetuities Rule.

Conclusion

All requirements to make use of a statutory exemption from a law need to be met. Occasionally exemptions, including exemptions which are not clearly expressed, will be construed strictly perhaps to unanticipated standards. Equivocally drafted statutory exemptions can lead to unexpected outcomes so, where much turns on whether or not an exemption is available, caution should be exercised and a conservative approach taken.

Hopefully Revenue NSW’s view in paragraph 30 of Revenue Ruling DUT 46 on duty on transfers of dutiable property to a beneficiary of a testamentary trust will eventually be tested and explained in a reported court decision.

With regard to perpetuities, the Perpetuities Rule and the “wait and see” rule I suggest that appropriate fail safes should be included in discretionary trust deeds so that the Perpetuities Rule can be complied with and the trust will remain valid, just in case Nemesis Australia doesn’t persist as the accepted Australian understanding of how the “wait and see” rule applies on some basis I have or haven’t anticipated.

Used the wrong/ trustee’s ABN for a new trust? How to fix …

WrongBox

A common mistake, misstep or omission on setting up a family discretionary trust (FDT) or other kinds of trusts is to use the Australian Business Number (ABN) of the trustee of the trust, typically a proprietary company, rather than to obtain and use a separate ABN after the trust has been established to run a business or enterprise.

Situations where this can happen include:

  • an ABN application form is completed incorrectly for the company without correctly identifying the FDT as the entity to which the application applies;
  • early application for the ABN is made by the company for an ABN, say so the company can say, open a bank account before the trust formation; or
  • the company is already doing other things and has an ABN already.

In each of these situations a client of an accountant can be tempted to use the ABN already to hand for the FDT. A client so tempted may well think – my accountant can sort this out later!

ABN for the wrong entity

It’s a clear mistake as a trust is clearly a separate entity to the company. An entity that can obtain an ABN under the A New Tax System (Australian Business Number) Act 1999 is equivalent to an entity as defined under the companion GST legislation which is:

(1)  Entity means any of the following:

(a) an individual;

(b) a body corporate;

(c) a corporation sole;

(d) a body politic;

(e) a partnership;

(f) any other unincorporated association or body of persons;

(g) a trust;

(h) a superannuation fund.

Note: The term entity is used in a number of different but related senses. It covers all kinds of legal persons. It also covers groups of legal persons, and other things, that in practice are treated as having a separate identity in the same way as a legal person does.

sub-section 184-1(1) of the A New Tax System (Goods And Services Tax) Act 1999

which also conforms with other definitions of entity in the Income Tax Assessment Acts (ITAAs). Its clear that a company can have an ABN and a trust with a company as its trustee can and should separately obtain another ABN where the trust is to carry on an enterprise requiring an ABN.

The usual trust implementation

The usual implementation of an asset protected FDT is to set up the FDT with a corporate trustee with limited liability where the company is to be a dormant company. That is the company will have modest nominal share capital so it can register as a proprietary company with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) but the company will not have business or other substantive assets or liabilities on its own behalf as all intended activity of the FDT will be as the trustee of the FDT.

The company must have a right to be indemnified out of the property of the FDT so that the directors will not be personally liable for the debts of the trust under section 197 of the Corporations Act 2001 but, in terms of the balance sheet of the corporate trustee of a FDT, that right and the share capital are about the only few assets the company needs in the role of trustee of a FDT.

Impact of the wrong ABN

But if an ABN for the company is quoted on bank accounts and on invoices then the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and all others concerned with the business are informed that transactions thought to be made by the FDT for its business are made by the company in its own right. The accountant for the FDT will have little choice but to record the transactions as transactions of the company in its own right and prepare the accounts of the company accordingly. Significant penalties can apply if the company persists with a position that it was quoting the ABN of the company for activity of an entity without an ABN rather than for activity in its own right.

So instead of the accounts of the company being dormant and those of the FDT being active, the business transactions will go to the accounts of the company and nothing will happen on FDT accounts and the implementation of the trust to operate the business will misfire.

If the business is being run under a business name, where the ABN of the company was used to apply for and obtain the business name, then the ATO and all others concerned with the business will view and treat the business name as a business name of the company and not the FDT.

Fixing the problem – reverting to the trust structure

This is one of those problems that can’t be fixed retrospectively without penalty trouble – the ABN has been quoted and relied on, but the problem can be fixed going forward.

Get the right ABN

The FDT can belatedly apply for an ABN. It is possible for an ABN to have retrospective application viz. the ABN can take effect from a date nominated by the applicant some time prior to the time of the application. But the ABN taking earlier effect won’t cure the problem of where the wrong ABN has been quoted since then.

Restore the company balance sheet

The company shouldn’t need to be voluntarily liquidated but a comparable internal process can be done to transfer the assets and liabilities in the accounts of the company to the FDT and to restore the balance sheet of the company to the modest assets described under The usual trust implementation above from a set fix or changeover date. If the problem is picked up early enough – it should be! –significant income tax profit and capital gains tax exposures of transferring assets to the FDT that may require remedy such as the small business restructure rollover in Division 328-G of the ITAA 1997 may not necessarily be needed to reset the company balance sheet.

Coping with the administrative consequences of changeover

If a client of an accountant has put itself into this sort of tangle it is likely that the client will struggle with this remedial action too which presents some administrative challenges as the client is now dealing with, effectively, two discrete businesses before and after the changeover day: The business initially carried on by the company with its ABN and then the business carried on by the FDT with its ABN from the changeover day.

It is important that the accounting and administrative team of the client (the Team) can pinpoint company period transactions before the changeover date and FDT period transactions that happen after the changeover day.

So a further element of the fix proposed here is to change the name of the company and for the Team to be meticulous about changing processes and stationery etc. to the new company name once the changeover day happens and the FDT period is underway.

There is an ASIC cost to change the name of the company and stationery etc., and time of the Team to manage all of this, but that cost should be considered in the context of alternatives that are costlier such as to voluntarily liquidate the company, to start afresh with an entirely new business structure to get the ABN process right or to abandon plans to use the FDT structure altogether.

A common technique for a name change for a company running a business, when a name change isn’t really wanted for public facing reasons; is to change NameOfCompany Pty. Ltd. to say NameOfCompany (Aust.) Pty. Ltd. This can help the Team and its customers to apply the right ABN and to get the accounting right (e.g. sales put through the right books of the two distinct entities NameOfCompany Pty. Ltd. to NameOfCompany (Aust.) Pty. Ltd (as trustee for the FDT) in this example for before and after changeover day transactions.

Unless something like this is done the Team and customers of the business might get very confused and might not manage the transition to the FDT as sought all along.

Impact of name change on the appointed FDT trustee

Unlike a liquidation of the company, after which a new trustee of the trust would need to be set up and appointed, a name change won’t affect the position of the company as the trustee of the trust.

Draft ATO reimbursement agreement suite out in the wake of Guardian AIT

In my blog post 100A trust reimbursement agreement not the tool to fix the bucket company dividend washing machine last month I looked at reimbursement agreements following Guardian AIT Pty Ltd ATF Australian Investment Trust v. Commissioner of Taxation [2021] FCA 1619 (Guardian AIT).

The Commissioner acts

In the meantime the Commissioner has appealed Logan J.’s decision in Guardian AIT to the Full Federal Court. The Commissioner has also released a suite of “draft products” which set out the compliance approach of the Commissioner relating to reimbursement agreements under section 100A of the Income Tax Assessment Act (ITAA) 1936:

  • Draft Taxation Ruling TR 2022/D1 Income tax: section 100A reimbursement agreements
  • Draft Practical Compliance Guideline PCG 2022/D1 Section 100A reimbursement agreements – ATO compliance approach
  • Draft Taxation Determination TD 2022/D1 Income tax: Division 7A: when will an unpaid present entitlement or amount held on sub-trust become the provision of ‘financial accommodation’?
  • Taxpayer Alert TA 2022/1 Trusts: parents benefitting from the trust entitlements of their children over 18 years of age 

Evolution of the draft products

The suite clearly evolves from a similar suite finalised nearly twelve years ago which included Taxation Ruling TR 2010/3 Income tax: Division 7A loans: trust entitlements and Practice Statement Law Administration PS LA 2010/4 Division 7A: trust entitlements which focused on unpaid present entitlements of private companies, deemed loans and sub trusts. The Commissioner now takes a tougher line, prospectively, on what is a financial accommodation and thus a deemed loan for the purposes of Division 7A of the ITAA 1936 in TD 2022/D1. A company will need to demand immediate payment when it becomes aware of and has an unpaid present entitlement (UPE) to income of a trust. There will still be a financial accommodation, despite arrangement to pay a commercial rate of interest, which will be enough to be deemed loan and potentially a deemed dividend. Section 109N of the ITAA 1936 complying loan terms are needed so that UPE will not trigger a deemed dividend under section 109D.

This does not appear to be a relevant matter in Full Federal Court appeal in Guardian AIT in relation to the the bucket company dividend washing machine (BCDWS) arrangement used in that case. Under that BCDWS a dividend was declared by the bucket company back to the Australian Investment Trust (AIT) in the window allowed for a private company debit loan before the income tax return for the bucket company was due. That declaration is a prompt if not immediate action to extinguish any financial accommodation by the bucket company to the AIT.

Staying red?

The dividend washing machine arrangement comes up as Red zone scenario 2 in paragraphs 33 to 36 of PCG 2022/D1 where red zone activity in PCG 2022/D1 is activity at high risk for ATO action with compliance resources. It is not expected that, even if the Commissioner is unsuccessful in the Full Federal Court case in Guardian AIT, the BCDWS will be reclassified out of the red zone and will become an acceptable tax practice.

Repercussions of Guardian AIT?

It remains to be seen whether section 100A risks addressed in the draft products will align with Guardian AIT following the Commissioner’s appeal. Will higher courts adopt Logan J.’s understanding of the facts which accepted the BCDWS as an ordinary family or commercial dealing?

Perhaps more problematic for the Commissioner will be to convince a higher court that there was a reimbursement agreement at all in Guardian AIT. Logan J.’s findings that there was no timely reimbursement agreement for the bucket company to pay dividends to the Australian Investment Trust, and no plausible counterfactual as to whom otherwise the trustee of the Australian Investment Trust would have distributed income of that trust had it not been distributed to the Australian Investment Trust, meant the Commissioner could not make out a reimbursement agreement to which section 100A could apply.

In running the appeal the Commissioner may run the risk that the Full Federal Court will establish authority that section 100A cannot readily apply where the impugned distributions to which the Commissioner seeks to apply section 100A is made to immediate family members such as Simon and Sam in Example 7 in paragraphs 85 to 92 of PCG 2022/D1.

Example 7 – amounts provided to the parent in respect of expenses incurred before the beneficiary turns 18 years of age

85. Brown Trust’s beneficiaries include the members of the Brown Family. Brown Co is the trustee of Brown Trust, and Bronwyn Brown is the sole shareholder and director of the trustee.

86. Bronwyn is the parent of three adult children; Sandra (aged 26), Simon (aged 21) and Sam (aged 19).

87. During the 2022-23 income year, Sandra is self-employed and has a taxable income of $90,000. Simon and Sam study full-time and derive no income during the income year. Bronwyn’s children live at home with her at all times throughout the income year.

88. During the 2022-23 income year, Brown Trust derives $240,000 in income (the trust’s net income is also $240,000). Throughout that year, Brown Co makes regular payments totalling $240,000 into Bronwyn’s bank account. Those payments are recorded as a ‘beneficiary loan’ in the accounts of Brown Trust. Bronwyn uses these amounts throughout the year to meet her personal living expenses and those of the household.

89. On 30 June 2023, Brown Co resolves to make Simon and Sam each presently entitled to $120,000 of the Brown Trust income.

90. Brown Co applies their entitlements against the beneficiary loan owed by Bronwyn. The entitlements of Simon and Sam are each recorded as having been fully paid in the accounts of Brown Trust. Bronwyn assists in the preparation of Simon and Sam’s tax returns and pays the tax liability arising in relation to their entitlements from her personal funds.

91. The entitlements of Simon and Sam are applied in this manner because they each purportedly have an outstanding debt owed to Bronwyn in respect of education expenses and their share of the Brown household expenses that Bronwyn paid before they each turned 18.

92. Diagram 10 of this Guideline illustrates the circumstances in this example.

Example 7 in PCG 2022/D1

Under sub-section 100(8) an agreement is carved out from being a reimbursement agreement unless there is what the Commissioner refers to as the tax reduction purpose.

Even though a distribution in that Example 7 to Bronwyn was a “lawful possibility” why “would have” distributions made to Simon and Sam (assuming the distributions were real and genuine) who are equally family beneficiaries with Bronwyn have been made to Bronwyn? Isn’t the true issue that the trust distributions to Simon and Sam are a sham and that Simon and Sam did not have a real entitlement and so are not presently entitled to the distributions in the first place?

The Commissioner appears to be reliant on the Full Federal Court agreeing with the construction of sub-section 100A(8) expressed in paragraphs 156 to 158 of Draft Taxation Ruling TR 2022/D1 Income tax: section 100A reimbursement agreements rather than the construction of that sub-section preferred by Logan J.

100A trust reimbursement agreement not the tool to fix the bucket company dividend washing machine

WashingMachine

This blog post is about tax avoidance. That is not apparent from the odd title of this blog which I should explain:

Bucket companies

A bucket company is a private company included as a beneficiary of a trust and is used to receive income of a trust. It is a popular discretionary trust strategy for a trust to distribute trust income to a bucket company as a beneficiary of the trust when, as at present, company income tax rates are lower than income tax rates:

  • for beneficiaries who are individuals typically on significant incomes (individual beneficiaries); and
  • the (can be even higher – highest marginal) rate generally paid when no beneficiary receives (technically: is distributed or becomes presently entitled to) the income of the trust;

(the Higher Rates).

Thus the “bucket” takes the overflow of trust income which the trustee or trust doesn’t wish:

  • to flow to high income individual beneficiaries; and
  • to be taxed at their higher rates.

Not considered tax avoidance

The Commissioner of Taxation (Commissioner) doesn’t view the simple use of a bucket company as a beneficiary of a trust as tax avoidance. That is the case even though less tax will be collected from a trust’s trustee and beneficiaries when the Higher Rates won’t be paid by the trustee and the beneficiaries of the trust when a BC beneficiary is used. There are measures in place: notably the deemed dividend anti-avoidance rules in Division 7A of Part III of the Income Tax Assessment Act (ITAA) 1936 (Div 7A), which generally give the Commissioner assurance that:

  • a private company is a no mere lowly taxed conduit or way for high income individual individuals to receive trust income; and so
  • value either within and distributed to a private company stay within the company or are otherwise treated as non-frankable shareholder/associate dividends they are deemed to receive and to be taxable on.

The washing machine

The bucket company dividend washing machine (BCDWS) though pushes the Commissioner’s tolerance for the bucket company tax strategy.

The BCDWS is like this:

  1. A family discretionary trust (FDT) makes a substantial distribution of trust income (Distribution 1) to a bucket company (BC) in Year 1.
  2. Distribution 1 is not paid and thus becomes an unpaid present entitlement owed to BC by FDT to be paid later.
  3. BC is taxable on Distribution 1 in Year 1 at the company rate which is lower than the Higher Rates.
  4. In Year 2, but in the window before the income tax return for BC is due, and thus before Div 7A treats Distribution 1 to BC to be a deemed dividend based on the analysis of when unpaid present entitlements, including unpaid present entitlements of companies in trust income, can be loans and deemed dividends in Taxation Ruling TR 2010/3 Income tax: Division 7A loans: trust entitlements; the bucket company declares and pays a dividend to cover Distribution 1.
  5. BC has franking credits to frank the dividend from the payment of tax as a beneficiary on Distribution 1.
  6. The sole shareholder of BC entitled to the dividends is the (trustee of) FDT which has been set up as the owner of the shares in BC that can participate in these dividends.
  7. No actual payment is required as Distribution 1 has gone around the washing machine and has come back to FDT in Year 2 as dividends fully franked by BC.
  8. So in Year 2 the trustee of FDT distributes Distribution 2 of the same amount as Distribution 1 to BC again. It is again unpaid until early in Year 3. The distribution is fully franked which is how the dividends were received from BC so there is no further tax for BC to pay.
  9. The arrangement can be repeated on and on.

By using a concession in Div 7A, the BCDWS in effect enables BC to access a lower company income tax rate for an amount which is not actually paid over or intended to be paid over to a beneficiary but circulates back to the trustee.

Income tax rate integrity problem

So it’s like the trustee is accumulating the income and never having to pay it to a beneficiary but paying less tax as if the income had been paid to a company.

Understandably the Commissioner is concerned with the integrity of income tax rates, and the particularly the integrity of the Higher Rates including the highest marginal rate applicable where no beneficiary is presently entitled to income under section 99A of the ITAA 1936. The Commissioner would like to see that the BCDWS will have the same rate outcome. It does if a BCDWS is a trust reimbursement agreement: a share of trust income arising from a section 100A reimbursement agreement is deemed to be income to which no beneficiary is presently entitled: sub-section 100A(1).

So it is that, at the ATO website, https://www.ato.gov.au/General/Trusts/In-detail/Distributions/Trust-taxation—reimbursement-agreement/ where, at example 5, the Commissioner observes that the trust reimbursement agreement provisions in section 100A of the ITAA 1936 apply to a BCDWS arrangement.

Guardian AIT Pty Ltd ATF Australian Investment Trust v Commissioner of Taxation

The Commissioner’s observation in example 5 is put into doubt by the December 2021 Federal Court case Guardian AIT Pty Ltd ATF Australian Investment Trust v. Commissioner of Taxation [2021] FCA 1619. In that case the Commissioner was unsuccessful assessing a BCDWS using anti-avoidance tax laws including section 100A. The taxpayer’s appeal to the Federal Court concerned the Commissioner’s assessments applying the anti-avoidance provisions in section 100A and, alternatively, based on the general anti-avoidance provisions in Part IVA of the ITAA 1936.

Logan J. found that there was no reimbursement agreement and that Part IVA didn’t apply.

The Commissioner had at least these significant difficulties in making out that the BCDWS in the case was a reimbursement agreement:

  1. firstly, that there was any agreement to which sub-section 100A(7) and (8) could apply, and particularly establishing a counterfactual as to whether Mr. Springer, who controlled Guardian AIT Pty Ltd, would have been liable to pay income tax had the “agreement” not been implemented;
  2. secondly, that there was provision of “payment of money or the transfer of property to, or the provision of services or other benefits for, a person or persons other than the beneficiary …” under that agreement: sub-section 100A(7); and
  3. thirdly, that the agreement was not an ordinary family or commercial dealing: sub-section 100A(13).
·        agreement

Mr. Springer was wealthy and conducted a well prepared case before the Federal Court in which the taxpayer was able to establish that the BC, Guardian AIT Pty Ltd, had not been set up with the intent, understanding or expectation that the BC would pay dividends back to the Australian Investment Trust (the FDT). That is what eventually transpired though, and a BCDWS, largely as described above and in the Commissioner’s example 5 happened.

There must be an agreement first

Logan J. accepted that even though it was legally possible for the BC to pay the dividends to the FDT there was no evidence of any timely agreement or plan (my words) to do so. To make out a section 100A reimbursement agreement the Commissioner had to make out that there was “agreement” (though widely defined) between the FDT and its beneficiary/ies before BC started paying dividends to the FDT to make the income tax saving.

Counterfactual not accepted

Logan J. found the Commissioner’s counterfactual under the section 100A(8) “would have been” hypothetical: that Mr. Springer personally would have been liable to pay income tax, that is Mr. Springer would presumably have to have been the beneficiary presently entitled to the income distributed to the BC rather than the BC, had it not been for the reimbursement agreement, could not be reconciled with the evidence in the case.

·        payment, transfer etc.

Logan J. did not accept that there has provision for a payment , transfer etc. to another beneficiary…. The BC was a related entity of Mr. Springer that was a beneficiary of the FDT and a part of the family structure in its own right (that incidentally happened to be on a lower tax rate as an income beneficiary).

Unlike with a unrelated entity that takes, say, a payment to be made a beneficiary of trust income in a trust stripping, which is the use of trusts abuse to which section 100A is directed; the BC in this case can be seen as a beneficiary related to and having no reason for such arm’s length like dealing with Mr. Springer or other members of his family.

·        ordinary family or commercial dealing

Section 100A was introduced to combat trust stripping typically involving unrelated parties (see Federal Commissioner of Taxation v Prestige Motors Pty Ltd (1998) 82 FCR 195) and “specially introduced beneficiaries having a fiscally advantageous status” particularly. Logan J. did not accept that this characterisation applied to the BC, Guardian AIT Pty Ltd. From the evidence Logan J. found that the implementation and use of Guardian AIT Pty Ltd as a “clean” (for instance, no carry forward losses or other utilisable positive tax attributes) company beneficiary of the FDT, Australian Investment Trust, was an ordinary family dealing.

Observations

Guardian AIT confirms that a reimbursement agreement contains a number of technical elements that the Commissioner can be hard pressed to establish where a taxpayer produces facts contrary to the Commissioner’s position on them. These elements can make section 100A, as a tool in the anti-tax avoidance armoury of the Commissioner, ill-suited to enforce the integrity of the Higher Rates applicable to trust income and the rate applicable under section 99A of the ITAA 1936 where there is no beneficiary presently entitled to income in particular. That is not to say that the Commissioner should not endeavour to enforce that integrity.

Based on authority referred to in Guardian AIT Logan J. was unwilling to accept that the reimbursement agreement rules in section 100A, directed as they are to the contrived introduction of specially introduced beneficiaries with a fiscally advantageous status, had application to a clean company introduced within Mr. Springer’s family structure despite the overtly unplanned tax arbitrage Mr. Springer could achieve due to the lower company income tax rate.

There is the prospect that the Commissioner will appeal to the Full Federal Court. The government could better protect the integrity of the trust tax rates with specific amendment so that circulating BCDWS distributions, which do or must have some aspect of artificiality or contrivance by virtue or their circularity or non-distribution, attracted the highest marginal rate of tax without the Commissioner having to contest assessments based on section 100A and Part IVA attack or sham characterisation which are more costly, fraught and complicated for the Commissioner to prosecute.

A dentist might be better than the cheapest guy with a drill

drill

Proprietary company setups are not all the same. The $512 ASIC registration fee doesn’t get you a constitution for your company. Company constitutions vary and are on a quality spectrum and quality can count just like with any product.

Is a company constitution worth having?

A company set up without a constitution gets a one size fits call called the replaceable rules which gives a bare bones way for the company, and those involved in it, to operate. One size fits all can lead to a unintended outcomes. For instance an often unforeseen, easy to trip, requirement is to notify other directors of a conflict of interest between a director and the company. A properly tailored company constitution can modify conflict of interest rules away from the one size fits all to suit a company where only mum and dad are directors. Failure to do this can get weaponised like, say, when directors get divorced. And don’t think that this is the only reason why the replaceable rules may be a poor fit for your company.

Getting a capital structure of a company right

I do work sorting out situations made worse because companies are not understood by those setting them up. A company’s ideal capital structure is a big issue when a company is acting in its own right and not a trustee. Unless you understand the impact of s112-20 of the ITAA 1997 on the issue of shares in the company you’re a big chance to pay more capital gains tax that you might have when you sell or exit out of a company that has grown.

Company capital structure fails can lead to unnecessary loss of small business CGT concessions for small business which can amount to a big economic cost where a company ends up being a good business.

Getting “my” money out of a company

Shareholders try to get “their” money out of a company following a poorly executed lawyer free setup is another world of grief which can ironically bring in the lawyers, the ATO and expensive insolvency specialists.

A reckoning on death

Lots of problems don’t show up until a shareholder dies. This is often when the problem comes to my desk. It is sad when a family is tied in knots because their company establishment going way back was stuffed up. Any company setup, whichever way, might seem the same through times of smooth sailing. Why bother with the pesky paperwork at all? Wait, too, until the shareholders divorce, a fight amongst shareholders ensues or there is trading or tax trouble with the company: a sudden turn of interest, then, in the company’s capital, structure and records.

The “professional services” industry – escape for profit

Most of the non-legal providers on the internet are suss. They are derived from the offshore tax haven shell company “professional services” industry or use their business model. ICIJ media gives you an idea of their ethics https://cutt.ly/oUO7bvW and how they help their customers deal with local rules and commitments (not). Their model is to hide and escape from them.

Company constitutions, trust and SMSF deeds and partnership agreements are legal documents, and these providers are there to help you escape from having to get them from a lawyer charging a fee who is ethically obliged to professionally prepare them and whose work is covered by a professional indemnity/negligence insurance to protect you. And what about these rights? What a solicitor must tell you https://go.ly/P0jLU Worth having?

Their model is often something like this: we are not lawyers, so we give you escape from lawyers with this service. But we offer documents which are (based on) documents authored by a lawyer.

Reality check on unqualified legal practice

However you take this double-think pitch on the merits of avoiding lawyers, a reality is that the model is illegal: see the Federal Court case of Australian Competition & Consumer Commission v. Murray [2002] FCA 1252 https://jade.io/article/106192 to appreciate how documents supplied this way is from an unqualified legal practice source.

Ah! lawyers

There is a misconception that lawyers in this space are not worth the fees. I, for one, reckon my operation is lean and mean. And there are others like me. Sure my company and trust setup services cost a little more because my setups involve me thinking about and taking responsibility for what I am asked to do, and guiding clients on their setup choices based on what I know about them and thirty-five years’ experience of the ever changing traps – and that can’t be done by AI, yet.

What you get

So I can’t “compete” with a non-thinking service which gives you a company, trust of SMSF setup from a sausage cutter: documents all done and delivered instantaneously, with your credit card charged just as fast. But you get my drift: this blindingly impressive service just may be just too fast, hassle-free and brain-free. Look at the fine print (hello accountants) about who takes responsibility for loss if anything, including data inputs for which the inputter is made fully responsible, turn out not quite right.

So I agree. It could be better to go to a dentist than the cheapest guy with a drill.

This post is actually from a post I made to another blog.  I think it’s worth another post on this blog even though it’s a more unruly and uncompromising than my usual posts here!

Should our SMSF have kept its Principal Employer?

MissingPiece

Last month’s piece Lost SMSF trust deed replacement deeds – are they a scam? is my exposé of SMSF (self managed superannuation fund) trust deed variation techniques revealed as dodgy in the light of high Australian legal authority there set out.

So my exposé can be better appreciated and understood: this month I turn to some typical dilemmas faced by a SMSF trustee trying to update SMSF trust terms to:

  • keep them up to date with changing superannuation and tax laws; and
  • introduce capabilities so that opportunities presented by current regimes impacting superannuation funds can be effectively used.

To bring in the new, keep the old

One can see from my exposé that, to introduce new SMSF trust terms to a SMSF, a trustee needs to paradoxically keep the old.

Possibly no starker reminder of this are older SMSFs where the power of vary trust terms in the original trust deed (OTD) unconditionally requires the Principal Employer (or the “Employer” or the “Founding Employer”  – descriptions of this substantially similar role from the days of employer-sponsored superannuation vary) to initiate or consent to update trust terms of the SMSF.

My exposé further explains:

  • aside from in the narrowest of exceptions, a valid deed to vary SMSF trust terms requires a rigid adherence to the requirements of the power to vary trust terms contained in the OTD of the SMSF; and
  • an update or change to the power to vary in a SMSF OTD made on a misunderstanding that the power to vary allows amendment of the power to vary itself, when it doesn’t, is ineffective.

Invalid replacement of the power to vary

Say:

On that misunderstanding by a deed provider (unfortunately I can’t say deed lawyer here because, due to regulatory failings, SMSF legal documents with these errors are often supplied by non-lawyer outfits these days), the deed provider supplies a deed to vary SMSF trust terms by which the trustee purports to replace, among other trust terms, the power to vary in the OTD which power is replaced with the deed provider’s own contemporary take on an apt power to vary.

The SMSF trustee then considers the “replaced” power to vary which no longer requires the trustee to:

  • obtain the consent of the Principal Employer to vary trust terms; or
  • to take direction on the varied trust terms from the Principal Employer;

and decides that the redundant office of Principal Employer, no longer necessary with the evolution from employer-sponsored superannuation to self managed superannuation, can cease. The Principal Employer, say a company, is then de-registered and the office of Principal Employer under the SMSF lapses.

Marooned without a Principal Employer

As the “replaced” power to vary is of no effect this leaves the trustee unable to vary the SMSF trust terms further in future where there is no Principal Employer who can act under the power to vary from the OTD of the SMSF.

A question also arises whether the deed inserting the “replaced” power to vary also fails in its entirety where it contains an invalid replacement of the power to vary in the OTD. The answer to that question may vary case to case.

One can be more certain that deeds purporting to vary SMSF trust terms non-compliant with the power to vary in the OTD unconditionally requiring the consent etc. of the Principal Employer, will fail.

Other dated requirements in the power to vary

In retrospect many of the provisos which providers of SMSF OTDs included in powers to vary in SMSF OTDs seem unwise. Examples include provisos in powers to vary in OTDs that the trustee obtain the approval of:

  • the Commissioner of Taxation; or
  • the Insurance and Superannuation Commission;

to amendment of trust terms of the SMSF. These days the Commissioner of Taxation as the regulator of SMSFs is loathe to give such approval, which is not required by legislation, and the office of Insurance and Superannuation Commissioner no longer exists.

Unfortunately some old SMSF OTDs have these kinds of provisions and some way to deal with them needs to be worked out so that amendment compliant with the power to vary can take effect.

The right “applicable law”?

Powers to vary in SMSF OTDs frequently refer to an “applicable law”, or similar, broadly being the law that applied to SMSFs when the OTD was prepared. “Applicable law”, or whatever it may be, is usually defined in the OTD separately from the power to vary. When SMSF trust terms are generally updated, years later, the varied terms are understandably predicated on a different updated “applicable law”.

In my reckoning this means a deed varying SMSF trust terms probably needs to recognise and define two kinds of “applicable law” where compliance with “applicable law” is a proviso of the power to vary in the OTD:

  • firstly the statutes, regulations etc. that are apply to the SMSF under its updated terms; and
  • secondly the older laws prescribed as “applicable law” in the OTD, which may be redundant or repealed, which the trustee of the SMSF must nevertheless comply with to effectuate an update of trust terms in accordance with the power to vary in the OTD. The power to vary should then specifically refer to this second variety of “applicable law”. Restatement of these older laws can get complicated. For instance the Occupational Superannuation Standards Act 1987, which is often justifiably included as a component of “applicable law” in older superannuation OTDs, has been progressively renamed to the Superannuation Entities (Taxation) Act 1987,  the Superannuation (Excluded Funds) Taxation Act 1987 and the Superannuation (Self Managed Superannuation Funds) Taxation Act 1987.

An alternative view is that one stipulation of “applicable law” can suffice for the other on a reasonable interpretation of the OTD a court or tribunal may accept. That may be somewhat tenable if the OTD contains a interpretative provision contemplating amendments and re-enactments of statutes.

Still it is discomforting to rely on that interpretation of “applicable law” when the OTD specifically and restrictively defines what “applicable law” is and makes compliance with such “applicable law” a proviso to the power to vary. Adoption of multiple concepts of “applicable law” being:

  • one to support updated trust terms; and
  • the other to ground variations of the deed using the power to vary;

is a safer course in a deed to vary trust terms where “applicable law” is a proviso built into the power to vary in the OTD.

Challenges!

Proactive management of a SMSF with timely and effective amendment of SMSF trust terms to support that management can be a much more demanding and technical task then many will appreciate. It may pay for a SMSF trustee to carefully consider what the SMSF power to vary requirements in the OTD are, and what service the SMSF will be getting, rather than expecting that some plain vanilla SMSF deed amendment service is going to work.

Lost SMSF trust deed replacement deeds – are they a scam?

The writer has been reading about opportunity to replace lost trust deeds with a replacement deed from professional suppliers of replacement trust deeds, in SMSF Adviser and in other places. The writer is unconvinced that these replacement deeds are going to be legally effective particularly in relation to trust deeds to which the law in New South Wales applies.

Trust deeds lost in SA – Jowill Nominees Pty Ltd v. Cooper

On 2 July 2021 SMSF Adviser suggested that the South Australian case Jowill Nominees Pty Ltd v. Cooper [2021] SASC 76 provides an insight into issues a court will consider when a trust deed has been lost. This case concerned how trust rules of a trust governed by South Australian law can be varied by the SA Supreme Court on the application of the trustee pursuant to section 59C of the Trustee Act (SA) 1936. In the writer’s view this decision says nothing about variation of trust rules beyond the confine of a SA Supreme Court section 59C application.

Section 59C differs from the Trustee Acts to similar effect in other Australian jurisdictions including section 81 of the Trustee Act (NSW) 1925.

Regularity supports that there is a SMSF where its deed is lost

Where a trust, such as a self managed superannuation fund (SMSF), has been running for some time the trustee may be able to rely on the presumption of regularity to support the operation of the trust where the trust deed is lost.

The presumption of regularity is an evidentiary rule. It can apply where there is a gap in evidence about a prior act but where later acts and circumstances indicate likelihood that the prior act was performed. So in:

  • Sutherland v. Woods [2011] NSWSC 13 the NSW Supreme Court accepted that a SMSF trust deed and resolutions of a trustee of an active SMSF were signed on balance of probability although signed versions of these documents were missing from the evidence in the case; and
  • Re Thomson [2015] VSC 370 the Victorian Supreme Court treated a SMSF as operative in conformity with trust rules in a supposed later deed of variation even though an earlier deed of variation of the trust deed of the SMSF was lost and only an unexecuted version of the later deed of variation of the trust deed was available in evidence. Probabilities, and the surrounding facts such as the ongoing acceptance of the accounts of the SMSF based on the supposed later deed of variation, indicated likelihood that these deeds of variation had been completed and executed.

It is clear from the cases where the presumption of regularity is sought to be relied on that a court or tribunal will presume to aid a trustee unable to produce a missing deed only after an exhaustive search by the trustee for it:

He cannot presume in his own favour that things are rightly done if inquiry that he ought to make would tell him that they were wrongly done. 

Lord Simons in  Morris v. Kanssen  [1946] AC 459 at p. 475

Where a trustee of a trust, that has lost the trust deed of the trust, finds itself in dispute with the Commissioner of Taxation the presumption of regularity can counter the burden of proving the establishment of the trust on the trustee imposed by Part IVC of the Taxation Administration Act (C’th) 1953. See our post The burden of proof in a tax objection

The presumption of regularity is of procedural and not of substantive aid to establishing that a trust has been operating for some time in conformity with a valid and effective trust deed containing trust terms consistent with that operation where the trust deed cannot be produced. In the absence of evidence of the precise terms of a power of amendment, which is an exceptional power that can’t be presumed, the presumption of regularity, though, gives no substantial basis for amendment of trust terms to bring the terms of a SMSF trust deed back to terms that can be produced:

94. 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. It is not something that it is “expedient” that a trustee should do; nor, fundamentally, is it something that is done “in the management or administration of” trust property. A trustee’s function is to take the trusts as it finds them and to administer them as they stand. The trustee is not concerned to question the terms of the trust or seek to improve them. I venture to say that, 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.

Barrett JA in Re Dion Investments Pty. Ltd. [2014] NSWCA 367 at para 94

It follows that the presumption of regularity gives the trustee latitude to administer a trust on a presumed generic basis consistent with how that trust has been administered since inception where the trustee cannot produce the trust deed containing the trust terms. That presumption, though, would not ground alteration of trust terms where terms of a power of amendment which may not exist at all, cannot be specifically drawn on from the original trust instrument and complied with.

Law on amending lost trust deeds

How terms of a trust governed by the laws of New South Wales can be varied was considered by the Court of Appeal in Re Dion Investments Pty. Ltd. [2014] NSWCA 367. Re Dion Investments concerned an application to the Supreme Court to vary a trust deed of a trust by modernising its provisions for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the trust. In the writer’s view it is this Court of Appeal decision (by Barrett JA, whose decision Beazley P and Gleeson JA agreed with), not Jowill Nominees Pty Ltd v. Cooper, that gives insights into issues courts and tribunals, especially those in NSW, will consider when the effectiveness of instruments to amend trust terms:

  • where the trust deed of the trust has been lost and the power of amendment is not precisely known; or
  • in other circumstances where the variation to trust terms sought is not supported by, or are beyond, the power of amendment contained in the trust instrument such as in Re Dion Investments;

is to be considered.

Alteration of a trust by its founders

In the absence of a reserved power of amendment in a trust deed, can the trustee and the founders of a trust take action by a subsequent deed to vary an original trust deed (OTD)? The NSW Court of Appeal in Re Dion Investments indicates not. Barrett JA dispels this possibility where trusts and powers of the trust have been “defined” in an OTD:

41. Where an express trust is established in that way by a deed made between a settlor and the initial trustee to which the settled property is transferred, rights of the beneficiaries arise immediately the deed takes effect. The beneficiaries are not parties to the deed and, to the extent that it embodies covenants given by its parties to one another, the beneficiaries are strangers to those covenants and cannot sue at law for breach of them. The beneficiaries’ rights are equitable rights arising from the circumstance that the trustee has accepted the office of trustee and, therefore, the duties and obligations with respect to the trust property (and otherwise) that that office carries with it.

42. Any subsequent action of the settlor and the original trustee to vary the provisions of the deed made by them will not be effective to affect either the rights and interests of the beneficiaries or the duties, obligations and powers of the trustee. Those two parties have no ability to deprive the beneficiaries of those rights and interests or to vary either the terms of the trust that the trustee is bound to execute and uphold or the powers that are available to the trustee in order to do so. The terms of the trust have, in the eyes of equity, an existence that is independent of the provisions of the deed that define them.

Barrett JA in Re Dion Investments Pty. Ltd. [2014] NSWCA 367 at paras 41 to 42

Barrett JA then illustrates the point by this example:

43. Let it be assumed that on Monday the settlor and the trustee execute and deliver the trust deed (at which point the settled sum changes hands) and that on Tuesday they execute a deed revoking the original deed and stating that their rights and obligations are as if it had never existed. Unless some power of revocation of the trusts has been reserved, the subsequent action does not change the fact that the trustee holds the settled sum for the benefit of beneficiaries named in the original deed and upon the trusts stated in that deed. The covenants of a deed may be discharged or varied by another deed between the same parties (West v Blakeway (1841) 2 Man & G 751; 133 ER 940) but the equitable rights and interests of a beneficiary cannot be taken away or varied by anyone unless the terms of the trust itself (or statute) so allow.

Barrett JA in Re Dion Investments Pty. Ltd. [2014] NSWCA 367 at para 43

Alteration of a trust by all beneficiaries of a trust

SMSF Adviser and some SMSF deed suppliers express the view that persons who can compel the due administration of the trust can complete a replacement deed that varies and replaces a lost SMSF trust deed.

This view relies on a rule of equity from Saunders v. Vautier (1841) [1841] EWHC J82, 4 Beav 115, 49 ER 282. The rule is that where all of the beneficiaries of a trust are sui juris (of adult age and under no legal disability), the beneficiaries may require the trustee to transfer the trust property to them and terminate the trust. In Re Dion Investments, Barrett JA. recognises that this rule can entitle beneficiaries relying on the rule to require that the trustee hold the trust property on varied trusts:

but, if they do so require, the situation may in truth be one of resettlement upon new trusts rather than variation of the pre-existing trusts (and the trustee may not be compellable to accept and perform those new trusts: see CPT Custodian Pty Ltd v Commissioner of State Revenue [2005] HCA 53; 224 CLR 98 at [44]).

Barrett JA in Re Dion Investments Pty. Ltd. [2014] NSWCA 367 at para 46

For a trust that is a SMSF impediments to and implications of variation by the force of using the rule from Saunders v. Vautier are:

  • relatives and other dependants beyond the members of a SMSF, being all of the beneficiaries, must consent to using the rule from Saunders v. Vautier. Children, and others lacking legal capacity, who cannot consent to using the rule, are beneficiaries who can complicate use of the rule to vary a SMSF trust: Kafataris v. Deputy Commissioner of Taxation [2008] FCA 1454; and
  • if the beneficiaries do apply the rule from Saunders v. Vautier, resettlement of a SMSF trust on taking that action gives rise to:
    • CGT event E1 or E2 for each of the CGT assets of the SMSF under Part 3-1 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997. It follows that action taken by SMSF beneficiaries in reliance on the rule from Saunders v. Vautier will have comparable capital gains tax consequences to a transfer of all members’ benefits to a newly established SMSF; and
    • prospect that a new ABN and election to become a regulated superannuation fund for a new resettled SMSF will by required by the regulator.

Much reliance is placed by SMSF Adviser and by deed suppliers’ websites promoting replacement deed services on Re Bowmil Nominees Pty. Ltd. [2004] NSWSC 161. In Re Bowmil Nominees Pty. Ltd. . Hamilton J of the NSW Supreme Court, as a matter of expediency, allowed beneficiaries to vary a SMSF trust deed beyond limitations in the amendment power in the trust deed utilising the rule in Saunders v. Vautier on this basis:

20. Since it is appropriate that the trustee act upon the informed consent of beneficiaries who are sui juris and unnecessary applications to the Court for empowerment are not to be encouraged, I propose to adopt the course followed by Baragwanath J in the New Zealand case. I do not propose to make an order under s 81 of the TA empowering the making of the amendment, although I have expressed the view that the Court has power to do so and would be prepared to do so if it were necessary. Rather, I shall make an appropriate declaratory order to the effect that it is expedient that the proposed deed of amendment be entered into and that it will be appropriate for the trustee to act in accordance with it.

Re Bowmil Nominees Pty. Ltd. [2004] NSWSC 161 at para. 20

Update of trust terms by a court

The Court of Appeal in Re Dion Investments agreed with Young AJ, the primary judge, that post-1997 court decisions, including Re Bowmil Nominees Pty. Ltd., which relied on a misunderstanding of the extent of court power to vary trust deeds, particularly in relation to the statutory powers of a court to alter the terms of the trust viz. the aforementioned section 81 in NSW and section 59C in SA, which misunderstanding originated from this obiter dicta of Baragwanath J in Re Philips New Zealand Ltd [1997] 1 NZLR 93

The Court will not willingly construe a deed so as to stultify the ability of trustees, having proper consents, to amend a deed to bring it into line with changing conditions.

Re Philips New Zealand Ltd [1997] 1 NZLR 93 at page 99

were not correctly decided. Barrett JA said:

100. For these reasons, I share the opinion of the primary judge that the post-1997 decisions that have proceeded on the basis that variation of the terms of a trust is, of itself, a “transaction” within the contemplation of s 81(1) rest on an unsound foundation. The court is not empowered by the section to grant power to the trustee to amend the trust instrument or the terms of the trust. It may only grant specific powers related to the management and administration of the trust property, being powers that co-exist with (and, to the extent of any inconsistency, override) those conferred by the trust instrument or by law.

Barrett JA in Re Dion Investments Pty. Ltd. [2014] NSWCA 367 at para 100

In particular. the decision in Re Bowmil Nominees Pty. Ltd. and the other post-1997 decisions referred to in Re Dion Investments cannot be reconciled with the Court of Appeal decision in Re Dion Investments where Barrett JA found:

96. In such cases, however, the creation of what is, in terms, a power of the trustee to amend the trust instrument is a superfluous and meaningless step. When the court, acting under s 81(1), confers on a trustee power to undertake a particular dealing (or dealings of a particular kind), “it must be taken to have done it as though the power which is being put into operation had been inserted in the trust instrument as an overriding power”: Re Mair [1935] Ch 562 at 565 per Farwell J. The substantive power that the court gives comes into existence by virtue of the court’s order. It does not have its source in the terms of the trust. There is no addition to the content of the trust instrument. That content is supplemented and overridden “as though” some addition had been made to it. The terms of the trust are reshaped accordingly.

97. Conferral of specific new powers pursuant to s 81(1) should not be by way of purported grant of authority to amend the trust instrument so that it provides for the new powers. Rather, the court’s order should directly confer (and be the sole and direct source of) the powers which then supplement and, as necessary, override the content of the trust instrument. And, of course, the only specific powers that can be conferred in that direct way are those that fall within the s 81(1) description concerned with management and administration of trust property.

Barrett JA in Re Dion Investments Pty. Ltd. [2014] NSWCA 367 at paras 96-97

A variation relying on a power of amendment in trust terms is not a variation of a trust deed but a variation of trust terms contained in a trust deed. Barrett JA explained this in Re Dion Investments:

44. It is, of course, commonplace to speak of the variation of a trust instrument as such when referring to what is, in truth, variation of the terms upon which trust property is held under the trusts created or evidenced by the instrument. A provision of a trust instrument that lays down procedures by which it may be varied is, of its nature, concerned with variation of the terms of the trust, not variation of the content of the instrument, although the fact that it is the instrument that sets out the terms of the trust does, in an imprecise way, make it sensible to speak of amendment of the instrument when the reference is in truth to amendment of the terms of the trust.

45. Where the trust instrument contains a provision allowing variation by a particular process, the situation is one in which the settlor, in declaring the trust and defining its terms, has specified that those terms are not immutable and that the original terms will be superseded by varied terms if the specified process of variation (entailing, in concept, a power of appointment or a power of revocation or both) is undertaken. The varied terms are in that way traceable to the settlor’s intention as communicated to the original trustee.

Barrett JA in Re Dion Investments Pty. Ltd. [2014] NSWCA 367 at paras 44-45

Significance of the power of amendment as expressed in an OTD

A power of amendment of a SMSF, or any other express trust, is a precise reflection of the settlor’s (founder’s) intention of conditions for amendment of the trust communicated in the trust terms in the OTD and supplies the only lawful way trust rules in a trust deed, otherwise immutable, can be amended aside from narrow exceptions:

  • where beneficiaries can invoke the rule in Saunders v. Vautier and, by doing so, resettle the SMSF on a new trust; or
  • by court order to vary trust terms or, in NSW, to allow dealings of a particular kind despite trust terms, in accordance with a state or territory Trustee Acts such as section 59C of the Trustee Act (SA) 1936 and section 81 of the Trustee Act (NSW) 1925;

as considered above.

Amendment practice

It follows that a power of amendment in an OTD of a trust:

  • needs to remain, as it was in the OTD, as a term of the trust unless the power of amendment itself can be amended, should that be possible and has so been amended; and
  • is best extracted, repeated and given prominence in a deed of variation which replaces the other trust terms of a trust so that trust terms are clear and traceable on an ongoing basis.

Extraction and repeat of a reserved power of amendment from an OTD is not always just a matter of extracting the paragraph or paragraphs in the OTD containing the power of amendment. In the writer’s experience powers of amendment in older SMSF OTDs are frequently premised on laws and practices that prevailed when the superannuation trust was established e.g. such as in the former Occupational Superannuation Standards Act (C’th) 1987 and practices relating to now redundant regimes of employer sponsored superannuation. To remain traceable to the settlor’s (founder’s) intention as communicated to the original trustee, conditions specified for amendment in a power of amendment based on laws and practices, even where those laws and practices have evolved or become redundant since establishment of the trust; need to be complied with and reflected cogently in the extraction and repeat of the power of amendment in a deed of variation, within reason, if the power of amendment is to remain as a trust term in an exercisable form in the deed of variation.

When can a power of amendment in an OTD itself be amended?

Amendment of the power of amendment itself may be possible but unlikely if the amendment provision in the OTD itself does not expressly permit it. In Jenkins v. Ellett [2007] QSC 154, Douglas J. stated:

The scope of powers of amendment of a trust deed is discussed in an illuminating fashion in Thomas on Powers (1st ed., 1998) at pp. 585-586, paras 14-31 to 14-32 in these terms:

“In all cases, the scope of the relevant power is determined by the construction of the words in which it is couched, in accordance with the surrounding context and also of such extrinsic evidence (if any) as may be properly admissible. A power of amendment or variation in a trust instrument ought not to be construed in a narrow or unreal way. It will have been created in order to provide flexibility, whether in relation to specific matters or more generally. Such a power ought, therefore, to be construed liberally so as to permit any amendment which is not prohibited by an express direction to the contrary or by some necessary implication, provided always that any such amendment does not derogate from the fundamental purposes for which the power was created ….It does not follow, of course, that the power of amendment itself can be amended in this way. Indeed, it is probably the case that there is an implied (albeit rebuttable) presumption, in the absence of an express direction to that effect, that a power of amendment (like any other kind of power) cannot be used to extend its own scope or amend its own terms. Moreover, a power of amendment is not likely to be held to extend to varying the trust in a way which would destroy its ‘substratum’. The underlying purpose for the furtherance of which the power was initially created or conferred will obviously be paramount.”

Jenkins v. Ellett [2007] QSC 154 Douglas J. at paragraph 15

One can see the parity between what was said in Jenkins v. Ellett and in Thomas on Powers and in paragraph 94 in Re Dion Investments Pty. Ltd., as set out above, about a trustee’s proper role not being concerned to question or improve trust terms. See the writer’s article Redoing the deed https://wp.me/P6T4vg-3x#rtd

Update of the power of amendment?

The writer sees confusion among SMSF deed suppliers over the difference between the OTD and the trust terms in the OTD and who consequently fall into the trap of treating the power to amend as updatable by the same power to amend.

So instead of relocating the power of amendment in the OTD to updated trust terms, suppliers simply replace that power with their own take on an apt power of amendment departing from Barrett JA’s dictum that it is not for the trustee, far less a variation deed supplier, to “question the terms of the trust or seek to improve them”. Following Re Dion Investments and Jenkins v. Ellett a replacement of a power of amendment that is not amendable is a deviation from the power of amendment prone to be:

  • beyond the power of:
    • the parties entrusted with the power of amendment; and
    • a court, even if an order of the court for the replacement power had been sought; and
  • thus void.

Later deeds of variation of SMSFs based on a deviation

As in Re Thomson trust deeds of SMSFs will likely be varied more than once so that trust terms (governing rules) can better reflect evolving law and practice with SMSFs. An unlawful replacement of a power of amendment which deviates from the power of amendment in the OTD of a SMSF lays a trap when a trustee seeks to make a further amendment to the trust terms of the SMSF: Based on the above authorities a further deed of variation reliant on the “updated” power of amendment in an earlier deed of variation, rather than the power of variation in the even earlier OTD of the SMSF, will fail and be void unless the updated power of amendment in the earlier deed of variation is in conformity with the power of amendment in the OTD.

So are replacement SMSF trust deeds a scam?

The writer suspects many SMSF deed suppliers who supply replacement SMSF deeds don’t understand or follow the implications of Re Dion Investments. As a considered NSW Court of Appeal decision Re Dion Investments is binding legal precedent that rejects the authority of first instance NSW Supreme Court decisions referred to and discussed by the Court of Appeal, including Re Bowmil Nominees Pty. Ltd., that rest on an “unsound foundation” .

It is unfortunate that these cases are still being used as spurious authority on the websites of SMSF deed suppliers in support of claims that lost SMSF deed replacement deeds are of greater efficacy as variations of a trust deed than courts and tribunals, especially NSW courts, will be prepared to accept or order following Re Dion Investments. The writer wouldn’t say these claims are a scam necessarily because, as this post shows, the present state of law is complicated, difficult and more restrictive than understood by courts in the post-1997 cases referred to in Re Dion Investments.

The current law appears to be that if a trustee wants to vary a SMSF trust deed, which is “not something within the ordinary and natural province of a trustee” especially in NSW, the parties given power to amend under a power of amendment must locate, have and rely on that power in or derived from the OTD to successfully amend terms of a SMSF trust without resettling it.

Other solutions, aside from supreme court applications allowed under:

  • section 81 of the Trustee Act (NSW) 1925, as pursued in Re Dion Investments
  • section 59C of the Trustee Act (SA) 1936, as pursued in Jowill Nominees Pty Ltd v. Cooper; or
  • comparable legislation in other Australian states and territories;

which are expensive litigation, are unlikely to be legally effective.

It follows that every effort should be made to find trust terms in an OTD so that the power of amendment in the deed will be carefully complied with when an amendment of a trust deed is to be undertaken. That includes where there have been earlier deeds of variation of the trust terms of a SMSF whose validity also rests on, and must be derived from the reserved amendment power defined in the OTD.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The author acknowledges the articles:

  • A matter of trusts – Presumption of regularity to the rescue? Milton Louca and Phil Broderick, Taxation in Australia March 2018 at page 436
  • The powers of a Court to vary the terms of a trust A consideration of in Re Dion Investments Pty. Ltd. (2014) 87 NSWLR 753 A paper presented to the Society of Trust and Estates Practitioners – NSW Branch Wednesday 21 October 2015 by Denis Barlin of counsel (who appeared as counsel for the section 81 applicant in the case)

that were useful in preparing this post and which contain greater detail on the issues discussed. The author also expresses his gratitude that these articles have been made available openly online.

Why the weird donation trust beneficiary qualification?

Donation

I was recently asked why a trust deed for a family discretionary trust (FDT) contained this somewhat unusual means of qualifying as a discretionary beneficiary (DB) of the FDT:

any person who makes a donation of (some minimum amount) to …

As the questioner rightly observed, this mechanism readily allows someone outside of a family specified as the DBs, in the main, of a FDT to become a DB. Wouldn’t that mean that a FDT with this mechanism is not or can’t be a family trust?

The answer to this depends on what is meant by family trust.

Certainty of objects necessary for validity of a trust

The thinking behind this kind of provision is that a trust deploying a beneficiary by donation mechanism such as above in its trust deed will be valid.

Certainty of objects is essential for validity of a trust in Australia: Kinsela v. Caldwell (1975) HCA 10. Objects, that is who are or what are to benefit from the trust, being:

  • beneficiaries; or
  • charitable purposes;

must be certain in a valid trust.

It is clear law that a trust (other than a charitable trust) must be for ascertainable beneficiaries.

Re Vandervell’s Trusts (No 2) [1974] Ch 239 at 319 per Lord Denning

When DBs are specifically named or family members qualify by virtue of specified family relationships in a trust deed of a FDT, who qualifies as a beneficiary under the FDT generally presents no uncertainty. It is where classes of beneficiaries are wider and looser that problems of certainty arise and can cause a trust to fail for invalidity. For instance, in R. v District Auditor exparte West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council (1986) 1 RVR 24, an English Court found a trust, where the class of beneficiaries was expressed as 2½ million inhabitants of West Yorkshire, was invalid as the class was too large and was thus uncertain.

Donations

It follows that a beneficiary by donation mechanism for DBs in a trust deed of a FDT can readily meet the certainty of objects requirement. A person either has or has not made the requisite donation and so the trustee can perfunctorily ascertain that the person is a DB under the mechanism once the person has made the specified donation. Similarly every person who:

  1. has not made the specified donation;
  2. is not named as a DB; or
  3. is not in any other class of DB;

under the trust deed can be categorised not as a DB of the FDT with certainty.

There are limits to this though.

Or just a gift?

Where the beneficiary by donation mechanism in the trust deed is to a charity then the trustee can observe a donation by the prospective beneficiary. Sometimes I have seen trust deeds where the beneficiary by donation mechanism is a minimum donation not to a charity but to a beneficiary of the trust! A question arises here whether a payment of the minimum amount to qualify as a beneficiary under the mechanism is a donation, or is simply a gift (or perhaps a reimbursement agreement! see below), because the recipient beneficiary is not in need. A donation may need to be both a gift and a gift made to a recipient understood by the donor to be in need based on what a donation is commonly understood to be. Beneficiaries of private trusts in Australia are often well-heeled and are clearly not in need.

It may then follow that the donor does not qualify as a beneficiary of the trust because the donor has not made a donation.

Family trust?

Understanding then that an appropriately constructed beneficiary by donation mechanism for DBs in a FDT, which DBs are not necessarily members of the specified DB family in the trust deed, will not compromise the validity of the FDT as a trust, is it still fair to say that a FDT with this mechanism is still a family trust, that is a trust for a family, in substance?

FDTs as matter of course include charities as objects either so:

  • the trustee with discretion to choose who takes trust property can favour a charity as well as or instead of named beneficiaries and their family members; or
  • FDT income or capital does not become bona vacantia. That is before trust property reverts to the state as ownerless when the trustee doesn’t, can’t or doesn’t wish to exercise its discretion to distribute the property to a DB of the FDT, a charity or often a wide range of charities are able to take trust property under the trust deed of a FDT either by exercise of the trustee’s discretion or on default of that exercise without offending the certainty of objects requirement.

So clearly a FDT can still be a “family trust” in substance even though charities beyond the family can also benefit from the largesse of an FDT.

From that perspective it can be seen that a beneficiary by donation mechanism in the trust deed of a FDT, particularly if it is sparingly used by a trustee of a FDT to benefit non-family beneficiaries, is unlikely to make a FDT any less a family trust.

The point of a donation qualification mechanism in a FDT is to ensure the trust is/remains valid even if a person becomes a beneficiary of the trust using the mechanism who is not within the family or other class of who is a beneficiary in the trust deed. Whether a trust is a family trust or not is not pertinent to that.

Schedule 2F (trust tax losses etc.) family trusts

A “family trust” (2FFT) for the purposes of the (trust loss measures in) Schedule 2F of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 is a different matter. Sections 272-90 and 272-95 of Schedule 2F include certain specified relations of a test individual as members of a family group. Although distributions to individuals outside of the family group are liable to family trust distributions tax (FTDT) under Division 271 of Schedule 2F at the highest marginal income tax rate imposed on the trustee, trust distributions by a 2FFT to those individuals are not precluded by Schedule 2F either by law or in practice.

It can be seen that, unlike with state stamp duty and land tax surcharge measures which impacted who can be a DB of a FDT, the family trust and FTDT regimes in Schedule 2F do not impact on who can be a beneficiary of a FDT. Where a FDT elects to become a 2FFT, no FTDT arises until the 2FFT makes a distribution to an outsider outside of the family group. It matters not under Schedule 2F who qualifies as a DB of a 2FFT but does not receive a distribution.

If Schedule 2F had instead tax penalised 2FFTs with DBs outside of the family group whether or not distributions were made to them we would have seen the range of beneficiaries of FDTs reduce back to family groups and beneficiary by donation mechanisms superseded.

Reimbursement agreements

Another serious fetter on a trustee of a FDT exercising their discretion to distribute trust income to a DB who qualifies as a DB by using a beneficiary by donation mechanism is the high risk and potential that the Commissioner of Taxation may impose section 100A of the ITAA 1936 to tax the distribution on the trustee also at the highest marginal income tax rate.

A discretionary distribution by a trustee of a FDT to a person who is not a member of the family designated for benefit under the FDT begs the question why the distribution is being made outside of the family to this person. It is unusual that a trustee of FDT would seek to benefit someone outside of that family without the family receiving a quid pro quo in some form.

A quid pro quo grounds a reimbursement agreement which triggers section 100A.

A true gift to the non-family DB and the absence of a quid pro quo are facts the trustee and the family would need to prove, to resist a section 100A reimbursement agreement assessment on the trustee of the FDT. Situations where distributions to DBs who are not members of the family are more likely to be accepted by the Commissioner as not involving a reimbursement agreement include where:

  • the DB is a relation of a family member who is narrowly outside the class of family included as beneficiaries under the FDT;
  • the designated family may have few if any surviving family members; or
  • the DB is a person in need;

or a mix of those circumstances and then a beneficiary by donation mechanism in a trust deed of a FDT that is not a 2FFT may be usable without draconian tax consequences.

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The tax burden of handing over business assets to trust beneficiaries

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Business assets of GST registered entities, including business assets of a business carried on in a trust, attract significant tax concessions and advantages including:

  • income tax deductibility – generally either in the income year when they cost money: notably on purchase, or across their effective life in the case of depreciation; and
  • goods and services tax (GST) credits on GST creditable acquisitions.

It is to be expected that there are clawbacks under the taxation law when a business asset, that has attracted concessions and advantages under the taxation system in anticipation of its productive business use, is transferred to a beneficiary of a business trust that owns the asset for the beneficiary’s private use.

Trading stock taken out of a business for private use

It can be seen with business trading stock, for example, that a strictly market value disposition is taken to occur for income tax purposes when trading stock is taken for private use without regard to the money that may have changed hands. This treatment contrasts with the more flexible choice of actual cost, replacement cost and market selling value that is allowed to a business in determining trading stock on hand: section 70-45 of the Income Tax Assessment Act (ITAA) 1997.

Section 70-90 of the ITAA 1997 includes the market value of trading stock in income assessable to income tax when it is disposed of outside of the ordinary course of business. Section 70-100 can also include the market value of trading stock in the same income where the item, though not disposed of, has ceased to be trading stock.

Handing over depreciable equipment

The balancing charge or adjustment which is assessable to income tax on the disposal of an item of depreciable plant and equipment, such as a car used in the business of a trust, is determined based on its termination value. Where a business (taxpayer) stops holding the item under a non-arm’s length dealing for less than market value, then the item’s termination value is taken to be the market value of the item just before that dealing under item 6 in the table in section 40-300 of the ITAA 1997.

Where business equipment being depreciated by a trust is used privately by a beneficiary of the trust without being disposed of to the beneficiary the item will precipitate a non-deductible private use proportion of use of the equipment. When the item is eventually sold or otherwise disposed of for more than its cost, a capital gain under CGT event K7 attributable to the private use component can arise to the trustee of the trust.

Taxable GST supply without consideration

Generally a supply of property, goods or services by a business that is registered or required to be registered for GST for consideration is a taxable supply. Under section 72-5 of the A New Tax System (Goods And Services Tax) Act 1999 a supply to an associate:

  • not registered or required to be registered for GST; or
  • where the associate acquires the thing supplied otherwise than for a solely creditable purpose;

is treated as taxable supply even when there is no consideration for the supply. The value of a section 72-5 taxable supply without consideration (a price) is the GST exclusive market value of the supply: section 72-10.

Not worth the tax and accounting trouble

It can be seen from the above that taxation consistently based on market value substitution applies to non-arm’s length provision of business assets to beneficiaries of business trusts for the beneficiary’s private use.

The in specie distribution of a business asset of a GST registered trust to a trust beneficiary for no consideration, or an inadequate consideration, (price) is thus discouraged by the clawbacks. There is no apparent tax advantage to a trust in giving an asset to a beneficiary of the trust when the gift is compared to a sale of the asset. A sale raises far fewer tax compliance challenges!

How getting the business asset to the beneficiary might be done?

A less problematic way to achieve the same thing would be for the trustee to simply sell the business asset in the ordinary course of its business to the beneficiary for its market value (plus GST in the case of a sale by a GST registered business trust) and, concurrently make a capital distribution to the beneficiary to cover the price. Then the clawbacks would not need to be endured.