Trust

Minimizing risk in your business

Running a business is risky and small businesses can be especially so. Minimizing risk in your business is crucial.

Often, SME owners put their own personal assets on the line, whether to borrow funds from a lender to start up or buy stock or equipment or by signing a guarantee in relation to suppliers and others for the debts of the business.

There are several methods of protecting personal assets from creditors, but it is a process that many don’t follow. Some are quite simple and easy to put in place. They include…

Placing assets in a spouses’ name or in a family trust

In most circumstances, creditors will not be able to make a claim upon assets owned by your spouse or held by a discretionary trust, provided that you are not the trustee. If your spouse is the trustee, then he or she is the person who will usually decide how to divide up the income or capital of a trust (or not to).

Of course, stamp duty and capital gains tax issues must also be considered before acquiring or transferring assets as well as the potential operation of claw back provisions. The loss of the principal place of residence CGT exemption or the land tax issues may be a factor weighing against doing this.

In the end, it is weighing up risk vs benefits and making an informed decision regarding any asset protection measures.

Encumbering assets if you cannot transfer them

An asset that is mortgaged to its value is not attractive to a creditor. The mortgagee in such a case is the only entity that will benefit from the subsequent sale of the asset.

A guarantee form a person without assets is effectively valueless. Often businesses don’t check to see what a guarantor actually owns.

If you seek a guarantee from a director of another business, you could make some inquiries about their credit/financial position before creating an account,

Correctly structuring your business

Sometimes it is not feasible to establish an asset-holding entity and a trading entity (as many small business start-ups are strapped for cash) but it can be a great way to protect the business assets from day to day trading risks. Even getting the type of business structure right from the beginning (sole trader, partnership, company, trust or combination etc) can have a massive impact on your business.

It is possible to establish a company with a single director and/or single shareholder. The company dealing with third parties, supplies, customers and the like is the entity that may be liable to them, not the shareholders.

The shareholders are only liable to the company for the unpaid amounts (if any) on any issued share capital. This liability is usually a nominal amount such as a dollar. Shareholders have no liability to third parties unless they agree to it, such as by giving a guarantee.

Company directors may have some liability but only in limited circumstances can the corporate veil be lifted. Courts may be prepared to lift the veil in limited circumstances, such as in the case of insolvent trading, fraud or misrepresentation, inappropriate transactions or where public policy requires it.

Charging assets (and properly recording the charge)

Before lending money to your business, a charge should be created in the correct form and that form recorded as against assets such as real property (by way of mortgage recorded at Land and Property Information or another State’s land titles registry) or against non-real estate assets (by way of a Specific or General Security Deed and making a registration on the Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR)) to secure repayment of that money in preference to other creditors should the business fail.

Having proper terms of trade

Most businesses, if they have them at all, have terribly inadequate terms and conditions of trade. Often they are just copied and pasted from other documents and not tailored, leaving businesses thinking they are adequately protected when they really are not covered at all.

T&Cs should be built to protect your particular business and should be a work in progress, tweaked to solve or prevent problems that have arisen in your business from occurring again,

Avoiding personal guarantees altogether

A guarantee is a contract by which a guarantor promises that another person or entity will comply with his, her or its obligations to a third party and if they don’t, the guarantor will. The most common example involves bank loans where a guarantor such as a parent promises to repay the loan of their child if the child defaults.

Becoming a guarantor can be extremely risky, particularly when large liabilities are involved. Under most guarantees, the guarantor becomes immediately and primarily liable to repay the debt (and the lender does not have to wait for attempt to recover from the borrower before calling on the guarantee).

As a practical matter, many businesses cannot obtain finance unless a personal guarantee is provided. If this is the case however, whenever the loan is actually repaid or if the business can prove it is financial stable and secure, the guarantee should be discharged so that the guarantor cannot continue to rely on it at a later date concerning subsequent transactions.

Managing staff

One of the biggest risks to your business is that of staff leaving, and worse still, taking valuable information and assets with them.

Having appropriately drafted Employment Contracts with restraints of trade in them is a must.

Superannuation contributions

In many circumstances, superannuation entitlements can be protected from bankruptcy trustees. There may be no protection for example where the payments are made for the primary purpose of defeating creditors.

Making contributions to super is getting harder and harder with the Federal Government’s recent changes to the superannuation laws however, this can be an effective long term tool for wealth creation and asset protection. This will also usually involve the assistance of your financial planner.

Business succession planning

If you are in business with another person, what happens to your business if you or your business partner gets seriously injured or dies?

Do you have an appropriate and valid Will, Enduring Power of Attorney and Appointment of Enduring Guardians in place?

Usually having these estate planning documents is not enough. Presumably your business partner would give all of his or her assets to their spouse on their death through their Will. What if you don’t want to me in business with your business partner’s partner?

You should have in place business succession documents to deal with this such as a Buy/Sell Deed with appropriate insurances, a Shareholders Agreement (for companies), Unitholders Agreement (for unit trusts) or a Partnership Agreement (for businesses operating through a partnership structure).

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to starting a new business, commercial law, business disputes or estate planning/business succession issues generally, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Trusts – who is who in the zoo?

TYPES OF TRUSTS

There are many different types of trust including those created by wills (testamentary trusts) or by the operation of law, but for the purpose of this article, we are referring to the usual types of trust structures that accountants and lawyers prepare for their clients to operate businesses, own assets and the like, including:
  • unit trusts,
  • family/discretionary trusts,
  • hybrid trusts.

Trusts are often used to ensure that the person or entity with the legal ownership of assets is different to the persons or entities that enjoy the benefit of those assets.

WHAT IS A TRUST DEED?

The Trust Deed is a document that governs the terms of the Trust and sets out the rights and obligations of the Trustee, the Appointor and the Beneficiaries.

SETTLOR

The Settlor is often a person who has started the Trust (often an accountant or lawyer that obtained or drafted the Trust Deed at the request of a client) by paying a nominal amount such as $10 to the Trustee. This amount is known as the ‘settled sum’. The Trust Fund is then added to over time.

WHAT DOES THE TRUSTEE DO?

The Trustee of a Trust is responsible for administering the Trust and managing its assets for the benefit of the Beneficiaries. The Trust can only operate through its Trustee (one or more people or a company)

There are many duties that affect how Trustees can fulfill their role. Many of them are set out in the Trust Deed but there are also legislative provisions that apply, such as those set out in the Trustee Act.
Some of the duties include keeping accurate records, acting in a prudent manner as regards decisions, not mixing Trust assets with the Trustee’s own assets (which is why a often a company is set up to be the Trustee and do nothing but be the Trustee) and not using trust assets for the trustee’s own benefit. This is often one of the reasons a special purpose trustee company is used.

WHAT IS AN APPOINTOR?

The Appointor is the person with the power under the Trust Deed to remove a Trustee and appoint a new Trustee. They, therefore, ultimately control the trust.

Usually, changing the Trustee can be effected at any time by the Appointor executing a deed to remove and appoint a Trustee. Often the Trust Deed allows for the change to be effected by a person’s Will.

It is common for the Appointor of a discretionary family trust to be a parent or sibling and is often 2 people (or in the alternative, there is a Primary or First Appointor and a Second or Alternate Appointor that can act if something prevents the First Appointor from acting).

WHO ARE THE BENEFICIARIES?

In the types of Trusts we are talking about in this article, the Beneficiaries are those that are ultimately entitled to the benefit of the Trust. For Family/Discretionary Trusts, the Beneficiaries are not stated specifically but rather, for asset protection reasons, they are expressed as a class of potential beneficiaries that the Trustee can choose from (but is not obliged to – the protection arises as there is no specific share they are entitled to – it is in the Trustee’s discretion).

Often, the class of potential beneficiaries is very wide and includes children, grandchildren, grandparents, siblings and other trusts and companies which those people may have an interest in.

In the case of a Unit Trust, the Beneficiaries are the unitholders -the unitholders are entitled to a defined/fixed share of the Trust’s assets and income.

For asset protection and income splitting/tax minimisation reasons, often the units in a Unit Trust are owned by a Discretionary Trust.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Trust law is an extremely complex area and it is important to ensure that you understand your rights and responsibilities in relation to any Trust you are involved with or may have an interest in.

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to trusts, structuring or any other commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

Deceased estate litigation

Succession Act claims

We are often called upon to advise clients in relation to claims on estates in relation to such things as challenging the validity of the Will (such as due to lack of mental capacity when the deceased person made the will or duress) or what is known as a Succession Act claim or a family provision claim (where a person says that adequate provision was not made for them in a Will). We discuss the latter here.

The purpose of the Succession Act is to seek to ensure that “adequate” provision is provided from a deceased’s estate to the family members of a deceased person (and others). Claims under the Act are based on needs.

Important facts

  • Claims must be made within 12 months of the date of death of the deceased (although in limited circumstanced, this time limit can be extended).
  • To make a claim, you must first establish that you are an “eligible person”.
  • Assuming you are an “eligible person”, you must demonstrate needs beyond the provision that was made for you in the Will (if any) for your proper maintenance, education or advancement in life.

Who is an eligible person?

Those who are eligible to make a claim for a provision out of deceased estate include:
  • A spouse of the deceased at the time of the deceased’s death;
  • A person in a de facto relationship with the deceased at the time of death
  • Children (including adopted children) of the deceased;
  • Former spouses of the deceased;
  • Someone with whom the deceased was in a close personal relationship* at the time of their death;
  • Those who have, at any time, been wholly or partly dependent upon the deceased:

- were either a grandchild of the deceased; or

- were, at any time, member of a household of which the deceased a member.

* A “close personal relationship” is a relationship other than a marriage or a de facto relationship between two adult persons, whether or not related by family, who are living together, one or each of whom provides the other with domestic support and personal care but not for reward or on behalf of another person or organisation.

What is involved?

To make a claim, the proceedings are usually commenced in the Supreme Court by way of Summons and evidence will be required in an affidavit setting out the nature and history of the relationship, contributions made to the deceased’s property and wellbeing, details of your financial need and any other relevant factors.

Simply having financial needs and showing some level of dependence on the deceased is not the end of it. The Court will have to weigh up many other factors, such as the size of the estate, the deceased’s wishes (such as those stated in a statement of testamentary intention or other similar document), competing claims from others, circumstances and events that may tend to dis-entitle a person from a benefit and so on.

Time and costs involved

Litigation is a lengthy and time-consuming process and it is an emotional one with family relationships being strained by what may be contained in affidavits or said in the witness box at a hearing. That said, often the estate pays the costs (or a large proportion of them) involved in such cases so it may not be a financial burden to enforce your rights.

Most cases settle prior hearing and usually at a mediation that can be arranged by the Court or by private agreement between the parties. Settlement is often advised to avoid the risks, costs (and emotional cost) of litigation and to help preserve any family relationships.

Often we act for the executors of an estate, but we also act for beneficiaries and those that are not mentioned in Wills at all.
Further information

If you would like any more information in relation to Wills, deceased estate litigation or estate planning/business succession issues generally, please contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au

Trust & Superannuation Deed Amendments

Do you or any of your clients have a family/discretionary trust, unit trust or self-managed superannuation fund and want to change the deed?

Often the change is to remove and replace a trustee with a new one. In other situations, it may be changing a class of potential beneficiaries, dealing with the power of appointment, bringing forward the termination date or changing the trustee’s rights and/or obligations.

Care needs to be taken not to vest the trust or to cause a resettlement, which can give rise to unintended consequences, including:

  • CGT and
  • stamp duty.

There is no real “one size fits all” solution. Deeds can vary greatly as to the process and requirements.

McKillop Legal can assist in reviewing the relevant Deed/Rules and drafting an appropriate document to give effect to the required change.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to trusts, estate planning, business succession or any other commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

Wills with testamentary trusts – why you need one

WHAT IS A TESTAMENTARY TRUST?

A Testamentary Trust is simply a trust established by a person’s Will.  As opposed to more “simple” Wills, where beneficiaries receive the benefit of any gift personally, with a Testamentary Trust, the beneficiaries receive the benefit of the gift but rather than having it legally owned by them personally, a trustee holds the relevant asset in trustfor them.

Wills with Testamentary Trusts are recommended by many lawyers, accountants and financial advisors for various reasons, including asset protection and taxation advantages.

ASSET PROTECTION

Because of the legal ownership being different to the beneficial interest, Testamentary Trusts can offer beneficiaries significant and important advantages such as asset protection. As the trustee of the Testamentary Trust owns the asset (not the primary beneficiary personally), creditors and trustees in bankruptcy of the relevant beneficiary cannot gain access to the asset.

Often, beneficiaries are in business for themselves and have implemented asset protection measures so as to keep their assets safe from claims by third parties. The last thing that beneficiary may want is to receive an inheritance in their personal name, effectively undoing all of their efforts to safeguard their assets!

There can be significant tax advantages in taking an inheritance through a testamentary trust, in addition to asset protection.

Testamentary Trusts can be drafted so as to have the beneficiary effectively control the trust and for that control to be relinquished on the occurrence of certain events, such as bankruptcy or divorce/marital separation, with a nominated person to act in the role of trustee whilst that incapacity remains.

TAXATION BENEFITS – INCOME SPLITTING

Rather than taking a gift in a personal capacity as would usually be the case with a more “basic” Will, with a Will that incorporates Testamentary Trusts, beneficiaries have the ability to split income earned among other people in their family such as spouses, children, grandchildren or any other company or trust in which they have an interest.

Where an estate has income producing assets such as an investment property, under a more “simple” will, the person who received that gift would have the income earned from that asset added on top of the income they already receive from their employment or investments. This could mean that they go into the next marginal tax bracket and pay significantly more tax.

A Testamentary Trust allows the income earned to be split amongst the various family members, many of whom are likely to either not be working (so the tax free thresholds become available) or earn lower incomes (and are therefore in lower taxation brackets).

Children that receive income from a Testamentary Trust are taxed at marginal rates as if they are adults (as opposed to the usual discretionary / family trusts, where they are taxed at unearned income penalty tax rates) so for a family with a non-working spouse and several children, significant income can be received whilst very little or no tax may be payable on the testamentary trust income.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to estate planning, business succession or any other commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.