Category Archives: Trusts

So what is the future of trusts?

One of the questions that we are most confronted with by our clients is what the future of trusts are in South Africa. Some questions even point to the misconception that the trust instrument itself as legal form is on the verge of being scrapped in South Africa altogether!

The current debate raging is not at all that dramatic, although the consequences for taxpayers potentially may be. The “crystal ball” gazing exercise which we are so often requested to undertake stems from repeated warnings (some less subtle than other) by the Minister of Finance that the use of trusts as a tool to minimize tax exposure, be it in the form of income tax or estate duty, is being revisited by National Treasury to try and find a solution to the perceived abuse thereof. As recently as in the 2016 budget, the following statement is made:

“Some taxpayers use trusts to avoid paying estate duty and donations tax. For example, if the founder of a trust sells his or her assets to the trust, and grants the trust an interest-free loan as payment, donations tax is not triggered and the assets are not included in his or her estate at death. To limit taxpayers’ ability to transfer wealth without being taxed, government proposes to ensure that the assets transferred through a loan to a trust are included in the estate of the founder at death, and to categorise interest-free loans to trusts as donations. Further measures to limit the use of discretionary trusts for income-splitting and other tax benefits will also be considered.”

This alludes both to how trusts are commonly used to minimize tax obligations, as well as how Treasury intends to (what could be considered a more focused) approach to trusts in future, while also hinting at what may be expected going forward.

As a first comment, trusts are popular estate duty planning instruments. Without going into too much detail, typically an individual will sell his/her assets to a trust on interest free loan account. In the coming years, the value of the assets will increase in the trust, while the value of the loan account will remain the same in the hands of the individual.

Secondly, trusts are potentially useful for income tax planning purposes as they allow for income to be distributed to individuals that are subject to tax at rates more beneficial than that of the trust (which involves ‘income-splitting’ referred to by Treasury above). Typically, these distributions often contain a fictitious element through distributions made on interest free loan account only (with no real intention that such distributions should vest in the beneficiaries).

It would appear as though Treasury is no longer considering an ‘out-and-out’ onslaught on the taxation of trusts (although this is only speculation). However, the recent budget perhaps betrays what may be expected and that anti-avoidance legislation is to be introduced that will focus only on abusive practices involving trusts. For both estate duty and income tax structures involving trusts, it is not far fetched to expect to see provisions introduced into tax legislation which will ensure that loan accounts with trusts all bear interest. The significance of this? Interest receipts are subject to income tax.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

Using a Trust for Estate Duty purposes

A3Trusts are popular mechanisms through which individuals often structure their affairs to ensure efficient administration of their estates when they should one day die. One of the many advantages of using a trust is of course that it continues to ‘live on’ despite the fact that any one individual may have died. This in itself is a great benefit, especially when seen against the scenario where a person’s dependents are left in a state of financial limbo, and quite often financially distressed, but in anticipation of an estate being dealt with and divided in accordance with the law of succession by the appointed executor. This process can often take months, if not years.

Another factor rendering trusts so popular for estate planning purposes, is that it can also potentially be utilised as an effective estate duty planning tool. Bearing in mind that the first R3.5 million of one’s estate is exempt from estate duty (levied at 20%), an individual may be well advised to sell his/her estate to a trust when it is still relatively small.

For example, if Mr A has an estate of R1 million and he were to sell this on loan account to a trust of which his dependents and family members (and even he himself) are the beneficiaries, he will still own an asset of R1 million (being the loan claim) in his own hands in 20 years’ time when he dies. However, his erstwhile estate, consisting of property and share investments, are by now worth R5 million, albeit owned by the trust. Besides therefore that Mr A’s family is able to still access the investments through the trustees of the trust being mandated and obliged to care for their financial needs, Mr A has also saved on estate duty of R300,000 (being 20% of the amount in excess of R3.5 million).

The law of trusts is not open to abuse though, and it is important that appointed trustees of a trust act in the interests of the beneficiaries, as well as exhibit a degree of independence. Trustees who do not act independently and in the interest of the trust beneficiaries (and who are merely ‘puppets’ of an individual) will lead thereto that the trust in itself be disregarded and seen as a sham. The trust must therefore operate as a distinctly separate estate.

For estate planning purposes, as well as the proper administration of a trust (which can be fraught of potential pitfalls) it is best to seek the help of an advisor before embarking on any such exercise. One should further be mindful of the deliberations of the Davis Tax Committee, which is considering sweeping changes to the use of the trust instrument in specifically the estate duty context.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

The importance of the Independent Trustee

A4A well-known court case, Land Bank of South Africa vs JL Parker and Two Others (the Parker case) irrevocably changed the requirements for independent trustees to be appointed and placed renewed focus on the duties and responsibilities of all trustees.

As a result of the Parker case, most Masters of the High Court now require an independent trustee to be appointed in addition to the trustees who are beneficiaries of the trust, and therefore will not issue a Letter of Appointment without at least one independent trustee being appointed. An independent trustee will be a person who is not related to the founder, the other trustees or the beneficiaries.

This independent trustee does not necessarily have to be a professional person but it must be someone who fully realises the responsibilities he or she is accepting when agreeing to act as a trustee, and is qualified in the view of the Master of the High Court to act as a trustee.

All trustees (independent or not) are charged with the responsibility to ensure that the trust functions properly to the greatest benefit of the beneficiaries. These responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

  1. ensuring compliance with the provisions of the trust deed;
  2. ensuring compliance with all statutory requirements;
  3. conducting of proper trustee meetings;
  4. recording of proper minutes of all meetings and decisions by the trustees;
  5. proper maintenance and safekeeping of minute books.

It is clear that a person who is appointed as an independent trustee must have the necessary experience and expertise to properly execute these duties as well as to add value to the trust. In many cases, the trustees who are not independent do not have sufficient knowledge of and experience in the proper administration of trusts. Furthermore, they might also lack expertise in utilising the vehicle of the trust in order to maximise the benefit for the beneficiaries.

This expertise includes negotiating and entering into business contracts, holistic tax and succession planning, and ensuring the optimal growth of the trust assets. It is in the best interest of the trust that this person also has sufficient knowledge of the impact of statutory requirements, such as compliance with relevant tax law and the effect of changes in legislation on the trust.

All trustees assume significant responsibility when accepting an appointment as a trustee and careful consideration must be given before accepting such an appointment. Any breach of fiduciary duties by any trustee, including the independent trustee, will result in significant exposure for the trustees. Furthermore, any action taken by the trustees on behalf of the trust while the proper number of trustees is not appointed by the Master of the High Court will be null and void.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice.

Advantages and disadvantages of trusts

1Trusts have various advantages, but unfortunately there are also disadvantages. Although this is not a complete synopsis of all the pros and cons, our experience may assist you in making decisions about Trusts.

Advantages:

  • Growth taking place in the Trust assets settles in the Trust and not in your personal estate.
  • By selling the assets to the Trust, the amount owed to you by the Trust will remain outstanding on the loan account and shall be regarded as an asset to your estate. This amount may be decreased for Estate duty purposes by utilising the annual Donations Tax exemption of R100 000.
  • A Trust offers protection against problems should you become mentally incompetent. This may also make the appointment of a curator to handle your financial affairs unnecessary.
  • A Trust remains confidential as opposed to documents like wills and records of deceased estates which are public documents and therefore open for inspection.
  • A Trust can offer financial protection to disabled dependents, extravagant children or beneficiaries with special needs.
  • A Trust can evade the administrative costs of consecutive estates by making provision for consecutive beneficiaries.
  • A Trust can lighten the emotional stress on your family when you die because the Trust will continue without any of the formalities that are required from a deceased estate.
  • By choosing your Trustees well you can ensure professional asset and investment management.
  • The Trust will enable you to have a degree of control over the assets in the Trust after your death, via the Trustees.
  • After your death and before the estate has been settled the Trust can provide a source of income for your dependent(s).
  • You will prevent your minor child’s inheritance from being transferred to the Guardian’s Fund.
  • You will avoid the problem of trying to distribute assets equally among the heirs.
  • Trust income can be divided among the beneficiaries with lower tax categories after the death of the initiator when individual exemptions may be utilised, but all taxable income kept in the Trust will be taxed at 40% without exemption benefits.
  • Levels of income may be varied according to the changing needs of the beneficiaries at the discretion of the Trustees.
  • Due to the assets remaining the property of the Trust and not the beneficiaries it need not be included in people’s estates as part of their assets when they die, which effects a saving in Estate duty.
  • The Trust assets will be protected from creditors for the same reason.

Disadvantages:

  • You don’t have full control of your assets, as the other Trustees also have a say in the matter.
  • A Trust is registered and the authorities can gain access to it.
  • You could possible choose the wrong Trustees. You could expect problems if the Trustees are vying heirs. This shows how important it is to have at least one independent Trustee.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice.