Whether as a business structure or as part of estate planning, there are a number of advantages to setting up a discretionary trust, sometimes also called a ‘family trust’.
This article will provide some detail on the benefits – as well as some of the things to be cautious of – in creating a discretionary trust. Trusts can be a complex area of the law so it’s a wise course of action to seek the advice of an experienced legal expert if you wish to establish a discretionary trust.
The key advantages for estate planning
The main reason a person will set up a discretionary trust as part of their estate planning is the control it provides them in determining who and how much the beneficiaries of the trust will receive from the trust’s property and assets.
A discretionary trust will often hold shares and other investments. Money earnt on these investments is held in the trust and you, as the trustee, has the discretion about how the money is distributed to beneficiaries such as your immediate family members.
It’s important to note that the beneficiaries are a defined class of people who do not have a right to the assets of the trust but merely a right to be considered when the trustee decides to exercise their discretionary power to distribute income from the trust.
The second key advantage of a discretionary or family trust is that it can provide tax advantages. If as trustee you are earning an income that places you in a high income tax bracket, but your beneficiaries in the trust are in lower tax brackets, or even under the tax-free threshold, you can minimise the tax burden on income from investments by distributing trust income to those beneficiaries, who will be taxed at the lower rate.
A further strength of a discretionary trust is asset protection. In estate planning this can prove important where, for example, a beneficiary of the trust becomes bankrupt. In normal circumstances where a person passes on assets in a will to their adult child and that child is bankrupt, the assets will become available in the bankruptcy proceedings. But in the case of a discretionary trust, assets within the trust will be protected from the proceedings and any other creditors. The trustee can distribute to the bankrupt beneficiary once the bankruptcy period has expired.
Capital gains tax
A further benefit of a discretionary trust is that if an asset of the trust is disposed after a year within the trust, a 50% discount applies to any capital gains tax owing. This discount also flows through to beneficiaries on distribution of the proceeds.
Discretionary trusts as a business structure
A discretionary or family trust is a particularly popular means to structure a small business in Australia. The key advantages outlined above, including control, asset protection and tax advantages, equally apply.
Additionally, so long as the trust deed is correctly structured, small business capital gains tax concessions are also available in this structure. The benefits of limited liability are also available if the trustee is a corporate entity. The trust structure also makes it easier to admit new beneficiaries without the trustee losing control.
It’s important to also note some common disadvantages of this structure. Investors can be harder to attract when a trust structure is used and a bank, for example, is uncertain of the terms of the trust deed. Losses from the business are trapped in the trust, as only profits can be distributed, and property held in a discretionary trust is not able to take advantage of the tax-free threshold for land tax. There can also be a restriction on who can be distributed to if you need to make a family trust election, required where the trust wishes to claim losses from prior years, or imputation credits on franked dividends received.
Speak with Felicio Law Firm
At Felicio Law Firm we have many years of experience advising clients on the benefits of setting up a discretionary trust. We can take you step-by-step through more detail on the general points raised in this article and put your mind at ease about whether this is the right structure for your circumstances.