The rising cost of living is grabbing all the attention right now as people struggle to pay the increasing prices. But in the meantime, our collective wealth has been growing steadily and is being transferred to the next generation at increasing rates.
In fact, the value of inheritances as well as gifts to family and friends has doubled over the past two decades.i
A 2021 Productivity Commission report found that $120 billion was passed on in 2018 and that amount is expected to grow fourfold between now and 2050. In 2018, the value of the average inheritance was $125,000 while gifts averaged $8000 each.
So, there is a lot at stake and it means that estate planning – a strategy for dealing with your assets after you die – is vital to help fulfil your wishes and protect the interests of the people you care about.
One powerful tool in planning your estate is a testamentary trust, which only comes into effect after your death. It operates in a similar way to a discretionary family trust and your Will acts as the trust deed, providing instructions for the trust.
It allows you to control the distribution of your assets and provides a way of managing any tax implications for your beneficiaries. Testamentary trusts are often used to protect assets from unforeseen circumstances such as lawsuits, creditors and divorces and they can help to preserve a family’s wealth.
A testamentary trust can be useful for those with blended family relationships and children with complex needs. For example, a child with a disability who is unable to manage their own investments can be supported by the use of a trust. Testamentary trusts may also help to provide some certainty for parents that their young children will be provided for. They are also often used by philanthropists as a way of providing a legacy for a cause they support.
Choosing a trustee
If you are setting up a testamentary trust, you will need to appoint one or more trustees who will manage administration and distributions.
The trustee could be a family member (who may also be a beneficiary) or the role could be handed to an independent person or organisation.
Trustees should understand the tax situation of each of the beneficiaries to ensure that the timing and amount of distributions don’t inadvertently cause difficulties for them. Trustees must also lodge a tax return every year and maintain trust accounts and records.
As the ATO points out, for the trust to operate effectively, a high level of co-operation between family members may be important so that tax, financial and other information is shared.
The pros and cons
Whether or not you should set up a testamentary trust in your will depends on your own circumstances.
The positives include:
The ability to control the distribution of income
The possibility of some tax advantages for your beneficiaries
A level of protection for your assets from lawsuits, family breakdowns and business difficulties
A way of keep a family’s wealth intact into the future
Support for vulnerable beneficiaries such as those with special needs or lacking financial experience and minors
Can be used by anyone with assets to distribute, whatever the size of their estate
On the other hand, there are a number of considerations to be aware of such as:
The complex paperwork and reporting required
The cost to establish the trust and keep it running
The possibility of disputes among beneficiaries or with the trustee over the future of the trust, distributions, and its administration
Testamentary trusts are a valuable strategy to help ensure your wishes are followed. They can shape your legacy, provide fairly for your loved ones and protect assets.
Call us if you would like to know more about establishing a testamentary trust and to see whether it is suitable for you.