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    More tax problems from wide trust beneficiary classes

    In brief:    A recent NSW payroll tax case shows again the potential problems of widely drawn beneficiary classes in discretionary trusts. A company owned and controlled by Michael Gerace had been issued with payroll tax assessments of nearly $2M and was put into liquidation. The Chief Commissioner of State Revenue (NSW) was successful in an appeal to group that insolvent company with a trust controlled by Michael’s brother and one established originally for their parents, despite an apparent lack of commercial connections. Grouping was achieved because Michael was a discretionary beneficiary of both those other trusts, so he was effectively taken to have a controlling interest in each of those trusts (as well as the insolvent company that he owned). And members of a payroll tax group are jointly and severally liable for the tax payable by every group member.

    More:    Having wide trust beneficiary classes is an outdated practice that potentially creates substantial tax disadvantages, yet serves no real purpose – Tax Strategies’ trusts have for several years been created on a different basis without wide beneficiary classes, substantially minimising the risk of such tax disadvantages. There was no doubt about the grouping in this case, but Michael disclaimed his interests under his brother’s and parents’ trusts in an attempt to retrospectively sever his connection with them. However, the Court held that that did not affect payroll tax liabilities that had already arisen, irrespective of its impact as between Michael and the respective trustees. It is traditional drafting practice to have wide beneficiary classes in a discretionary trust, including many family members who are not intended and will never benefit under the trust. But that can give the payroll tax Commissioners a very easy grouping mechanism. It has also caused significant problems in relation to the recently introduced duty and land tax surcharges for foreign purchasers of residential real estate in a number of States. (Chief Commissioner of State Revenue (NSW) v Smeaton Grange Holdings Pty Ltd [2017] NSWCA 184)

    24 Aug 2017

    Topic: Trusts/State taxes

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