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Family Trusts in a nutshell

We often associate family trusts with high income earners and their children who attend private schools, but that is not always the case. If you want to protect your hard-earned assets from creditors and stream the income earned from the trust assets to beneficiaries in the most tax-efficient way possible, then a family trust is for you. This article will briefly explain to you the essential elements of a family trust and how it works.

What is a trust?

A trust is an arrangement where a trustee, being a person or company, holds assets as the legal owner for the ‘benefit’ of one or more beneficiaries. Types of assets that you can put in the name of a trust include shares, real property and cash. Income earned from the assets is passed to the beneficiaries.

A trust is recorded in the form of a deed, which contains many rules including how the trust must be run, what the trustee can do and lists who the beneficiaries are. In New South Wales, a trust can last for up to 80 years and can also be varied from time to time. The laws around trusts can be very complicated therefore it is essential that you appoint a solicitor to draft the trust deed.

What is a family trust?

A family trust is a popular type of trust, where the beneficiaries have no fixed interest in the assets. Every family trust has four roles that need to be filled before it can begin operation.

1. The trustee plays a significant role in the trust and has a few powers and obligations. The trustee chooses the beneficiaries and decides the amount that each beneficiary receives every year. Moreover, the trustee carries out all transactions for the trust. In terms of obligations, the trustee is responsible for the tax obligations of the trust including the lodgment of income tax returns. Furthermore, the trustee owes a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries and must always act in their best interest.

2. A beneficiary can be a person or a company. Beneficiaries can be divided into two categories: primary beneficiaries, who are specified in the trust deed, and general beneficiaries, who are usually relatives of the primary beneficiaries.

3. The appointor has the power to appoint and remove the trustee. However, they do not have the power to operate the trust. If a sole appointor dies or goes bankrupt, a majority of the primary beneficiaries can appoint a new appointor.

4. Finally, the settlor is the person who creates the trust and identifies the beneficiaries, the trustee(s) and appointor. The settlor should not be a beneficiary or a trustee for tax reasons. After the trust deed has been signed, the settlor will no longer be involved with the trust.

If you set up a trust in New South Wales, the state government will charge you $500.00 for stamp duty, which must be paid within three months.


Trusts should not be an arrangement that is tied to the wealthy only because it has considerable value in the long-term for any individual. A family trust may help protect your assets and minimise the impact of tax. However, a family trust deed is a sophisticated document which is normally drafted by a lawyer. If you are interested in setting up a family trust today, please do not hesitate to contact our office for a free initial consultation.

Disclaimer: This publication is general information only and does not purport to provide legal advice. We do not accept responsibility for any losses for reliance upon this publication.

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