Using a corporate trustee makes the funds asset ownership clearer and reduces administrative paperwork when there are membership changes – the more members, the greater the number of potential change events.
The advantages of a corporate trustee
The ATO imposes administrative penalties on each individual trustee, so, for example, if there were to be a $1,000 penalty applied to the trust, it would be applied to each trustee. In a four-person fund, that’s $4,000. In this scenario, directors of a corporate trustee would pay $1000 in total.
Administrative burden on change
Every time there is a change to the trustee structure, the ownership documentation of every investment and bank account must change. Where an SMSF has an individual trustee structure, this will occur every time a member joins or leaves the fund, and also when a trustee dies. This can cause stress at the most sensitive of times. There is a limited time period to satisfy the trustee and member rules.
For a corporate trustee, the trustee does not change where members leave or join the fund, there is only a change in directorship.
A single member fund must always have two individual trustees, whereas a company trustee can have a sole director who is the only member.
If an individual trustee is sued, the trustee’s personal assets are exposed. Companies provide greater protection when being sued because of their limited liability.
Separation of assets
Having a sole purpose corporate trustee makes ownership of assets quite clear. In contrast, assets held by individual trustees can look very similar to the personal or joint accounts held by trustees.
For bank accounts, this could potentially make accidental payments or transfers to and/or from the wrong account more likely, increasing the risk of an audit issue and penalties.
So why do some people choose individual trustees?
There are reasons people choose individual trustees as an option primarily based on:
- It saves having to set up the company, so you save some time and money initially
- There are no ongoing ASIC reporting obligations to comply with; and
- Fewer procedural issues to deal with, as there are more flexible requirements for holding trustee meetings and no need to comply with a company constitution
However, the money saved at setup, and the time taken up by the ASIC requirements for a sole purpose company, are minor compared to the costs that will be incurred when the inevitable changes in ownership occur at a later stage.