When can a family trust trump an SMSF?

Family trusts offer often-overlooked major wealth management benefits.

There is a tendency for family trusts to be overlooked in favour of SMSFs as a way of managing wealth, yet family trusts provide tremendous flexibility for managing investment portfolios and family wealth.

While superannuation remains the best investment vehicle for saving for retirement, it does have some limitations. In particular, super is designed specifically for retirement needs; therefore a family trust could well be a more useful option for people looking for a way to manage investments that can be transferred to other family members if needed.

Advantages of family trusts include:

- asset protection options,

- intergenerational wealth transfer facilitation,

- no limit on contributions to the trust, and the ability to increase capital,

- income splitting to all family members, giving substantial tax benefits particularly where there are low income earners in the family,

- no preservation of benefits – so can access back when wanted,

- the ability to hold personal use assets, such as a holiday home,

- no requirement to be audited, so can be cheaper to administer,

- the ability to run a business through the trust and

- estate planning flexibility – a trust can continue on for the next generation.

One reason why people tend to ignore family trusts as a wealth management tool is because it is believed that their benefits have been eroded and that they are overly complex and expensive. In reality, family trusts have far fewer restrictions and rules than SMSFs and are therefore simpler, and often cheaper, to operate.

Through a family trust, ownership of assets such as a share portfolio or holiday house can continue on uninterrupted even if a family member dies. This is because the family member doesn’t own the asset, the trust does, so assets don’t form part of the individual’s estate.

This makes family trusts an ideal tool for multi-generational wealth transfer. SMSFs, on the other hand, must be wound up on the death of the last member, which can also raise tax issues. It also means assets held by an SMSF must be sold, and if the family wishes to keep an asset, such as property, they will be liable for stamp duty and conveyancing costs.

It doesn’t have to be an either / or consideration, however, and a family trust should be considered in conjunction with an SMSF, as they work well together.

Michael Hutton, partner, wealth management, superannuation, HLB Mann Judd 

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