6 lessons for SMSF trustees from Charlie Sheen’s career

Actor Charlie Sheen’s career and tumultuous personal life provide crucial lessons for SMSF trustees. Ensure you get on top of these to be an SMSF Hot Shot. 

#1 Wall Street

‘Greed is Good’ but it’ll probably land you in court.

The plot is about insider trading and the lesson is in the catchcry “Greed is Good”. Some of the most carefully structured transactions can result in contraventions such as tax avoidance or illegal early release schemes. Don’t end up in court like Sheen’s character Bud Fox. Get legal advice if you are unsure of a strategy or are not 100 per cent sure how the regulator may perceive your intended plan.

#2 Young Guns

Regulators generally get the final say, especially when they are ‘armed’.

In this movie. Sheen was one of a group of wayward men seeking to avenge their mentor’s death. The group is deputised by the sheriff and call themselves the regulators.

While there is more gunfire in the film than with the ATO, it’s a good reminder that being confrontational when approached by a regulator could result in your untimely demise (or that of your SMSF). Ensure that, if ‘the regulator’ wants to talk about your SMSF, you get advice to avoid turning up unarmed.

#3 Platoon

Not having a plan for life-changing events won’t end well.

Sheen’s character Taylor is a young soldier in the Vietnam war. He says, “Looking back we did not fight the enemy. We fought ourselves and the enemy… was in us”. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. We know we need to get an enduring power of attorney organised and signed, but we never get around to it. Unexpected ill health or accidents can result in our lives being changed forever.

Everyone needs a plan for what happens if … just in case. Every SMSF must have a plan to deal with the loss of capacity of trustees.

#4 Major League

Your game improves when your focus changes.

Sheen plays Ricky Vaughn, a baseball player whose pitch improves after realising he needs glasses. Blindly believing your trust deed allows an investment or estate planning strategy is likely to result in some dodgy plays.

Change your focus and pick up the deed. Take a look and see what it says. If your deed isn’t in plain English perhaps you need to amend it so that you can read and understand your ‘rule book’ when you need to.

#5 Two and a Half Men

Make sure you’re ‘winning’ with an estate planning strategy.

If you’re going to live like Sheen’s well known hedonistic character Charlie Harper, you’d better have your estate planning in order – for known and unknown dependants, de facto split, divorce and death.

Running an SMSF without an estate plan is reckless. It’s highly likely that those you leave behind will be set up to do battle, irreparably damaging any pre-existing relationship and the bulk of your money may be spent on them fighting it out in court.

#6 Having a personal meltdown

You don’t have to do it all on your own.

Sheen famously had a public meltdown at the start of 2011, resulting in a media frenzy. There is no need to have a meltdown when it comes to your SMSF, whether you have just started and are overwhelmed with the responsibility of being a trustee or you have received an auditor contravention report from the ATO.

Trustees should have a team of professionals who specialise in SMSFs they can call on – accountants, financial planners, auditors and of course lawyers. If you are concerned about the costs of getting professional support, ask for a fixed fee estimate upfront.

Caroline Harley, SMSF senior counsel, Greenfields SMSF Lawyers

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