The trustee is liable for the debts and obligations of the trust. A beneficiary’s share of the trust is assessable income.
The trustee(s) (there may be more than one) of a trust may be a person or a company (the latter is known as a corporate trustee). In either case, the trustee must be legally capable of holding trust property in their own right. The trustee holds the trust property for the benefit of the beneficiaries.
Where the trust is established by deed (which in the case of a deceased estate is the will), the trustee must deal with the trust property in line with the intentions of the settlor as set out in the trust deed. They must also act in accordance with the relevant state or territory law regulating trusts, and with any other applicable law, including tax law.
Under trust law, trustees are:
- personally liable for the debts of the trusts they administer, and
- entitled to be indemnified out of the trust property for liabilities incurred in the proper exercise of the trustee's powers (except where a breach of trust has occurred).
Under tax law, the trustee is responsible for managing the trust's tax affairs, including registering the trust in the tax system, lodging trust tax returns and paying some tax liabilities.
A trust beneficiary can be a person, a company or the trustee of another trust.
The trustee may also be a beneficiary, but not the sole beneficiary unless there is more than one trustee.
Beneficiaries may have an entitlement to trust income or capital that is set out in the trust deed or they may acquire an entitlement because the trustee exercises a discretion to pay them income or capital.
Generally, the beneficiaries are taxed on the net income of a trust based on their share of the trust's income – regardless of when or whether the income is actually paid to them.
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