Edmonds Judd

Trusts

Thousands of Kiwis have, over the years, established family trusts for a variety of reasons. However, it’s well worth considering whether those reasons are still relevant today and evaluating whether your trust may have outlived its usefulness.

You may have established your family trust for:

  1. Avoiding estate duty: before 1992 it was common for high value assets (such as farms) to be transferred to a trust so your personal estate would not have to pay estate duty
  2. Eligibility for the residential care subsidy: trusts were often settled to increase the likelihood of being eligible for the residential care subsidy; the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) only considered assets you owned personally when considering eligibility for the subsidy
  3. Minimising tax: Fluctuating tax rates over the years have sometimes provided a lower tax rate for trusts than the highest rate of personal tax
  4. Creditor protection: Transferring your personal assets to trust ownership means that your personal creditors may have more difficulty accessing those assets to recover personal debts you owe
  5. Estate planning: Children may make claims against their parents’ estates where they believe their parents have made no, or inadequate, provision for them. Transferring assets to a trust during one’s lifetime leaves little or nothing for children to claim against on your death. Trusts also allow assets to be ring-fenced to help with the care of differently abled children
  6. Relationship property: settling a trust, either before your relationship is ‘in contemplation’ or afterwards (provided a contracting out agreement is also signed), is one way to help remove assets from the potential pool of relationship property that would be available for division if your relationship ends.

Things have changed

These days, however, estate (and gift) duty is no more, the top personal tax rates will soon be realigned with trust tax rates, and MSD takes a closer look at trusts when considering residential care subsidy applications. There has also been increasing court action on trusts where it is believed they may have been used to avoid creditors, claims by children and relationship property claims.

In addition, there are further consequences in settling trusts in New Zealand if you are an American citizen, from the UK (even though you may be tax resident in New Zealand), or if you are tax resident in Australia.

Notwithstanding the above, trusts are still very useful vehicles, particularly for creditor protection, estate planning and relationship property purposes.

Trust deeds, however, should be carefully drafted and have the correct documentation in place around them. Excellent legal, accounting and tax advice is needed to ensure that your trust will do the job you want it to.

If you have a family trust that may no longer be fit for purpose, or you think you need an asset protection plan, please talk with us about the options available to you.

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Fineprint is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Fineprint may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Agreeing on a division of relationship property after you and your spouse separate can be fraught. Usually, emotions are highly charged.

When de facto couples separate, they can resolve their relationship property division immediately, and have no further financial involvement with each other. When married couples separate, however, they cannot divorce for two years and often divide their relationship property while still married. When a divorce does not take place immediately, this can mean the separated spouses still have rights – for example, to inherit if one of them dies. If the separated spouses do not intend this, their relationship property division must specifically address inheritance in order to prevent unintended consequences.

 

Relationship property agreement

A recent High Court decision[1] illustrates the type of problems that can arise. Alan O’Donoghue and Marc Comia married in 2016 and separated in 2019. The couple entered into a 2020 agreement about the division of their relationship property which was stated to be ‘in full and final settlement of all property claims each party has against the other, under any statutory enactment, in equity or in common law.’ The marriage was never formally dissolved. Alan died in 2021 without a will, so was ‘intestate.’

 

Separated spouse to benefit from intestacy?

Alan and Marc had no children. Alan was survived by his mother, but she gave up any interest in his estate. In those circumstances, unless the 2020 agreement was effective to resolve inheritance as well as relationship property matters, then Marc, as Alan’s husband (despite the separation) was entitled to the whole of Alan’s estate by virtue of section 77 of the Administration Act 1969, the legislation that sets out the shares in which surviving relatives are entitled to an intestate deceased’s estate.

Usually, unless there are special circumstances, the person with the highest beneficial interest in an estate will also be appointed administrator. Marc applied for letters of administration in Alan’s estate without disclosing the existence of the agreement. Marc knew that Alan’s brother, Russell, took the view that the agreement meant Marc was no longer entitled to inherit any of Alan’s property. If Marc had contracted out of any entitlements under s77 then Russell, rather than Marc, was entitled to his late brother’s estate and therefore entitled to letters of administration.

 

Contracting out of succession rights

The High Court had to grapple with the question of whether it was possible to contract out of a statutory entitlement to inherit on intestacy under s77. Cases considering this issue are rare because it is usual for a person who has separated and entered a relationship property settlement to make a new will.

Further, the issue only arises where a marriage has not been formally dissolved after a separation; de facto relationships come to an end when the relationship finishes. It is only a marriage which can subsist after separation, and until the parties formally divorce.

The High Court determined, following a 2013 case,[2] that, as a matter of policy, contracting out of an interest under s77 was possible. However, for the ‘contracting out’ to be effective, the agreement in which it is undertaken must comply with the safe-guarding conditions set out in the Property Relationships Act 1976 (PRA). These conditions include that each party to the agreement receives independent legal advice before signing and that a lawyer who witnesses a party’s signature must certify that the implications of the agreement have been explained to that party.

In Donoghue the agreement did not comply with these requirements. However, there is a procedure whereby a non-complying agreement can be declared to have effect anyway. Therefore, the court recalled the grant of letters of administration to Marc, appointed Russell as administrator of his brother’s estate and directed Russell to apply to the Family Court for a determination on the effectiveness of the agreement.

All these extra steps could have been avoided.

 

Lessons to be learned

It is very welcome that the High Court has confirmed that it is possible for separating spouses to contract out of their entitlements under the Administration Act 1969. Naturally for any such agreement to be effective, it must comply with requirements of the PRA. The situation in which Alan left his brother Russell could have been avoided entirely if Alan had made a new will at the same time the agreement was entered into in 2020, which should be usual practice, or if Alan and Marc had divorced after their separation.

If you are going through a separation, we strongly recommend you both make a new will immediately after the separation documentation is completed and/or you divorce as soon as practicable. It could save you and your family a great deal of time, money and emotion.

[1] O’Donoghue v Comia [2023] NZHC 2735.

[2] Warrender v Warrender [2013] NZHC 787.

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Trust eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Trust eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Estates and guarantees

Can cause difficult legal issues

Guarantees entered into by a person during their lifetime can create some difficult legal issues for their executor after they die.

 

Limiting a guarantee

The terms of most guarantees allow a guarantor to give notice; this stops further liabilities accruing. In an estate situation, this will not alter the liabilities accrued to date, however the executor who is aware that an estate is liable under a guarantee may need to issue a stop notice to protect the estate’s position to maximise the value of the estate.

This can be a difficult decision for an executor, particularly where (for example) a guarantee is important for the ongoing viability of, say, a family member’s business.  However, where the estate does not have an interest in that business, the executor may need to do this anyway as the estate’s position is the executor’s responsibility, and the interests of all beneficiaries must be prioritised, even if the decision causes dissatisfaction for one.

 

Calling up a guarantee

Where a guarantor has died, and the guarantee is called up after their death, the estate is liable to the lender in the usual way.

In the situation where the estate is only one of several co-guarantors, the executor may need to decide whether to seek contributions from the co-guarantors. The executor may also need to take legal action to enforce payment by co-guarantors.

Where any of the co-guarantors are also beneficiaries of the estate, it may also be necessary for the executor to take advice about the extent to which any liability for contribution to the guarantee can be met by funds that the beneficiary is to receive under the terms of the will.

 

Rights of contribution between co-guarantors

The default position is that co-guarantors share an equal liability to meet a common debt. Where one guarantor pays more than their fair share of the debt to the lender, they are entitled at equity to seek an equal contribution from their co-guarantors.

Complications can arise, however, where a co-guarantor is insolvent. In that situation, the other solvent co-guarantors may have to contribute proportionally to meet the shared debt. This means that an estate might be held liable for more than its ‘fair’ share of the debt.

 

Co-guarantors who are also beneficiaries

The situation becomes more complex when a co-guarantor is also a beneficiary of the estate that has paid the debt. Can the executor claim contributions towards the debt paid by withholding the beneficiary’s share of that debt from their entitlement under the will? Although the court has confirmed that a beneficiary owing money to an estate cannot claim a share of their interest without first settling the debt, an executor should not automatically deduct a debt from a beneficiary’s entitlement.

Rather, the first step will usually be for the executor to approach the relevant beneficiary first by letter and then a formal demand. If a beneficiary persistently refuses to fulfil their debt, an executor can then retain that beneficiary’s share or interest to recover their relevant contribution. The executor should then seek the approval of the High Court to deduct the beneficiary’s share of the debt from their estate entitlement.

 

Interests of beneficiaries take priority

Personal guarantees can create tricky issues for an executor to deal with, particularly in family situations. The estate’s position is the executor’s responsibility, and the interests of the beneficiaries of the estate must be the executor’s priority – even if it means one beneficiary is unhappy because they are affected by the executor’s decision.

While it does not commonly arise, the right of contribution is also something the executor may need to explore for the benefit of the estate as a whole and seek some advice. In some circumstances the executor may also need to go to the High Court for assistance where one beneficiary will not cooperate.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Trust eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Trust eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Careful will drafting is essential

For many charities, gifts in wills (bequests) are a significant source of funding.

Sometimes, however, charitable bequests cannot take effect when wills are not carefully drafted. There can be considerable time and cost associated with addressing that situation and trying to ensure the bequest can go to the charity you intended. This article looks at ways your wishes for a charitable bequest have the best prospect of being fulfilled.

Most of the time, bequests to charities fail (and cannot take effect) because there are changes in charitable organisations over time, the will is not updated for many years and/or the will does not contain a suitable power for the executors to address these situations.

 

Changes in charities over time

It is common for charities to restructure.  Many charities once had a number of local branches, which were all registered as individual charities, but they have now consolidated into one overall national organisation, and the local branches  disestablished. Some organisations may have changed their name or amalgamated with other charities.

Wills frequently misdescribe charities. The name of the charity may not have been checked on the Charities Register to ensure it was correctly described or the organisation may have restructured since the will was prepared. Wills commonly leave bequests to charities that no longer exist. This can mean the bequest fails.

 

Wills can include special clauses

In some cases, these problems can be addressed by careful will drafting. Wills can include clauses addressing the potential for charitable organisations to be misdescribed or to change over time. Also, many wills contain a power for an executor to pay funds to the trustees or officers of a charitable organisation without being required to follow up on how the gift is then used. For example:

  • A power could be included providing that if a charitable organisation has been misdescribed, the executor of the will may pay the gift, at their discretion, to what they consider to be the correct organisation, and
  • A power could be included that says that if a particular charitable organisation no longer exists in the form described, the gift may be paid to:
  • Any successor organisation
  • Any amalgamated organisation which the named organisation became a part of or its assets were transferred to, or
  • If the organisation has entirely ceased to exist, to such charitable organisation as the trustees, at their discretion, consider most closely carries out the same charitable purposes.

Where wills do not contain clauses to this effect, the High Court may be able to assist, although this can be very expensive.

 

An example

In a recent case[1], Margaret Barrow’s will (which was drafted in 2000) left funds to the Medical Research Council of New Zealand (MRC). The MRC existed until 1990 when it was dissolved by Parliament, and a new Crown entity, the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC), was created in its place.

Ms Barrow’s executor applied to the High Court to interpret the reference to the MRC as referring to the HRC.

Despite the fact that the MRC had not existed for 10 years when the will was drafted, it appeared that neither Ms Barrow nor her lawyer had realised that the MRC had been succeeded by the HRC. The will file, which was more than 20 years old, had been destroyed, so there was no record of Ms Barrow’s instructions to her lawyer. Evidence was given, however, that in 2000, there was no online register of charities, and it is possible that this was the reason for the misdescription.

The High Court noted that the assets and liabilities of the MRC had become the assets and liabilities of the HRC, and the HRC was clearly the successor organisation. It ordered that Ms Barrow’s will should be interpreted as referring to the HRC rather than the MRC.

If the High Court had not been able to interpret Ms Barrow’s will to refer to the HRC, the next step may have been to prepare a scheme under the Charitable Trusts Act 1957. That process is time-consuming and often more expensive than applying to the High Court to interpret a will. If an application to interpret the will is an option, it will usually be faster and less expensive. However, it is best if an application to the High Court can be avoided entirely.

 

Check the Charities Register

When making bequests to a charity, it is prudent to check the Charities Register here to ensure that charity still exists. It is also useful to include clauses in wills that address the possibility of the charity being restructured or disestablished. This can save time and cost, and help carry out a will-maker’s intentions more effectively.

[1] Re Barrow [2023] NZHC 1146.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Trust eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Trust eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Refusing an inheritance

What options does a trustee have?

What is the trustee of an estate supposed to do when a beneficiary will not accept their inheritance?

This was the question faced by Mr Holland, executor and trustee of the estates of Margaret Glue and her husband, Ian Glue.[1] Margaret died in 2005, leaving a life interest in her estate to her husband Ian, and her remaining estate to her two sons. Ian died in 2009, also leaving his estate equally to his two sons, David and John.

 

Best efforts to contact beneficiary

John received his inheritance shortly after Ian’s death in 2009; John died in 2019. David, however, was unable to be contacted, despite Mr Holland’s efforts to contact him for well over a decade. His inheritance was worth approximately $300,000 as at August 2022. Mr Holland had written to David advising him of his inheritance and asking for a bank account number so the funds could be deposited.

David lived in London. Mr Holland had arranged for a professional investigator to confirm that David lived at the address known to him, and where correspondence had been sent. It was confirmed that David did live at that address; this was understood to be local authority housing (similar to ‘council housing’ in New Zealand).

 

Actively avoiding contact?

There was a suggestion that David may have wished to avoid receiving his inheritance as it could have disqualified him from living in that property. Welfare or social housing benefits are means-tested in many countries; it is common for these to become unavailable if a recipient’s assets exceed a certain threshold.

It is possible that David did not want to receive his inheritance because he thought he would be better off with stable and affordable housing, rather than receiving his inheritance that would then be dissipated on more expensive housing and eventually leave him in the same position. There was no specific evidence on the point, however, as David would not engage with the trustee, so this was only conjecture.

 

What next?

Mr Holland had held the inheritance for more than a decade and he wanted to be freed from his trustee obligations to David. Mr Holland applied to the High Court for an order[2] asking for permission to distribute the inheritance to John’s children, on the basis that David was ‘missing’ and his entitlement should be disregarded. Mr Holland swore an affidavit that he had known Margaret and Ian Glue for many years, and they would have wanted their descendants to benefit from their estate. He thought that Margaret and Ian would have preferred that the beneficiaries of John’s estate (i.e. his children) receive the inheritance, than for the money to sit indefinitely in case David eventually decided to accept it.

The High Court noted that section 136 of the Trusts Act 2019 applied to beneficiaries who are ‘missing.’ It said that David was ‘decidedly not missing’; he could be found, but he simply would not engage with the trustee or accept his inheritance. Initially the court proposed that the money be paid to the Crown to be held in case David ever made a claim, but it was persuaded that this was not what Margaret and Ian would have wanted.

The High Court found that even though David was not missing, section 136 applied anyway because:

  1. The trustee had taken reasonable steps to bring the inheritance to David’s attention, over more than 10 years
  2. More than 60 days had passed since the trustee’s last attempt to contact David, and
  3. In the circumstances, it was reasonable to disregard David’s position and direct that the inheritance be paid to John’s estate (and therefore to his beneficiaries), as though David did not exist.

 

The lessons in this case

While it is unusual for a beneficiary to fail to claim their inheritance, it can happen, and they may have good reasons for doing so. That can, however, make things difficult for an executor or trustee who is holding funds on their behalf.

This case is a good reminder that a trustee who is in this situation may have other options and will not be forced to hold the funds indefinitely.

[1] Re Holland [2023] NZHC 464.

[2] Under section 136 of the Trusts Act 2019.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Trust eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Trust eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Significant issues raised

In June 2023, the Supreme Court heard the ‘Alphabet case.’ To understand the significance of what is at stake in this case, it is worth considering the facts that gave rise to the litigation and the High Court’s decision.

 

Abuse of A, B and C by Mr Z

Mr Z and Ms J married in 1958 and separated in 1981. They had four children: G (1960-2015), A (b 1961), B (b 1963) and C (b 1971).

Mr Z severely abused Ms J and the children physically, psychologically and sexually. A was repeatedly raped between the ages of seven and 13, but she did not disclose the abuse to anyone until 1983. She did not tell her mother until 1991. A was unable to face taking action against Mr Z.

Mr Z died in 2016 leaving an estate valued at $46,839. He had, however, settled a trust two years previously for the express purpose of preventing his family from “chasing” his assets, to which he had gifted his home and investments worth $700,000. The children were not beneficiaries of Mr Z’s estate or the trust; rather, the trust’s beneficiaries were the children of Mr Z’s former partner.

 

Children’s claims

That should have been the end of the matter because the Family Protection Act 1955 (FPA), that allows children to challenge their parents’ wills, only applies to assets a deceased owned in their personal names; it doesn’t apply to trust assets.

However, the children argued that their father owed them a fiduciary duty and, that because of the abuse, he continued to have obligations to them even after they became adults. They said that Mr Z had breached that duty when he gifted his home and shares to the trust in order to prevent his children from claiming against those assets under the FPA.

 

In the High Court

In the High Court,[1] Justice Gwyn agreed with the children and said they could bring claims under the FPA against the assets that had been transferred to the trust.

The trustees of Mr Z’s estate and trust appealed to the Court of Appeal.

 

Court of Appeal divided over case

The Court of Appeal[2] accepted that Mr Z owed a fiduciary duty to his children and that he breached that duty when he abused them. The issue was whether Mr Z continued to owe those fiduciary duties to his adult children at the time he gifted his assets to the trust.

The majority of the Court of Appeal judges disagreed; they said that the appropriate remedy for the breach of fiduciary duty was equitable compensation (and the children had run out of time to make that claim).

However, one judge said that in some circumstances the inherently fiduciary relationship between a parent and a child may continue after a child becomes an adult (for example, in the case of a severely disabled child).

The judge (who was in the minority, so their views don’t affect the final outcome) decided that A’s position, owing to the abuse she suffered, was analogous to that of a disabled child. Mr Z therefore had a continuing duty to take steps to remedy, as best he could, the enormous harm he inflicted on A, not only when she was living in his care, but also during her adult life. This meant he was required to protect her interests when considering gifting his principal assets to the trust, and failed to do so.

 

Decision awaited

The Supreme Court will tell us whether Mr Z owed a continuing fiduciary duty to A into her adult life because of the abuse he perpetrated on her. Many commentators believe that it is stretching the concept of a child/parent fiduciary duty too far.

If legal principles cannot evolve, however, a situation may emerge where extraordinarily meritorious claimants are left with no effective relief, simply because too much time has passed, and/or because their parent transferred their assets into a trust to prevent claims after they have died.

That raises two questions:

  1. Should time count against people such as A, who have been so seriously abused by a parent?
  2. Should parents be allowed to transfer their assets into a trust in order to prevent their children making claims after their death?

[1] [2021] NZHC 2997.

[2] [2022] NZCA 430.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Trust eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Trust eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Land Covenants

Now commonplace in residential developments

With all the property development over the last 20 years or so, land covenants have become commonplace in new build residential developments.

If you are buying a property in a newly or recently built residential subdivision, the odds are that the title will come with various covenants registered against it. These covenants are likely to place restrictions on the ways in which the owners can use and enjoy their properties.

What are land covenants?

Land covenants are usually put in place to ensure that the aesthetics and maintenance of the subdivision are built and kept up to a certain standard. In other instances, a landowner may subdivide part of their property and wish to restrict what can be done on the subdivided land to protect their use and enjoyment of their remaining land, for example, by restricting the location and size of any buildings to protect their view.

Whilst life in a subdivision is not for everyone, urban development in New Zealand is now usually done through a subdivision with land covenants.

Land covenants broadly fall into two categories:

1. Positive covenants that impose an obligation on a property owner to do something, or
2. Restrictive covenants that prevent an owner from doing something.

Positive covenants usually include an obligation to make a financial contribution or assist with maintenance of something in common with neighbouring landowners, such as the repair and maintenance of a fence or driveway.

Restrictive covenants are the most common covenants in residential subdivisions. The restrictions could include:

  • The construction materials that can, or cannot, be used for building on the land (including a possible prohibition on the use of second-hand materials)
  • The height/design of your house, garage or even a fence
  • Restrictions on whether you can leave caravans, boats and trailers parked in the driveway
  • Ensuring clotheslines, heat pump infrastructure, solar panels or satellite dishes are not visible from the street
  • Limitation on the number of dwellings and/or outbuildings you can have on the property
  • Whether certain types of animals are not allowed on your property, and/or
  • A reverse sensitivity covenant, that prevents the owners of the land burdened by the covenant from complaining about noise, smell or substances produced by an activity (such as an airport, farm, etc) being conducted on the property having the benefit of the covenant.

What to look out for

This depends on your intended use of the property. If you are considering buying a section to build a home from scratch, you must ensure your builder and/or architect have a copy of the land covenants, and that the build complies with all restrictions.

If you are making any alterations to an existing property, or even installing a solar panel/heat pump, you should first read all land covenants and establish whether it is allowed and, if so, whether there are any restrictions.

When buying a property that is subject to land covenants, you should ensure that the current owner has adhered to the rules and restrictions of the covenant, obtained the necessary developer’s consents and not committed any breach to date by, for example, building a granny flat on the property where that is prohibited.

Once the subdivision is completed, developers will often wind up their development company. If the landowners have not obtained any necessary developer consent before the company is wound up, this can hinder or prevent a sale later. Prospective purchasers are likely to be advised by their lawyers to seek a copy of any developer’s consent and this can prove to be difficult where the development company no longer exists.

How long does a covenant last?

Many land covenants ‘run with the land’ which means they bind every new owner and run indefinitely.

A well-designed land covenant could have various provisions that expire – such as any requirement for obtaining consent from the developer to avoid the issue of a developer company being wound up. If this is the case, the expiry date will be stipulated in the land covenant.

Breaching a covenant?

The rules contained within the land covenant can be enforced by you and your neighbours (if they hold the benefit of the land covenant) against anyone who has breached the restrictions.

To enforce a breach, written notice should be given to the owner that specifies what the owner must do or pay to fix the breach. If the owner receiving this notice does not agree that there has been a breach, they should give notice in return stating this.

If there has been a breach, most land covenants provide for damages, often in the range of $100–$250 per day and per property owner who has been affected by the breach. These damages will normally accrue until the breach is remedied. Sometimes the covenant provides for payment of a lump sum when there is a breach.

Often it is an immediate neighbour who raises any potential breach of the land covenants as they are the most likely to be impacted.

We encourage compliance with land covenants to avoid any liability to pay damages or a breakdown in relationships between neighbours.

Can a land covenant be removed or varied?

Land covenants can be removed from the title or varied. The easiest and most common mechanism for a removal or variation is when all parties affected by the land covenants agree to the removal or variation, and sign the necessary documentation. Getting all affected parties to agree to a removal or variation can be a lengthy, expensive and difficult process. In some subdivisions, the sheer number of affected parties will make this option an unattractive proposition and the possibility of complete agreement unlikely.

If you cannot get all parties to agree, there are possible remedies available by an application to the courts. The courts are, however, often reluctant to vary or remove land covenants, even those which may seem no longer to be relevant.

Conclusion

With modern urban housing density in subdivisions, the prevalence of land covenants is likely to continue to increase. Land covenants usually impact land indefinitely. This makes it more important than ever to understand the land covenants registered against a property before you buy it.

If you are unsure whether any covenants apply, or their effect, please be in touch with us. You should not presume that the other owners, including previous owners, have complied with their obligations to date.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Fineprint is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Fineprint may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Make it clear in the trust deed

In the recent case of Re Merona Trustees Ltd[1], the High Court was asked to determine who the beneficiaries of a trust were as it was not clear who was intended by the phrase the ‘children of the settlors’ that was in the trust deed.

Background

The trust settlors, Merv and Rona, had two daughters together – Lilly and Miffy. Rona also had two sons from a previous marriage when she was very young – Rob and Ray. When Rona’s first marriage broke down, and in the absence of social welfare benefits, she could not afford to keep her sons, and they both went to live with different extended family members. Rob had occasional contact with Rona and, after Rona’s marriage to Merv, Rob was raised by them both. Ray, however, was raised by extended family and had no contact with Rona. It was only as an adult that Ray came to know Rona and the wider family.

Interpreting the trust deed

Rona died in 2013. Merv died in 2020. After Merv’s death, a question arose as to who were the beneficiaries of the trust they had settled.

The question for the High Court was interpreting the trust deed that referred to ‘the children of the Settlors’. Did it mean:

  • The two natural children of Merv and Rona together, being Lilly and Miffy
  • The two natural children of Merv and Rona, as well as Rona’s son Rob, who was raised as a member of Merv and Rona’s family, or
  • The two natural children of Merv and Rona, as well as both of Rona’s sons, Rob and Ray?

High Court hearing

The court heard two main competing arguments.

The trustees primarily argued that ‘the children of the settlors’ meant Rob, Lilly, and Miffy; the ‘children’ did not include Ray. They said that the context in which the trust was established was highly relevant to the interpretation of the trust deed. In particular, a predecessor trust had been established in 1986 before Ray connected with Rona as an adult. The trust in question was settled in 2002, when Rob, Lilly and Miffy were in their forties and fifties.

Even in 2002, after coming to know Ray, Merv and Rona presented to their professional advisors as a couple with three children – Rob, Lilly, and Miffy. Their accountants recorded Merv, Rona, Rob, Lilly and Miffy as the beneficiaries of the trust. The family’s lawyers also understood Rob, Lilly and Miffy to be Merv and Rona’s three adult children. Merv and Rona also signed memoranda of guidance in relation to the trust, that were effectively instructions to the trustees as to their wishes. These memoranda recorded their wish that ‘our children’ benefit from the trust; Rob, Lilly, and Miffy were named, but Ray was not.

Finally, Rona’s will left a bequest each to Rob, Lilly, and Miffy as her children, and an equal but separate bequest to Ray who was described as her ‘birth son.’ She also left him a letter which asked that he be content with this bequest. The court found that by implication, she did not see him as eligible to benefit from the family wealth which was otherwise held in the trust.

On the other side, Ray’s lawyers argued that Ray was also a beneficiary of the trust. They said that once Ray had been reunited with Rona, they developed a close relationship with each other and the wider family. Although Ray was not close with Merv, Ray was included in family gatherings including at Christmas and birthdays. Ray was treated equally with Rob, Lilly, and Miffy in Rona’s will, and he was a part of the family.

The High Court considered that Merv and Rona had brought Rob up as a child of their own, and that it was ‘inconceivable’ that they would have intended to exclude him as a beneficiary of the trust. The documents signed at the time, and subsequently, showed that Merv and Rona thought that Rob was a beneficiary of the trust. In the context of their family, ‘the children of the settlors’ plainly included him. The only question was then whether Ray was also included.

Decision

The court found that the language of the trust deed could be interpreted to include Lilly and Miffy as natural children of the settlors, as well as Rob, who was raised within the family unit as though he was a natural child of both Merv and Rona.

The wording of the trust deed, however, could not be interpreted to include Ray. While Ray enjoyed a good relationship with the family when they reconnected, he was not raised as a part of Merv and Rona’s family unit.

Care must be taken

This decision emphasises the importance of clarifying who is intended to be a beneficiary of a trust at the outset. This is particularly necessary in the context of blended families where there may be reasons to differentiate between classes or groups of children.

In this case, the lawyers and accountants were not necessarily aware that Rob was not a child of Merv and Rona. It is possible that if they had known at the outset, the trust deed would have been drafted in a way that made it clear who the beneficiaries were.

If you are concerned about the wording of your trust deed and how it may affect your children, please be in touch to review your trust deed.

[1] Re Merona Trustees Ltd [2022] NZHC 1971.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Trust eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Trust eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


A trustee has many obligations

Are you a trustee of a family trust, or considering becoming one? If so, you need to be familiar with the obligations you are taking on when agreeing to act as a trustee. You should also have a clear understanding of the risks that you are exposed to when you agree to act as a trustee.

Before the Trust Act 2019

In its Review of the Law of Trusts in 2013, the Law Commission found that despite the large number of trusts in New Zealand and the number of people acting as trustees, the majority of non-professional trustees had little appreciation of the extent of their obligations.

The commission recommended an overhaul of the Trustee Act 1956 and, in 2019, new legislation was passed. It sets out the obligations of trustees, so that it is clear to both trustees and beneficiaries about trustees’ obligations and what beneficiaries can do if trustees do not fulfil those obligations.

Trustees’ obligations

The main obligations for trustees, as set out in the Trust Act 2019, are to:

  • Know the terms of the trust
  • Act in accordance with the terms of the trust
  • Act honestly and in good faith
  • Act for the benefit of the beneficiaries
  • Exercise their powers for a proper purpose
  • Exercise the care and skill that is reasonable in the circumstances (particularly where that person acts in their capacity as a professional, such as a lawyer or accountant)
  • Invest prudently
  • Be impartial as between beneficiaries
  • Not exercise powers for their own benefit
  • Act without reward (except where otherwise permitted by the terms of the trust), and
  • Hold trust documentation.

The obligations on trustees are wide-ranging and there are significant risks for trustees who do not meet their obligations.

Why become a trustee?

In taking on a trusteeship, an individual or company is agreeing to act in the interests of the beneficiaries of the trust, and generally to do so without any expectation of reward for their services. Trustees are also often involved in court proceedings when family relationships break down.

So why would anyone take on a trusteeship?

The settlor/s, who are the people establishing the trust and contributing its initial assets, may wish to take on the trusteeship themselves in order to retain a high degree of control and oversight over the trust’s assets. This arrangement is often attractive to settlor trustees as not only does it allow more control, but it also means that the trust is not incurring the costs associated with instructing a professional to act as an independent trustee.  There are, however, risks associated with this arrangement – particularly if a marriage or relationship breaks down and the trust owns property or there is a bankruptcy.

Ask a friend or relative?

A close friend or relative of the settlor/s may also be prepared to take on a trustee role – most commonly in conjunction with the settlor/s.  This arrangement can appeal as there is usually a high degree of trust between the settlors and the ‘independent’ trustee.  It does, however, run the risk of placing the ‘independent’ person in a difficult position if the settlors have a relationship breakdown or if different groups of beneficiaries take issue with decisions being made affecting their interests in the trust.

It can also be difficult if there are court proceedings relating to the trust; that ‘independent’ professional trustee may be in the firing line, despite having tried their best and not having received a benefit for acting as trustee.

Have an independent trustee?

Independent professional trustees – whether individuals or trust companies – may be prepared to act as trustees, either by consent or by court appointment. Independent professional trustees expect to be paid for their services and the trust funds will need to be sufficient to justify those expenses being incurred. Sometimes these trustees charge an annual fee to account for the risks involved in being a trustee, such as being involved in litigation, as well as fees for their time spent on trust activities. The trust deed will also need to allow remuneration.  If the trust funds are sufficient to justify this cost, it can be worthwhile and will help protect trust assets in the event of a relationship breakdown or bankruptcy.

If you are asked

If you are considering taking on a trusteeship, we are happy to discuss with you any potential risks. This can also be a good opportunity for the trustees to consider a review and update of trust structures which are no longer fit for purpose, particularly before new trustees are brought on board.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Trust eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Trust eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Bank of children

Children helping their parents

Most of us have heard of the expression ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ where parents help fund their children to get onto the property ladder or with another investment.

 

What happens in the reverse situation, however, where children become the ‘bank’ and assist their parents financially?

 

Why would this happen?

In recent years, parents may have assisted their children in allowing their property to be used as security for borrowings by their children, they could have helped fund the deposit for a child’s first property or provided financial support in a number of other situations.

 

Sometimes, the boot is on the other foot when parents retire or have their income reduced. That may be the time for children to repay the favour and assist their parents.

 

Family-wide discussion

If children are considering helping out their parents financially, we recommend that you have a family-wide discussion on what sort of assistance could be provided.

 

It is important that the entire family is aware of any proposed arrangements, especially if not all of the children are going to be involved. Those children who are assisting may become part-owners of their parents’ property as part of the agreement.

 

There are various family arrangements that could apply but some children may already own their own home. Other children may already be living with or intend moving in with their parents. All of these circumstances will need to be considered.

 

Contact your parents’ lender

Presuming the transaction will be funded by a loan, rather than cash from the children to the parents, the next step is for the parents to contact their lender (usually their bank) to discuss its requirements. The lender may require the current lending for the parents to be discharged and an updated finance application in the name of all of the joint owners with new loan documents. Often, the lender requires the added security and details of a child’s income for the application.

 

See your lawyer

To prevent any future difficulties and dissention in the family, it is important to arrange suitable documents such as a property sharing agreement. This records each party’s responsibility for who and how the family will use the property, loan repayments, maintenance of the property, rates, insurance and a sale process for the property should there be a breakdown in the parties’ relationship or if one of the parties wishes to sell.

 

A property sharing agreement will be the guiding document for the arrangement. As well as ensuring you have a will in place, the agreement can cover what will happen to the parent’s share of the property when they die. The last thing parents want is a falling out between their children.

 

Other things to consider

Other considerations for both parents and children include:

  • The children’s ability to use KiwiSaver funds in the future to purchase their own home
  • Current and future relationships of the children
  • Parents moving into a rest home and how subsidies could be affected
  • The alternative of a reverse mortgage, and
  • Review of wills and enduring powers of attorney.

 

Conclusion

With increases in interest rates and the rise in the cost of living, more retiring parents may face the difficulty of retaining their family home. Rather than the option of a sale, children may be able to assist with the retention of their parents’ home and keeping past memories alive.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Fineprint is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Fineprint may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2022.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650