Edmonds Judd


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

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

But you’re already the trustee of a trust

The rules around the use of KiwiSaver have evolved over recent years as banks and other financial institutions have developed their understanding of the KiwiSaver regime.

KiwiSaver members may use their funds to help buy their first home; this is straightforward. What happens, however, if you want to buy your first home and you are already a trustee of a trust that owns property?

Initially, you could only access your KiwiSaver funds to buy your first home in your personal name; using a trust as a vehicle to purchase was not allowed. Now, however, the situation is more nuanced. An increasing number of lenders allow KiwiSaver members to make a withdrawal to finance the purchase of a first home, even where trusts are involved.

Let’s look at three scenarios to illustrate how this can work.

  1. You are a trustee of your friend’s trust, but not a beneficiary; as a trustee, your name is on the title to your friend’s home
  2. You are a trustee and a beneficiary of your parents’ trust; your name is on the title to their home, and
  3. You are a trustee and a beneficiary of a trust that has just been settled and so far only holds the initial $100 settlement; the trust does not hold property.

Trustee but not beneficiary

In scenario #1, the general rule is that if you are currently registered on the title to a property or land you will not qualify for a KiwiSaver first home withdrawal. The Financial Services Council of New Zealand, however, suggests that you will be eligible if you are registered as an owner of ‘an estate in land as a trustee who is not a beneficiary under the relevant trust’, because you haven’t previously held an estate in land (as you didn’t have a beneficial interest)[1].

Your argument will be even stronger where the trust of which you are a trustee has sold the property and you can establish that you received no financial gain from the sale.

Trustee and beneficiary

In scenario #2 where you are a trustee and a beneficiary of a trust which already owns property, it is necessary to establish that you have ‘no reasonable expectation that you will be entitled to occupy the land as your principal place of residence before the death of the occupier or of their survivor.’[2]

It may be difficult to establish that you have no reasonable expectation of being entitled to occupy the land as your principal place of residence if, for example, you are:

  • 18 years old or over
  • A trustee of the trust
  • Named on the title to the trust property, and
  • Occupying the home with your parents under a resolution that says ‘the settlors and their children aged under 20 years may occupy the property on the basis that they pay the rates, insurance and all outgoings usually payable from income.’

However, you could argue that once you turned 20 you would no longer have a reasonable expectation until after the death of your parents.

If there is no resolution in place, however, or a resolution that only authorises the settlors to occupy the home, then you may be able to argue that you have no reasonable expectation of being entitled to occupy the land as your principal place of residence (that is, you are there at the whim of your parents/the trustees and they can ask you to leave at any time).

Trustee and beneficiary of new trust

In scenario #3 where the trust has not purchased any property, some lenders, such as ASB, now allow the withdrawal of KiwiSaver funds to purchase your first home through a trust. The provisos are that the property being purchased is your first home, you are both a trustee and beneficiary of the trust, and you intend to live in the property as your principal place of residence.

To be eligible, your name (as the KiwiSaver member applying for a first home withdrawal) must be on the sale and purchase agreement or on a deed of nomination. This is good news for first home buyers who have good reason to want to hold assets in a trust, though care must be taken to ensure that your KiwiSaver provider will agree you are effectively in the same position as a first home buyer: one way to ensure that is to apply for approval prior to finding a property.

Being a trustee of a property-owning trust can create unwitting complications if you want to buy your first home using KiwiSaver funds. If you need some help in steering your way through the process, please feel free to get in touch.

[1] Financial Services Council of New Zealand.

[2] Clause 8(5), Schedule 1, KiwiSaver Act 2006.

With the new Trusts Act 2019 that came into force on 30 January 2021, we now have a new edition (the 4th) of To Trust or Not to Trust: a practical guide to family trusts.

To Trust or Not to Trust has chapters on:

  • Establishing a family trust: is this for you?
  • Trusts Act 2019
  • Protection given by a family trust
  • Transferring assets
  • Decisions to be made
  • Completing your estate plan
  • Family trust administration
  • What will a family trust cost?

This new edition lists trustees’ mandatory and default duties and obligations. It sets out the changes the Trusts Act brings to some provisions for beneficiaries, and explains that trustees who are no longer mentally competent can be more easily replaced.

If you are thinking of how you would like your assets protected, this guide is a very good starter for you to understand how a family trust works. For those of you who already have family trusts, this 4th edition provides an update on the changes the new legislation has brought.

If you would like to talk more about asset protection or your current family trust, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

An independent trustee 

Can be more important than you might think

Managing a family trust is not getting cheaper, nor is the paperwork and compliance being reduced. Trustees have legal duties, must give beneficiaries information and be accountable. It is tempting to think you can reduce costs by removing the independent trustee of your family trust. There can, unfortunately, be disadvantages.

The ‘do it yourself’ attitude

We all like to save time and money, but you do get what you pay for. Without an independent trustee, your family trust may not protect the trust’s assets as you may expect.

Cook Islands case

The Webb case[1] arose in the Cook Islands under New Zealand law. Mr Webb set up two trusts but, after he separated from his wife, the court ruled that the trusts did not prevent her claiming her half-share (as beneficiary) of the trusts’ assets. Mr Webb had retained such power over the trust property that he could access the assets himself any time.

The court said that if Mr Webb had needed agreement from a ‘truly independent person’ such as an independent trustee, the result would have been different. In 2021, the Privy Council[2] agreed with the New Zealand judges in the Cook Islands’ courts that Mr Webb had not really disposed of the property and Mrs Webb had a claim.

Clayton case

The Webb decision followed a New Zealand Supreme Court 2016 decision (Clayton case[3]). Mr Clayton had put commercial property into a trust. The court agreed Mrs Clayton could claim half of the trust assets as relationship property. This was because, although the assets were in a trust, Mr Clayton could get the property back any time he wanted.

These cases indicate the risks of not having an independent trustee who would counter the settlors’ wishes to treat trust property as their own. Trustees must hold the trust property for all the beneficiaries, not just the person who established the trust.

Advantages of having an independent trustee

There are other advantages in having an independent trustee, particularly a professional trustee. The trustee can:

  • Advise about best practice
  • Remind about important things such as when to give information to beneficiaries (and when not to)
  • Help trustees meet other obligations, for example, retaining trust information as required by law
  • Spot things that need to be reviewed, and
  • Save cost if the trustee (if that person is the trust’s lawyer) drew up the trust deed and knows the family.

Talk with your trustee now

If you have a professional trustee, we recommend you find out what they can do to help keep the trust running smoothly without undue cost.

The recent changes to trust law – the Trusts Act 2019 took effect on 30 January 2021 – have placed additional responsibilities on trustees. An experienced professional trustee can advise the most time-and-cost-efficient way to ensure your trust is compliant and effective.

[1] Webb v Webb [2020] UKPC 22.

[2] The Privy Council in London is the body which hears appeals from Commonwealth countries that are too small to have their own top court.

[3] Clayton v Clayton [Vaughan Road Property Trust] [2016] 1 NZLR 551 (SC); [2016] NZSC 29.

Trustees’ expenses

Should be reimbursed, but no need for extravagance

When trustees incur expenses, they are not expected to be out of pocket in carrying out their responsibilities. Trustees are entitled to use trust money or to get a refund from the trust fund if they incur expenses in carrying out their duties. Trustees’ expenses, however, must be fair and reasonable. A recent case shows why it is also important to be sure that you can trust your trustee not to take advantage of the right to claim expenses.

Carrying out a trustee’s obligations and responsibilities can take up much time and some expenses can be incurred in doing this. Trustees are not usually entitled to charge a fee for their time, unless the trust deed or will allows them to do this. The trustees are, however, at least entitled to have their expenses met from the trust fund, provided the expenses are fair and reasonable. If the trustee has to pay for anything personally, the trustee is entitled to be reimbursed.

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Disclosure of trust information to beneficiaries

The Trusts Act 2019 came into force on 30 January 2021. One major topic of discussion arising from the new Act has been the provisions governing disclosure of trust information to beneficiaries. 

The purpose of the new disclosure provisions is to ensure that beneficiaries have sufficient information to enable the terms of the trust and the trustees’ duties to be enforced against the trustees. Historically, in some trusts, disclosure of information has been very limited, and beneficiaries often do not find out they are beneficiaries, or that they are entitled to trust information, for many years. This makes it difficult for beneficiaries to know who to contact, or what kind of information to request, to ensure the trustees are doing their job properly.

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Relationship property claims

Sign a contracting out agreement

When entering a second or subsequent relationship, it is common to want to keep assets safe from relationship property claims. An effective way to do this can be by transferring assets to a trust. Care needs to be taken, however, to ensure you do this within the law.

A recent case[1] reminds us that transferring assets to trust will generally be ineffective where:

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