“Externally, trustees cannot disagree. In the external sphere the Trust functions by virtue of its resolutions, which have to be supported by the full complement of the Trust body.” (Extract from judgment below)

A recent Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) judgment provides yet another reminder to tread carefully when contracting with trusts. Your agreements with a trust will be invalid and unenforceable if the trustees acting for the trust weren’t properly authorised to bind the trust.

But must trustee resolutions always be taken unanimously by all of the appointed trustees to be valid, or will a majority decision ever suffice? The SCA addressed that question in the context of a trust seeking to escape from a suretyship which had not been unanimously agreed to and signed by all three trustees acting jointly –

When a majority trustee decision isn’t enough
  • A creditor sued a property trust for payment under a suretyship given to it by the trust. The trust countered that the suretyship was invalid because the resolution authorising trustees to sign the suretyship was not authorised and signed by all three trustees, but only by two of them.
  • Indeed, only two of the trustees had attended the trustee meeting at which the suretyship was discussed. The third trustee had not been at the meeting and did not sign either the resolution authorising the suretyship to be signed or the actual suretyship.
  • The meeting itself was in order, in that the trust deed provided for two trustees to constitute a quorum for meetings. But the deed also provided that a unanimous decision was required for the trust “to conduct business on behalf of and for the benefit of the Trust, and to employ trust property in such business”.
  • In any event, as the Court put it: “…trustees must act jointly in taking decisions and resolutions for the benefit of the Trust and beneficiaries thereof, unless a specific majority clause provides otherwise” and “Even when the trust deed provides for a majority decision, the resolutions must be signed by all the trustees. (Emphasis added)
  • As it was neatly put in an earlier High Court decision: “A majority of trustees in office may form a quorum internally at a trust meeting, but can still not externally bind a trust by acting together … It is not the majority vote, but rather the resolution by the entire complement which binds a trust estate. A trust operates on resolutions and not votes.” (Emphasis added)
  • As only two of the three trustees had acted for the trust in this case, the Court held both the resolution and the suretyship to be invalid and unenforceable.
So, what does that mean for you in practice when contracting with a trust?

Internal trust matters: Internal matters (such as using trust income for the benefit of beneficiaries or administering trust assets) “may be debated and put to a vote, thereafter the voice of the majority will prevail.”

External trust matters: As an outsider however your dealings with the trust will relate to external trust matters (transactions relating to trust property with the outside world such as buying and selling property, signing suretyships and the like) and here unanimity is essential for the trust to be bound. Even when the trust deed allows majority decisions, all the trustees must still participate in the decision-making and all of them must sign a resolution to make it valid externally. Make sure therefore that all trustees signing for the trust have the power to do so per the trust deed and by a valid, unanimous resolution.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

“National Treasury, therefore, expects that if South Africa continues to make significant improvements in effectiveness and swiftly exits grey listing, it will have a limited impact on financial stability and costs of doing business with South Africa, particularly if South Africa moves speedily to get out of grey listing.” (National Treasury)

South Africa’s grey listing by the Financial Action Task Force, the global financial watchdog, has led government to hurriedly introduce new “Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Terrorism Financing” measures to combat financial crimes. One of those measure is a new requirement for trustees to disclose all “beneficial owners” of trusts.

In what was unfortunately no April Fool’s Joke, new requirements effective from 1 April 2023 were gazetted without notice and after business hours only on 31 March 2023. They came in the form of amendments to the Trust Property Control Act Regulations, requiring all trustees to establish and record the beneficial ownership of the trust, to keep a record of prescribed information relating to beneficial owners, to lodge same with the Master’s Office, and to keep all information up to date on an ongoing basis.

“Beneficial owner” has a wide definition

The definition of “beneficial owner” includes (logically) all beneficiaries, “a natural person who directly or indirectly owns ultimately owns the relevant trust property”, and “a natural person who exercises effective control of the administration of the trust arrangements…”. It also includes all trustees and the founder – those inclusions seem a lot less logical but that’s the law.

So, what should you do now?

Media reports have highlighted both the heavy penalties for failure to comply with these obligations (a R10 million fine, imprisonment for five years, or both) and the impossibility of trustees complying with those obligations on 1 April as a result of both the timing of the gazette and delays in establishing the requisite Master’s online electronic register.

But the practical issue now is that all trustees must take steps to comply – go to the Master’s “Trust Beneficial Ownership Register” page and follow the instructions there (note – you must be signed into Google to access that link).

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

“Love is grand. Divorce is a hundred grand.” (Anon)

That’s a great scenario whilst the marriage prospers, but what happens on divorce? A recent High Court decision addressed one such scenario –

Trusts may be formed for a variety of reasons, and the purpose and structure of each trust will inform the choice of trustees. When it comes to families aiming to preserve and protect family assets for future generations, often both spouses are appointed not only as beneficiaries, but also as trustees.

‘Not the Titanic’ – this marriage took six years to sink

In 2014, whilst a marriage was (as the Court put it in a judgment rich in nautical imagery) “still in calm waters”, the spouses formed four trusts. Two were called business trusts, one a property trust, and the fourth a family trust. Naming choices aside, the critical issue is that both spouses had been appointed as trustees.

Regrettably in 2015 the couple “drifted” apart and their marriage “ran aground and settled on the rocky shores of the divorce courts door” with the institution of divorce proceedings. “Unlike the Titanic” observed the Court, the relationship took six years more to be finally laid to rest – the divorce was only granted in 2021.

The ex-spouses apply for each other’s removal as trustee

The ex-husband then applied to the High Court for removal of his ex-wife as trustee of all four trusts on the grounds that she had breached her duties as trustee. Most significantly, he said, she had failed to attend trustee meetings for some five years despite being invited to them.

  • Her main defence was that, in the context of the ongoing divorce proceedings, her ex-husband’s conduct made it impossible for her to attend to her duties as trustee.The Court was unconvinced by her various allegations in this regard, and two aspects in particular bear mention –
    • She complained that being in the minority her decisions were overruled – not an excuse for failing to attend meetings held the Court.
    • Her ex-husband failed to provide a vehicle to enable her to attend meetings – again no excuse, said the Court, there being a provision in the trust deed for virtual meetings.
  • Also counting against her was the fact that she was living in a trust-owned property “but fails to maintain such and pays no rent at all despite receiving the amount of R10 000,00 per month towards property expenses incurred.”
  • Finding that she had not been involved in the trust’s affairs and did nothing to safeguard them, the Court ordered her removal as trustee.

The Court then rejected as being without merit her counterclaim for her ex-husband’s removal as trustee on the grounds of a breach of his duty of trust towards her and a conflict of duty between his private interests and his duties as trustee.

Let’s have a look at the law behind those decisions –

What are a trustee’s duties?

Per the Trust Property Control Act: “A trustee shall in the performance of his/her duties and the exercise of his/her powers, act with the care, diligence and skill which can reasonably be expected of a person who manages the affairs of another”.

Must a trustee be impartial?

The Court: “It is not required of a trustee to be total[ly] impartial or [to have] no connection with the beneficiaries, but rather that he or she is capable of bringing the necessary independent mind to bear [to] the business of the trust and of deciding what is in the interests of the trust.”

When will a court remove a trustee?

The court has a discretion which it must exercise “with circumspection”.

Per the Court: “The court has to be satisfied that the requested removal will be in the best interest of the trust and the beneficiaries … a mere conflict of interest between trustees and beneficiaries or amongst the trustees [is] insufficient for the removal of a trustee … the overriding question is always whether or not the conduct of the trustee imperils the trust property or its administration”.

There is no requirement to prove bad faith or misconduct, rather “the essential test is whether such disharmony, as in the present matter, imperils the trust estate or its proper administration … It is therefore clear that the court may remove a trustee from office in the event that such removal will be in the interest of the trust and its beneficiaries.” (Emphasis supplied)

In closing…

If you are faced with a divorce scenario, avoid a situation such as the ex-spouses in this matter faced by making sure that all questions around any trusts involved – such as who is to remain as trustee, who is to remain as beneficiary and so on – are resolved as part of the divorce process, and not left for future resolution.

Even better, take professional advice upfront when setting up trusts on how to avoid any future disputes that may arise should your marriage ever sail into stormy waters.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

“…where there is disharmony, the essential test is whether it imperils the Trust estate or its proper administration” (extract from judgment below)

Trustees are of course supposed to work together to protect and further the interests of their trust and its beneficiaries, but the fact is that on occasion serious disputes can and do arise.

If settlement negotiations fail and if there is no alternative but to forcibly remove a trustee our courts have the power to do so, on the application of either the Master of the High Court or of “any person having an interest in the Trust property”.

What must you prove for removal?

As to the grounds on which a court will agree to remove a trustee, a recent Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) judgment confirms that “loss of mutual trust and respect does not, without more, translate to a ground for the removal of a trustee, or to a conclusion that the Trust property has been imperiled [Put at risk of being harmed, injured, or destroyed]. It must further be established that, as a result, the Trust property has been imperiled or the administration of the Trust and the management of its property are at risk. That is a factual enquiry …The determinative test is always whether any state of affairs – be it incompetence, misconduct, incapacity, or lack of trust and respect among trustees or beneficiaries –  has resulted in the Trust property or its proper administration being placed at risk.” (Emphasis supplied).

Importantly the Court added that in exercising its power to remove a trustee, “the courts do so with circumspection”. 

Your work, in other words, is cut out for you.

Fighting in a family trust – the outcome
  • A deceased businessman’s R2.8m share portfolio and a 75% share in a property-owning company were vested in a family trust, in which the deceased’s mother, step-father, brother, wife, adult children and accountant were all involved in one capacity or another.
  • In short, relationships between the role-players soured, involving a flurry of accusations and counter-accusations of theft (reciprocal criminal charges being laid), oppressive conduct, conflicts of interest, collusion, vendettas – the list goes on.
  • The wife (as trustee and beneficiary) together with her sons (the other beneficiaries), applied for the removal of the trustee in question, and after a long – and no doubt expensive – trek through the courts, ended up in the SCA. 
  • Finding on the proved facts that “the state of the relationship of the appellant and the respondent has not imperiled the Trust property or its proper administration. I find no other basis on which it would be in the interests of the Trust and its beneficiaries to remove the appellant” the SCA reversed a High Court order removing the trustee. The trustees are it seems just going to have to work this one through themselves.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews