What if you aren't a SKI-er?

For some people, retirement may involve long dreamt of holidays, a new car, pursuing previously ignored hobbies, and importantly, SKI-ing.  

Not the kind that involves the snow (although it may still be relevant for some) – rather “Spending the Kids’ Inheritance”.

SKI-ing may become a necessity because market conditions have led to an unexpected fall in their retirement nest egg, or perhaps unexpected and unbudgeted expenses have arisen.  In some cases, it’s because there was no real planning around leaving an inheritance for the children, so there simply isn’t enough to spread around.

What if you don’t want to be a SKI-er?  What if you want to leave something behind for the children?  Here are some considerations which may help to ensure you may leave and transfer wealth to the next generation, and whether there is a better time for doing it.

Decide when you want to do it – earlier or later

The main question here is whether you want to transfer amounts to others now or for it to happen through your will when you pass away.  Whilst it may be the case that transferring wealth through your will is an almost automatic process without much thought, it’s always important to remember that you should review the bequests and beneficiaries nominated in your will regularly to ensure they continue to reflect your wishes.

A decision to do it all through your will and knowing your nominations remain aligned to your desires doesn’t mean you can forget about the present.  If you have a real desire to transfer certain amounts to certain beneficiaries, consider how carefully you are planning to ensure those amounts are available. 

If you want to transfer some of your wealth earlier, you may have the certainty of knowing that a particular amount is going to go to the person or people you want it to, but you should remember two important things:

  • Once you have given control over that wealth to them, you can’t take it back.  You won’t be able to change your mind down the track and wish you could give it to someone else.
  • That wealth is no longer yours, and therefore it can’t form part of your own retirement funding plans.  So make sure you keep enough for yourself.

Are there specific things you want to achieve?

Sometimes a decision to transfer wealth to the next generation may be motivated by a specific reason. For example, many grandparents (or parents) want to ensure money is set aside to educate a future generation.  With schooling becoming more costly, knowing that you have been able to lend a helping hand can be an important and worthy gift.

There are ways specific outcomes can be achieved with more certainty than others.  Continuing the example of education, money can be set aside by a donor into an investment bond (sometimes referred to as an education bond).  The donor can maintain control over the bond, and the underlying investment decision, and know the money has been set aside for a specific purpose.  The donor may also decide when and how much money will be released in the future.  This can have advantages over just handing an amount over to a child/grandchild for the purpose of education costs, but then actually losing control over whether the money is ultimately applied to that purpose or another.

Impact on Centrelink benefits 

For retirees (or those close to retirement), any gifts need to be considered in case it has an impact on Centrelink eligibility.  There are limits on how much can be gifted any year and any gifts in excess of the limits will still be deemed to be an asset of the donor for up to 5 years, and could reduce entitlements to Centrelink benefits such as the age pension.

For example, there is an annual gift limit of $10,000, and a $30,000 limit over any 5-year rolling period.  Amounts in excess of these limits are deemed an assets under the Assets Test, and will have a deemed amount of earnings taken into account for eligibility under the Income Test.  Neither of these rules will stop you giving an amount away, but you need to consider their potential impact on retirement funding.

If you are close to retirement, but not yet eligible for the age pension, you still need to consider these rules, as any gifts made in the 5 years prior to you applying for the age pension will be taken into account under the above two tests. So a gift made with all good intentions today, could reduce your eligibility for age pension in the next few years.

Taxation considerations - pay now, later, or not at all

A decision on when to transfer wealth can also have tax considerations.  Whilst a decision should never be based on tax alone, if there is a change in the ownership of assets, then a capital gains tax (CGT) event may occur, which may have a tax impact.

As an example, if you choose to transfer the ownership of assets whilst you are still alive, then whether you sell assets to be able to transfer cash, or whether you simply change ownership of the asset, a CGT event may occur.  If a capital gain arises, then you may have to pay any relevant taxes.

If you wish for wealth to be transferred though your will/estate, then the treatment may be different.  If your estate sells an asset in order to have cash to satisfy a bequest, then your estate needs to account for any CGT.  If, however, you simply have ownership of an asset pass through to a beneficiary (i.e. without a physical sale of the asset), then the beneficiary essentially inherits the asset with any unrealised gains (and your cost base characteristics) and they will be liable for any tax when the asset is ultimately sold – with the gain calculated based on what you originally paid for it.

Can trusts help?

Another option to consider for intergenerational wealth transfer is the use of other structures, such as a trust.  It’s not uncommon to see some wills establish a testamentary trust – which is basically a mechanism to set up and provide funding for certain beneficiaries of your estate into the future, without passing actual ownership of the assets to those beneficiaries immediately.

Whilst not transferring assets immediately, a testamentary trust can allow you to choose who controls the investment decisions of assets that form part of the trust, but still allows you to ensure income is distributed to the right people.  But like the will itself, any intent to establish a testamentary trust via your will should be reviewed regularly to ensure that your nominated beneficiaries and future trustees are the right people.  And it is vital to ensure you get appropriate advice for the structuring of the trust and its terms.

As an alternative, you could establish a trust with the same intended outcomes and can continue to control investment and distribution decisions as a trustee of the trust.  Again, you should seek appropriate tax and legal advice in establishing a trusts in these circumstances.

Overall, a decision on how and when to transfer wealth between generations can be a complex process.  There are a number of things to consider, and advice should always be sought to ensure that outcome aligns to the original intent.

Speak to your adviser or learn more with BT. 

Next: 4 smart strategies for estate planning

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The information provided is factual only and does not constitute financial product advice.  Before acting on it, you should seek independent advice about its appropriateness to your objectives, financial situation and needs.  This document provides an overview or summary only and it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon as such.  BT cannot give tax or legal advice. Any tax or legal considerations outlined in this document are general statements, based on an interpretation of current laws, and do not constitute tax or legal advice. As such, you should not place reliance on any such taxation considerations as a basis for making your decision with respect to any product. This document may contain material provided by third parties derived from sources believed to be accurate at its issue date. While such material is published with necessary permission, the Westpac Group accepts no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of, nor does it endorse any such third party material. To the maximum extent permitted by law, we intend by this notice to exclude liability for this third party material.  Information current as at 14 October 2019.  BT – part of Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141.