SMSF trustee – individual or corporate? Know your options

A self managed super fund (SMSF) is a special type of trust created and managed in accordance with superannuation legislation . It therefore requires an SMSF trustee to control and make decisions for the fund and ensure it complies with the super rules. In a retail fund, a board of trustees makes the decisions for all fund members, but in a self managed super fund, each member is also a trustee, or a director of the SMSF trustee company.

When considering setting up an SMSF you’ll need to decide whether to have an individual or corporate trustee structure. And the structure you choose can have several lasting implications for how you administer your fund, the rules you need to abide by and costs (among other things), so it’s important to understand what you’re getting into, and consider each structure carefully prior to establishing your fund.

Make the right choice, understand the differences 

When you first set up your SMSF, you’ll be asked to choose between establishing your SMSF as using an individual or corporate SMSF trustee structure. With an individual structure, each member acts as the trustee, but with a corporate structure, a company acts as the trustee and the members are directors. While an individual SMSF trustee may sound more straightforward than a corporate SMSF trustee initially, it may not be necessarily the most efficient option for you in the long term. 

How an individual SMSF trustee works

An individual trustee SMSF structure has:

  • trustees who are individual people (as the name suggests)
  • at least two trustees, with a maximum of four
  • no more than four members who must also be trustees and cannot be employees of another member of the fund
  • assets registered in the name of the individual trustees, and owned in trust for the members of the SMSF.

Some of the benefits of an individual trustee structure include:

  • it’s cheaper to set up and may be cheaper to  run – you don’t need to set up a company and there are no ASIC fees
  • because it’s not a company, you don’t need to abide by additional regulations that companies are bound by.

On the other hand, an individual SMSF trustee structure also has some disadvantages, such as:

  • always having to have two trustees, which can be problematic for succession planning (e.g. where there are two members and one leaves or passes away)
  • additional expenses and paperwork to add or remove members
  • additional expenses and cumbersome to change the ownership of your assets, which is a requirement when members change.

How a corporate SMSF trustee works

A corporate trustee SMSF structure has:

  • a company that is set up to act as the legal trustee
  • no more than four directors in the company
  • no more than four members who must also be directors of the company and cannot be paid or employees of another member of the fund
  • assets registered in the name of the company.

The benefits of a corporate SMSF trustee structure include:

  • it can be easy  and more cost effective to add or remove members
  • it’s the only option if you want to manage your SMSF by yourself
  • there may be fewer problems for succession planning where you have two members and one passes away, as the remaining member can stay as the sole director of the trustee company

Alternatively, SMSF corporate trustees also have some disadvantages, including:

  • additional expenses – because you’re setting up a company, there are more set-up and running costs involved (unless you set up a special purpose company whose only purpose is to act as your corporate trustee; in this case, the running costs can be reduced, and you don’t have to lodge an additional tax return for the company, only for your SMSF).
  • your SMSF is also bound by corporation legislation.

Weighing up the different SMSF trustee structures  

An SMSF can provide you with more choice and control when it comes to managing your own retirement wealth. However, you need to ensure that your SMSF trustee structure complements your overall financial goals, and this isn’t always easy to work out on your own.

Before proceeding with your decision, you may wish to discuss these questions among others with your family and/or advisor:

  1. Are you aware of all the associated costs and regulatory implications for each SMSF trustee structure?
  2. What assets do you wish to invest in (e.g. property or shares)? Some structures are better suited to different types of investing.
  3. What would happen if one of the trustees were to leave the fund or pass away?
  4. Will you be looking to borrow money to invest in assets? If this is the case, you may need to set up a corporate structure.
  5. Will you have other assets outside of your SMSF? And what protections do you have in place to protect these in case a claim is made against your fund? In an individual structure your assets outside of your fund are not protected from liability claims.

This is not an exhaustive list of considerations, but merely a sample of some of the things you will need to consider – too many to cover in this brief article. Therefore, it’s important to seek advice before proceeding with your decision.

How we can help with your SMSF  

If you’re open to discussing your options with an SMSF expert, our free consult* with one of our directors might help you make the right decision. If you’re interested, sign up using the form on this page, or call 1300 852 017

Alternatively, we offer a range of free SMSF strategy and investment seminars* that may interest you as well.

Discover if self managed super is right for you

Find out how we can help you achieve your retirement goals by talking to one of our SMSF directors.