An SMSF expert has warned accountants they cannot pass all outcomes for a death benefit nomination to an estate planning lawyer and they have a role to play in explaining how death benefits operate within a fund.
Speaking during the recent 2022 SMSF Day in Sydney, Smarter SMSF chief executive Aaron Dunn said while an SMSF accountant could not be held liable for information related to a death benefit if they have not provided advice, they should not be washing their hands of this issue either.
“[Accountants] would play a role in making sure that [trustees] understand the nuances of how benefits need to be paid and how we need to manage some of these risks,” Dunn said.
“I think there is a role that [accountants] would play initially to the point that you have an understanding of client circumstances and making sure they know that you know some of the differences around this stuff.
“You may be then posing some questions to the solicitor to help them form the documentation that would occur in this scenario.
“[Trustees] want to be able to make informed decisions around [the deed, but] at what point is there a natural handover to the solicitor that would be able to put the pieces of the jigsaw together?”
He said the issue of what fell under the remit of an accountant could be addressed by considering the deed and asking what the client wanted and if the discussions they were having would achieve those outcomes.
The recent Hill v Zuda court case clarified the relationship of death benefits to the trust deed and accountants could engage with clients in this area, he said.
“A very simple thing that you should be doing now is going back and having a look at these things again and see if there may be problems or simply ask what impact does the Hill v Zuda decision have on the documentation that we have to deal with,” he said.
“Now that we have a High Court decision, we have a clear mandate [of how things] work.”