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South African trusts

This article aims to provide an overview of South African trusts.


There are generally two types of trusts used in South Africa, inter-vivos trusts and testamentary trusts. An inter-vivos trust is created by contract whilst the settlor is alive, whereas a testamentary trust is created from the valid will of the deceased.

Types of trusts

Vesting and discretionary trusts are widely used in South Africa. Special trusts which have taxation advantages are also used but are restricted to benefitting a person suffering from mental illness or severe physical disability which stops them from being able to work, or by a testamentary trust created for the benefit of minor children relatives of the deceased.

Use of trusts

A trust can generally be used for a private benefit or for a charitable purpose. Private benefit trusts are mainly used to protect assets or as an estate-freezing vehicle in South Africa.

Testamentary Trusts are generally used to hold assets of minor children until they reach maturity. The trust usually makes provision for education, welfare etc of the minor children.

A grant maker must review the trust deed to confirm that it meets the requirements of a charitable trust in South Africa.

Trust law

South African trust law is made up of elements of Roman-Dutch and English law which have been adapted to provide a distinct South African law which meet the requirements of the South African market. The main statute which governs South African trust law is the Trust Property Control Act 1988 (‘TPCA’). South African trusts are also governed by common law.

Trust creation

The trust is created when property is transferred by written agreement, testamentary writing or court order. Section 1 of the TPCA does not limit the type of beneficiary who can benefit under a trust as beneficiaries are described as “the person or class of persons designated in the trust”. The objective of a trust must be lawful and certain in accordance with Deedat and Others v The Master and Others (1995)(2) SA 377(A).

Trust perpetuity

There are no rules which restrict the perpetuity period of a trust.

Trust termination

Section 13 of TPCA allows a “trustee or any person.(having) sufficient interest in trust property” to apply to the court to change trust provisions or end the trust where the provisions of the trust are against the public interest or jeopardise the beneficiaries interests or trust objective.

Trustee authorisation and supervision

Section 6 of the TPCA requires trusts to be registered with the Master of the High Court, before trustees are able to perform their role.

Testamentary trusts only require the completed acceptance of each trustee and all the requirements stated in form JM21 to be submitted.

Inter-vivos trusts are also required to submit the original trust deed or notarised certified copy (which should include R100 in uncancelled or impressed stamps on the deed) and a bond security submitted in Form J344 if required by the Master.

Section 4 of the TPCA provides the Master with powers to hold trust deeds and supervise trustee appointments.

Section 17 of TPCA requires trustees to keep documents for at least 5 years from the date of the trust termination, whilst section 16 of the TPCA provides the Master with the power to review trustee handling of trust property.

Role of trustee

A trust does not have separate legal personality. However, Section 12 TPCA requires trust property to be held separately from the trustees personal estate. The liability of trustees to trust creditors is limited to the trust property and does not extend to their personal estates.

Trustee duties

Under section 9(1) of TPCA, trustees must ‘act with the care, diligence and skill which can be reasonably be expected of a person who manages the affairs of another.” The Trustees have a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the trust. They must not act in a way which violates this duty or is outside the parameters of the trust deed.

Trustee remuneration

Section 22 of TPCA permits a trustee to receive reasonable remuneration where the trust deed does not contain any provisions on trustee remuneration. Any disputes are ultimately settled by the Master who will determine the amount of the remuneration in such circumstances.

Trustee removal

Section 20 of TPCA allows “a trustee or any person having sufficient interest in trust property” to apply to the court to remove a trustee if they have been convicted of a crime such as dishonesty, fail to provide the required security, become bankrupt, mentally ill or fail to perform their duties satisfactorily.

Trustee resignation

Section 21 of TPCA allows a trustee to resign by providing written notice to the Master and beneficiaries (or their guardians where they are minors) of the trust.

Trust taxation where a South African trust only holds a Life Account 2 or Investment Portfolio

The bond is taxed as a capital asset, so it is liable to capital gains tax should a withdrawal or surrender be made.

A maximum rate of income tax of 32.8% applies with the exception of special trusts e.g. for disabled beneficiaries or bereaved minors.

No estate duty is payable on donations up to the annual exemption of ZAR 100,000 (2016/17) to trustees. Any amount above this is liable to donations tax at 20% for a South African resident.

Once within a trust, the money is not included within the estate of the person putting the money into trust (the settlor) so will not be liable to estate duty on death.

Last Updated: 27/02/17

The information provided in this article is not intended to offer advice.

It is based on Old Mutual Wealth's interpretation of the relevant law and is correct at the date shown on the title page. While we believe this interpretation to be correct, we cannot guarantee it. Old Mutual Wealth cannot accept any responsibility for any action taken or refrained from being taken as a result of the information contained in this article.

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