Two new determinations released by the ATO deal with the complex and technical issues that arise when a resident discretionary trust makes a distribution of capital gains to non-resident beneficiaries. The ATO’s view is that in some circumstances, non-resident beneficiaries can be taxed in Australia on gains relating to foreign assets, which would not have been taxed in Australia had they been made by the beneficiary directly.

The ATO’s position will be counterintuitive for many as there is a Capital Gains Tax (CGT) exemption for non-resident taxpayers for assets that are not classified as taxable Australian property (TAP). This exemption means that in some circumstances, capital gains and losses are disregarded for non-residents.

The ATO’s view is that this exemption does not apply to distributions from discretionary trusts even though beneficiaries of a trust are generally treated for tax purposes as if they had made capital gains personally. What this means is that if a resident discretionary trust makes a capital gain, then the ATO expects that this will be taxed in Australia, even if the gain is distributed to a non-resident beneficiary, even if the gain does not relate to TAP and even if the gain has a foreign source. Given that non-resident beneficiaries will be taxed at non-resident tax rates and may not have access to the full CGT discount, it will be important for trustees to consider this carefully when deciding on distributions for trusts that have a mixture of resident and non-resident beneficiaries.

The ATO’s determinations do not take into account the possible application of any double tax agreements. This is another issue that would need to be considered to reach a conclusion on how distributions are likely to be taxed in the hands of non-resident beneficiaries.