Legal Ground: Trustee’s personal debt
They asked the court to uphold the trust, remove the lien and dismiss all legal action to seize the property.
Housing foreclosure Photo: Thinkstock/Imagebank
Our last article discussed the advantages of placing property in a
trust. Trusts serve as an efficient method for transferring wealth
between generations while legally avoiding inheritance tax, which foreign
residents may be exposed to. Israel does not have an inheritance
Another advantage of trusts is the privacy and discretion it
affords; the property is registered neither in the names of the settlor (the
creator of the trust) nor in the names of the beneficiaries (those who benefit
from the trust). Rather, the property is registered in the name of the trustees
who are the controllers of the assets, who act within the guidelines dictated to
them with the creation of the trust.
However, some might hesitate before
relinquishing control of their assets to another individual or company. This
hesitation is quite understandable.
Let’s examine the case of the Martin
family (all names in this article have been changed) from Australia, who
purchased property almost 20 years ago via Mr. Zamir, a friend and businessman
located in Israel. The property was registered in Zamir’s name, as
trustee for the Martins.
In an unfortunate turn of events, Zamir found
himself in debt for hundreds of thousands of dollars, was declared bankrupt and
left Israel. Zamir’s creditors searched for any asset Zamir might have had in
Israel and were quite enthusiastic upon discovering some prime real estate
registered in his name. They quickly had a lien placed on the property and
initiated legal action toward having it sold.
The Martins, in a desperate
attempt to save their property (now the home in which they lived after making
aliya), asked the court to uphold the trust, remove the lien and dismiss all
legal action to seize the property.
Can the Martins’ property be spared
from the hands of the creditors? Furthermore, could this situation have been
prevented in the first place?
Theoretically, the Martins’ problem could have
been avoided altogether. A warning note, or a caveat, explicitly stating that
this property is held in trust, could have been registered in the Land Registry
(the Tabu). That way, the creditors would not have mistakenly believed
that they managed to identify property belonging to Zamir, while the Martins
would not have had to beseech the court to assert their rights.
this was not the case with the Martins. Indeed, in most cases, for various
reasons, there is no explicit mention of a trust in the Land Registry. Often,
this is because of the very nature of trusts: namely, to avoid registration and
What then can the Martins do to save their
On the one hand, they are protected by Clause 3(b) of the Trust Law, which
states that assets held in trust will not be seized for any debt other than debt
owed by the trust itself.
In our case, the debt was the trustee’s
personal debt, not the trust’s debt. Therefore, we might think that the Martins
could breathe a sigh of relief.
However, to complicate this matter,
Clause 5 of the Trust Law, loosely translated, states: “A trust will hold true
toward anyone who knew or who should have known of the trust, and if the trust
was registered [in the Land Registry] it will hold true toward
Does this clause mean that if the existence of the trust was
not registered, then our beneficiaries, the Martins, are at risk of losing their
property? This was, indeed, the case in the past.
Great importance is
placed on accurate registration of property title in the Land Registry. The Land
Registry, which is open to the public, is the most definitive authority of
property ownership. As such, every property transaction depends on the accuracy
of the Land Registry, to the extent that true and final ownership is only
obtained with registration in the Land Registry.
However, today, Israeli
courts also recognize the importance of protecting trusts: that preferring the
right of a creditor over that of a beneficiary will completely undermine the
very rationale behind a trust. The court also recognizes the important role that
privacy plays in the creation of a trust. therefore, it reiterated that
registration of a caution notifying the public of the existence of a trust is
In a groundbreaking recent ruling handed down by the Supreme
Court (which has since been quoted in other rulings by lower tribunals), it was
clearly determined that a beneficiary’s rights to the property override those of
a creditor of the trustee. This is despite the fact that no caveat (i.e.,
caution) was registered to note the existence of the trust.
Martins’ property will remain safe and sound in their hands. The creditors, on
the other hand, must keep searching for other methods to collect their
This ruling is a key milestone that fortifies trusts in Israel as a
safe and protected method of managing property. The above describes the
possibilities in general terms only, and detailed advice must be obtained prior
to any action taken.
Dr. Haim Katz is a senior
partner in a law firm with offices in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that specializes in
real estate, international trusts and family, inheritance and corporate
law. Sam Katz is a jurist who lives in Jerusalem.