Planning For The future
For many of us, planning for education, retirement and illness is a matter of course. Yet considering our own mortality is not something we like to think about even though it is an unavoidable fact. “Death duty” is just as inevitable.
However, there are specific actions you can take to protect your assets from the tax collector. The information hereunder aims to help you understand your estate tax liabilities and how best to take action to avoid your family losing out on such liabilities.
What is IHT ?
IHT – or Inheritance Tax, is what the UK Government calls Death Duties. The US Government refers to this tax as the Estate Tax, while in France they call it the Estate and Gift Tax.
Whatever the name for this form of taxation, one thing is universally true: further taxation at death on assets which you have already paid tax on throughout your life is unfair.
Truth on automatic expatriate avoidance
It is wrong to believe that you can avoid inheritance tax simply by moving from your country of birth. Depending on your current circumstances, it may be possible to reduce your income and capital gain taxes, however it is more complicated to escape taxation of your estate at death.
Determining Domicile and Changing Domicile
If you leave your country of birth for long enough, you can lose residency in that country. However losing or changing your domicile is quite a different matter.
Your domicile will always revert to your country of birth, unless you take specific action to change it.
Therefore as an example, if you are a UK expatriate, you may be liable for inheritance tax on your entire worldwide assets at the time of death if you give up your UK residency but not your domicile.
In order to avoid such scenario, you could change your domicile though this is not easy to do and is generally discouraged. As an example, the following criteria need to be fulfilled for a British national to change his domicile:
One must leave the UK with the “intention never to return”
One must acquire a new domicile – a “domicile of choice”
One must live in the new domicile & show that it is ones intention to live there forever
Even then, an ex-British national can still be deemed to be UK domiciled for IHT purposes. For example, you continue to be deemed domiciled in the UK for the three years after you cease to be officially UK domiciled.
What Can You Do To Reduce your liability?
To determine the potential death duty liability on your estate, a full and comprehensive financial review must be carried out. There are many areas that need to be considered and professional advice is essential to make sure that you cover every potential aspect of the situation.
There are a number of options open to you in life that may enable you to reduce the death tax burden due on your estate, including:
Gifts – The giving of assets as “gifts” during your lifetime can reduce liability at death. The gift must be made a number of years before your death for it not to be counted as part of your estate.
Trusts – A trust is a legal entity that can be used effectively for financial and estate planning purposes, especially if it is established offshore. A trust can enable you to make long term plans for the preservation and distribution of your wealth during or after your lifetime. Depending on the type of trust you choose, you can be certain that the management of your assets will continue in accordance to your wishes.
Wills – Do not die intestate (without a will). If you don’t make a will and keep it valid, your estate may not be handled according to your wishes. As an expatriate, you need to ensure that you have a will in the country in which you reside and it is governed by the laws of that country, as well as a will covering any assets you may have back home. Also remember that divorce or marriage can invalidate a will.