UK Ministry of Justice enacts video-witnessing of wills

Gavel And A Last Will And Testament

The UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has today announced the implementation of secondary legislation under the Electronic Communications Act 2000 that can be applied retrospectively to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic on 31 January. The new legislation, which only applies in England and Wales, enables individuals to video-witness the execution of their wills if they are unable to observe the normal formalities, and cannot have two independent witnesses present. Therefore if someone is isolating and there is no feasible way to arrange for witnesses to be there, they can video record themselves executing their own will and it will be legally valid.

The fight against COVID-19 has made the will writing process even more complicated with social distancing and self-isolation throwing up some difficulties for people looking to get their will written. It has been possible to speak to a will writer over the phone or via video conference in order to draft a will; however, to be valid, a will must be signed by two witnesses present at the same time. The witnesses must be independent and cannot be beneficiaries of the will or related to the person that the will applies to.  For some, it may have been possible to enlist neighbours and arrange a situation where all are able to see each other while maintaining the requisite distance, but for others, for example vulnerable people, or people confined to bed or in hospital, this has not been possible.

STEP has been in discussion with the MoJ since the lockdown was enforced and has welcomed the introduction of video conference witnessing of wills, which removes the need for any physical witnesses at all. Of course, not everyone has access to laptops or mobile phones with video facilities, which would exclude a small part of the population, but it can work for the majority. Whilst the government has maintained the current law, it has effectively been condoning gatherings of at least three people from two of more households, and has been putting people at risk of catching or spreading the virus.

We are delighted that the government has responded to our calls to allow will witnessing by video facility. By removing the need for any physical witnesses, wills can continue to be drawn up efficiently, effectively and safely by those isolating. We also endorse the move to apply this retrospectively, which will provide reassurance to anyone who has had no choice but to execute a will in this manner prior to this legislation being enacted.  The legislation is anticipated to come into force in September 2020 and will be in force for two years until 31 January 2022. Practitioners should be aware of the sunset clause and make sure that any remote execution takes place prior to the expiry of the legislation.

STEP has prepared some guidance for members, with thanks to our working group comprising Paul Saunders TEP, Jennie Pratt TEP, Amanda Simmonds TEP, Leigh Sagar TEP, Charlotte John TEP, Charlie Tee TEP and Laura Kermally TEP.  However we are keen to reinforce that the new remote method of witnessing should not be a substitute for the conventional method of physical witnesses. The remote method should only be used in an emergency when conventional witnessing is impossible and extreme caution is required when taking this course of action.

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

STEP welcomes UK government response to Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive consultation

Emily Deane TEPHM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and HM Treasury (HMT) have published a response to the technical consultation ‘Fifth Money Laundering Directive and Trust Registration Service’. The consultation ran from January to February 2020 and sought views on how the Fifth Money Laundering Directive (5AMLD) should be transposed, and how certain processes could work for the expanded Trust Registration Service (TRS).

STEP submitted a consultation response and has held numerous meetings with HMRC and HMT over the last 18 months, on various issues related to the implementation of 5AMLD.

One of STEP’s outstanding concerns has been in relation to the interpretation of the business relationship point, which could have had an incredibly damaging effect on the use of UK professional service providers if interpreted in the same way as 4AMLD. We have been advising the government on the negative impact that a wide interpretation of the directive could have on the industry, and we are delighted to see that our recommendation has been accepted.

Para 2.15 of the consultation confirms that, ‘the government has opted to take a measured approach and will only require non-UK trusts to register on entering a business relationship with a UK obliged entity if the trust has at least one UK resident trustee. This means that non-UK trusts will not be required to register if their only link to the UK is through a business relationship with a UK based adviser.’

There is also a significant expansion of the categories of trust that will not need to be reported, which will ease the reporting burden on our members, although we were disappointed to note that bare trusts have not been exempted from registration as we would have liked. The government has also recognised that it would not be appropriate to require trusts created by will to register on the TRS if they are wound up within two years of death.

STEP also had concerns over the ‘legitimate interest’ application process, and the consultation confirms that it will aim to ensure that each request will be reviewed on its own merits, and access will be given only where there is evidence of money laundering or terrorist activity. We will continue to engage with the government on this issue.

The government has set a deadline of 10 March 2022 for existing trusts to register on the TRS, or to update their records if they have already done so. A 30-day deadline will be imposed for new trust registrations and updates. The regulations to implement the provisions have now been laid before Parliament for consideration.

We are very pleased that our discussions and papers have been taken into consideration so comprehensively, and we will continue to engage with the government on the remaining policy issues and assist with the development of the guidance.

 

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

 

STEP’s first Virtual UK Annual Tax Conference

Robert CaringtonThe first STEP Virtual STEP UK Annual Tax Conference was held on 26 June with over 800 people attending online. The day was a radical departure for STEP, with conventional meetings postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19. While it did include some glitches, attendees have the opportunity to catch up on any material they missed, with presentations available for a full year.

The day saw some outstanding STEP members speaking on topical matters, and we were delighted to host Emma Chamberlain OBE TEP, Robert Jamieson TEP, John Barnett TEP, Dawn Register TEP, Katherine Bullock TEP, John Woolley TEP and Deborah Clark TEP.

Emma Chamberlain presented the first session, giving an update on inheritance tax (IHT), which covered the Barclays Wealth case and the resulting legislation on excluded property settlements; and the definition of charity in IHT after the Routier case and its implications. She noted the work done by the Office of Tax Simplification and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Inheritance & Intergenerational Fairness (APPG) on IHT reform was something to watch.

Robert Jamieson TEP covered capital gains tax (CGT) main residence relief and the statutory changes in the Finance Bill 2020 relating to residency, in a comprehensive presentation.

John Barnett TEP gave an informative update on Agricultural Property Relief (APR) and Business Property Relief (BPR), covering their structure, key cases such as Gill and Brander; and finishing with predictions on their reform; he noted that the CGT uplift was the most likely to be reformed by any government in the near future.

The afternoon session started with Dawn Register TEP giving advice on dealing with HMRC, covering areas such as its No Safe Havens 2019 programme to ensure offshore tax compliance and its risk assessment process. She also explained changes made due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the relaxation of some deadlines.

Katherine Bullock TEP followed with a practical session focused on such IHT calculations as chargeable lifetime gifts, how to arrange settlements and when grossing up is necessary.

John Woolley TEP was next with an update on pension transfers and lump sum IHT plans following the Staverley decision in the Supreme Court in May 2019. John covered the advantages and disadvantages of death benefits being paid through either flexi access drawdown or by-pass trusts the protection of funds on divorce or insolvency; and dealing with the valuation issues of the ten-year periodic charge and their impact on loan trusts and discounted gift trusts, as well as any problems that may arise.

The final presentation of the day was from Deborah Clark TEP who spoke on family investment companies and their use. Her presentation covered their structure and funding and asset protection as well as how they were treated by income tax.

  • Our thanks to the event’s sponsors: James’s Place, Fraser and Fraser, National Philanthropic Trust, Octopus Investments, and Remember a Charity.

Robert Carington is Policy Executive at STEP

The five most common reporting errors for trusts to avoid

HM Revenue & Custom’s (HMRC) compliance team has identified the five most common errors made by UK administered trusts which are Financial Institutions (FIs) when fulfilling their obligations under the International Tax Compliance Regulations 2015.

These obligations relate to Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) which includes the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). Any errors should be rectified by submitting amendments using an online HMRC AEOI account, or if relating to the FATCA FFI list, an IRS FATCA online account.

1.Trusts wrongly classified for AEOI purposes

A trust can be either a FI or a non-financial entity. A trust will be classified as an FI where more than 50 per cent of its income is from investing, reinvesting, or trading in financial assets, and another FI has discretionary authority to manage these assets wholly or in part. A trust or settlement is regarded as being managed by an FI where either one or more of the trustees is an FI or the trustees have appointed an FI, such as a discretionary fund manager, to manage the trust’s assets or the trust itself. Trusts that are FIs have to register and submit AEOI returns to HMRC if they have reportable accounts. More information.

2.Due diligence requirements incorrectly carried out

Trusts that are FIs must carry out due diligence on their financial accounts to determine whether any are reportable accounts.  For trusts, financial accounts are the debt or equity interests in the trust. The equity interests are deemed to be held by any person treated as a settlor or beneficiary of all or a portion of the trust, or any other person exercising ultimate effective control, including trustees and protectors.

The debt and equity interests of the trust are reportable accounts if they are held by a reportable person. For example, if a settlor or beneficiary is resident in a reportable jurisdiction (outside of the UK), their equity interest is a reportable account.

The trust that is an FI must apply the due diligence rules in order to determine the identity and residence of its debt and equity interest holders. Please see the due diligence rules.

A trust that has reportable accounts must report the account information and the financial activity for the year in respect of each reportable account. The account information includes the identifying information for each reportable person (such as name, address, jurisdiction of residence, taxpayer identification number, date of birth and account number), and the identifying information of the trust (name and identifying number).

3.Mistakes when reporting discretionary beneficiaries and trustees.

A discretionary beneficiary will only be treated as an account holder in the years in which it receives a distribution from the trust. Other reportable accounts are reportable regardless of whether a distribution is made in the calendar year. More information (para 253).

4.Reporting entities as controlling persons.

Where an equity interest (such as the interest held by a settlor, beneficiary or any other natural person exercising ultimate effective control over the trust) is held by an entity, the equity interest holder will instead be its controlling persons. As such, the trust will be required to look through a settlor, trustee, protector or beneficiary that is an entity to locate the relevant controlling persons. (This obligation corresponds to the obligation to identify the beneficial owners of a trust under anti money-laundering rules). More information (para 253).

5.Errors relating to the IRS FATCA Foreign Financial Institution (FFI) list.

A trust that registers on the IRS FATCA registration website as being a FFI, will receive a Global Intermediary Identification Number (GIIN) from the IRS, upon approval. Some UK administered trusts are incorrectly registered on the FFI list, including trusts that do not meet the definition of being an FFI, or that have already been terminated.

Where FFI registration has been approved but is no longer appropriate, the trust should cancel the agreement. Cancelling a registration agreement that is in approved status will mean it will no longer be published on the FFI List and the GIIN will no longer be valid. The FATCA registration user guide contains guidance on deregistration and cancelling the agreement.

 

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel