Probate fees – will common sense prevail?

George HodgsonThe government’s threat to radically increase probate fees next month (Probate fee rise ‘a new tax on bereaved families’) may be receding, following a meeting of the House of Commons Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on 29 March.

Using some very welcome common sense, the committee raises the issue (para 1.12) that it is a constitutional principle that there should be ‘no taxation without the consent of Parliament’. This is something I suspect 99% of people will agree with.

It finds that the proposal from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is clearly a tax, not a fee, in every normal definition of the term, and should therefore be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny, rather than brought in via the back door through a Statutory Instrument.

The committee also finds (para 1.13) that ‘charges’ of the magnitude proposed by the MoJ were probably never envisaged when the original legislation the government was attempting to use here was approved. In other words, using this process is an abuse.

We would hope that this will provide an opportunity for the government to re-think its approach, which was criticised by over 90% of those responding to the consultation, and submit re-worked proposals for proper scrutiny by Parliament.

• Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments: Non-Contentious Probate Fees Order 2017

 

George Hodgson is Chief Executive of STEP

New probate fees: a guide for the public

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What is probate?

When someone dies, you need to get the legal right to deal with their property, money and possessions, and to do so you need a grant of representation, which is known as ‘probate’.

When is probate not needed?
Usually you won’t need to apply for probate if the estate does not include land, property or shares; if it is passing to a surviving spouse or civil partner because it was held in joint names (e.g. a joint bank account, or a home owned as ‘joint tenants’); or if the estate is valued at less than £15,000.

Each financial institution has its own rules, however, and may still require you to apply for a grant even if the value is under this threshold.

What is happening to probate fees?
In February 2017, the government announced that probate fees in England and Wales will change in May 2017 to a banded system, where fees increase with the value of the estate, replacing the current flat fees of £155 if you apply through a solicitor, or £215 for a personal application.

The proposal to link probate fees to the value of the estate was published in February 2016 and attracted overwhelming opposition. Nonetheless, the new system has been brought in, and was confirmed in the March 2017 Budget.

The fee structure as of May will therefore be as follows:

Value of Estate New Fee % Change (from £215)
Up to £5,000 £0   0%
£5,000 – £50,000 £0 -100%
£50,001 – £300,000  £300  +40%
£300,001 – £500,000  £1,000 +365%
£500,001 – £1m £4,000 +1,760%
£1m – £1.6m £8,000 +3,621%
£1.6m – £2m £12,000 +5,481%
Over £2m £20,000 +9,202%

When in May does the change kick in?
The government has not yet confirmed the exact date in May from which these changes will apply. The new fees will apply to all applications received by the probate service on or after this still-to-be-announced date in May, irrespective of the date of death. Probate registries have said that any application received within working hours of the Probate Registry before the implementation date will be charged the current fee.

What can you do?
Applying for probate takes time as you need to gather a number of documents and all the relevant information regarding the value of the estate to ensure any inheritance tax obligations are correctly accounted for. If you are very recently bereaved it may therefore be very difficult to submit a full application for probate before the new fees are implemented.

If, however, you have already started the process, you may want to try and get your probate application in before May to ensure you pay the current flat fee.

If you are applying for probate through a solicitor, your solicitor will be aware of the situation and will be doing everything they can to try to get your probate application lodged with the probate registry before the new fee structure applies.

If you are making a personal application, you should be aware of a few important points:

  • In cases where you are required to submit an IHT400 or any document for assessment by HMRC for inheritance tax purposes, many probate registries have said that it is possible for you to submit the appropriate forms to both HMRC and HMCTS Probate simultaneously. They will not issue your grant until the approved IHT421 is received, but the probate registry will mark your application as lodged. To assist them in not raising this as a query, they have advised that you clearly mark on your application that the inheritance tax document will follow after assessment.
  • A ‘full application’ for probate purposes, and therefore to qualify for the appropriate fee, must include:
    • Full oath sworn by all deponents and commissioners
    • An original will and codicil (where appropriate) endorsed by all commissioners and deponents
    • The appropriate number of correct copy wills and codicils
    • An Inland Revenue account (with the exception of IHT400s/421s where assessment is ongoing and it has been noted on the covering letter that it will follow)
    • All associated documents including any affidavit evidence required at the time of submission, renunciations, powers of attorney
    • The appropriate fee.

    Upon receipt of an application in this form prior to commencement then the existing fee will be charged.

  • If the estate you are dealing with is asset rich but cash poor, the probate registries have said that executors will be able to apply to the Probate Service to access a particular asset for the sole purpose of paying the fee. Instalment options will not be available.

Where can you get more information?
The government has not published any public information on this issue beyond the consultation documents:

In the absence of public-facing information from the government, we will continue to publish updates on this, as and when they are announced, here on the STEP Blog.

If you have any specific questions about your probate application please contact your local probate registry.

George Hodgson is Chief Executive of STEP

Have you registered your LEIs?

Emily Deane TEPEvery legal entity will need to get a Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) by 3 January 2018. Emily Deane TEP explains what LEIs are, and how to get one.

What is an LEI?

The Global Legal Entity Identification Foundation (GLEIF) has designed a system where every ‘legal entity’ will need to register and obtain a unique identification number – a Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) before it can trade on financial markets in the UK after 3 January 2018.

The London Stock Exchange (LSE) requires investors who are deemed to be legal entities to obtain an LEI, which is a 20-character alphanumeric reference code that is unique to the legal entity. Legal entities include Trusts (but not Bare Trusts), Companies (Public and Private), Pension Funds (but not Self-invested Personal Pensions), Charities and Unincorporated Bodies that are parties to financial transactions.

Do trusts need one?

Bare trusts have been excluded from the requirement to obtain an LEI, but all other trusts will be obliged to obtain one if they are parties to financial transactions. In the case of discretionary trusts which have legal restrictions and cannot disclose trust details, the LSE will accept a validation from the trust itself and will not require sight of the trust deed. However, in all other cases the LSE will generally accept a scanned copy of the first couple of pages of the trust deed in the same way that many banks do for AML compliance.

Entities other than trusts are obliged to provide information such as their official registry details and business address. All LEI data will be consolidated in one database in an effort to improve global entity identification and standardisation.

What if I don’t apply?

If the LEI has not been obtained by 3 January 2018 then investment firms will not be able to provide the legal entity with investment services. The legal entity itself is ultimately responsible for obtaining the LEI, but some investment firms may agree to apply for the LEI on behalf of their legal entity clients. The LSE has produced a draft format (pdf) which will be acceptable in order to transfer the application authority from the entity to a third party such as a management company.

The LSE will charge an initial allocation cost of GBP115 + VAT and annual maintenance cost of GBP70 + VAT per LEI.

How do I register?

Registration for individual LEI allocation requests started on 5 August 2013. You can request your LEI via the link below, and there are two user guides to help you:

More information can be found on the Financial Conduct Authority’s website:


Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

 

HMRC: no more safe havens

Treasure chestThis week STEP hosted a seminar to update members on HMRC’s latest moves to tackle tax evasion and avoidance.

Entitled, ‘An essential update on HMRC’s activity to tackle tax evasion and avoidance, including information exchange, new powers and its impact on professional advisors,’ the seminar took place at BDO LLP’s office in London. Speakers included John Shuker from the HMRC International & Offshore Evasion Team, and Dawn Register TEP of BDO LLP.

The introduction of the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) this year follows a raft of governmental efforts including the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the EU Directive 2003/48/EC (the EU Savings Directive) to improve cross-border tax compliance. The Offshore Evasion Team has focused on clamping down on UK tax evaders, in particular:

• Moving UK gains, income or assets offshore to conceal them from HMRC
• Not declaring taxable income from overseas, or taxable assets kept overseas
• Using complex offshore structures to hide beneficial ownership of assets.

The tax gap for 2014-2015 is estimated to be GBP36 billion, with GBP 5.2 billion attributed to tax evasion.

HMRC launched the campaign ‘No Safe Havens’ in 2013 with the objective of ensuring that there are no jurisdictions where UK taxpayers can hide their income and assets. It also implemented a number of disclosure facilities to give people the incentive to come forward and pay tax voluntarily, before they are detected and sanctioned.

In the last two years, HMRC has vigorously escalated its tax evasion strategy. The Worldwide Disclosure Facility opened last September, in addition to a new requirement for all financial institutions and tax advisers to notify their customers about new automatic exchange of information agreements.

The following further measures are due to be implemented in 2017:

Corporate Criminal Offences of Failure to Prevent Facilitation of Evasion
This will apply to corporations who fail to prevent their agents from criminally facilitating tax evasion (facilitating evasion is already considered a criminal offence). The offences will apply to domestic or overseas corporations whose agents facilitate the evasion of UK taxes, or a domestic corporation which facilitates the evasion of tax overseas.

Tackling Offshore Tax Evasion: A Requirement to Correct
Taxpayers will be obliged to disclose any outstanding UK tax related to offshore investments or assets, or face ‘failure to correct’ penalties. These penalties will be significantly higher than for those who voluntarily put their affairs in order, and will be a minimum of 100%.

STEP’s Technical Committee has submitted responses to a variety of HMRC’s consultation papers relating to tax evasion below:

 

Emily Deane TEP is STEP Technical Counsel

STEP puts CRS, transparency and public registers under the SIG spotlight

SIG Spotlight Session Nov 2016STEP hosted its annual Special Interest Group (SIG) Spotlight Sessions on 14 November in London, a day comprising six conference streams. SIGs provide opportunities for members to connect and advance their focused area of practice.

I attended the International Client SIG session, which focused on the needs of practitioners serving international clients with complex planning needs. The presentation was entitled ‘Moving Out, Moving In and Moving On: Key Movements for International Clients’. STEP members John Riches, William Ahern and Dr Angelo Venardos spoke on the topical issues surrounding CRS, transparency and public registers.

The Common Reporting Standard (CRS) continues to cause confusion in some key areas, and STEP is seeking clarification on a number of points surrounding settlors, beneficiaries, protectors, what constitutes a trust, controlling persons that are entities, charitable trusts and private trust companies. William Ahern and Dr Angelo Venardos discussed how CRS is being applied in Hong Kong and Singapore, and they touched upon the inconsistencies in the legislation compared to the UK, for example, anti-avoidance legislation, which is not as comprehensive as the UK’s.

Automatic exchange of tax information on a wide basis will unleash a deluge of confidential and highly sensitive personal financial information for transmission around the world. Differing jurisdictions may have differing issues to consider under these circumstances. Some jurisdictions may also need to consider if their data-protection laws are consistent with the commitments they have made with respect to CRS implementation. Conversely others may have to consider if the confidentiality obligations contained in their trust and banking laws are consistent with their CRS commitments.

The emergence of many corporate and non-corporate trust registers across the globe has caused privacy and compliancy concerns among most practitioners, although the recent non-constitutional ruling of the French trust register may have an influential outcome across Europe in that respect. We continue to wait and assess the new challenges as they arise in this upcoming new era of transparency.

However, the consistent theme across most jurisdictions is the urgent need to consider which jurisdictions are fit and proper to be granted access to an individual’s financial details.

About STEP’s Special Interest Groups

STEP’s SIGs focus on some of the more complex issues families face in planning for their future, including international families, protection of vulnerable people, family businesses and philanthropic giving.

The groups aim to benefit the practitioner, their area of specialisation, the clients they serve, and the industry at large. They are also open to professionals who are not STEP members.

The SIGs are:

• Business Families
• Charities
• Contentious Trust and Estates
• Cross-Border Estates
• International Client
• Mental Capacity
• Philanthropy Advisors

Please see this page for more details: www.step.org/sigs

 

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

STEP Annual Tax Conference looks at deemed domiciliaries

aeroplane and departure signSTEP hosted the last in this autumn’s series of Annual Tax Conferences on 21 October in London. Some outstanding STEP members spoke on topical matters including John Barnett TEP, Emma Chamberlain TEP, Robert Jamieson TEP, Edward Stone TEP, Paula Tallon and Chris Whitehouse TEP.

Emma Chamberlain provided a much needed update on deemed domiciliaries – the basic rules and transitional provisions. She raised some pertinent points on the rules of deemed UK domicile for long term UK residents, such as:

  • A taxpayer resident in the UK for 15 out of 20 years will be deemed domiciled for all tax purposes. The individual could also become deemed domiciled in a year when not UK resident, for example, if they moved abroad in their 16th year.
  • Split years count as years of UK residence and count even when the person is a minor.
  • If a taxpayer arrived here in 2002/3 or earlier and has been resident ever since, he or she will become deemed domiciled on 6 April 2017.
  • Once deemed domiciled a taxpayer must spend six tax years abroad to lose deemed domiciled status for income tax and capital gains tax purposes.

Emma went on to explain that the deemed domiciled status can be lost if the taxpayer leaves the UK by April 2018 and is non-resident for six consecutive years. The status will fall away at the start of 2024/25.

If that individual returned in May 2024 he or she would not be deemed domiciled again until 2039/40 after another 15 years of residence.

Emma suggested that the individual in question might be able to retain foreign domicile under general law, but nothing is certain at this stage. In any event, it seems very likely that domicile queries would be raised by HMRC and we strongly suggest that clients and advisors keep accurate domicile records.

STEP has recently submitted responses to HMRC’s reforms to the taxation of non-domiciles consultation paper dated 19 August 2016 which can be found on the STEP consultation tracker:

 

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

Making Tax Digital update

UK mapSTEP attended a meeting held by HMRC on 11 October to obtain feedback on its plan to make tax returns reportable on a quarterly basis, and completely digital.

HMRC’s stated objective is to improve the level of service for the public, reduce the cost to the taxpayer, and increase the revenue’s compliance and accuracy.

It says the new system will be the most digitally advanced in the world, and will enable a user to check their PAYE status, their State Pension forecast and any tax credits or allowances.

Apparently there are already close to seven million UK personal users, and HMRC is streaming webinars for basic users, as well as more complex tax users such as unincorporated businesses and landlords.

However, we learned during the meeting that many users with more convoluted businesses and multiple income streams, such as farmers, may find the new system challenging.

Although it seems unimaginable that someone would want to submit their tax return on their smart phone, HMRC points out the software will be mobile friendly, for those who do not have access to a computer or a laptop.

STEP has already flagged that the new system may not be accessible to less capable users, including elderly, or digitally excluded and vulnerable people.

Many may be unable to afford the extra burden of professional advice, a computer, laptop or smart phone, or indeed, the software required to comply.

HMRC recognises that there may be some transitional costs and potential cyber security risks, but believes customers will be pleased with the ‘real time’ system to keep taxes up to date, and notes there will be fewer inaccurate calculations.

HMRC’s webpage hosts a collection of consultation papers for all individual and business customers, agents, software developers, employers and all other organisations that need to provide tax information.

If you would like to provide feedback, please contact me at emily.deane@step.org by 3 November.

 

Emily Deane TEP, STEP Technical Counsel

April 2017 changes to the UK’s taxation of long-term resident, non-domiciled individuals

Update on discussions relating to the treatment of trusts

Following the consultation paper issued on 19 August 2016, members of STEP’s UK Technical Committee have been closely involved in discussions with HM Treasury and HM Revenue & Customs in relation to the latest proposals.

The most difficult area is the treatment of offshore trusts set up by non-domiciliaries who become deemed domiciled in the UK as a result of having lived there for 15 years in a 20 year period.

When the changes were announced in the July 2015 budget, much was made of the fact that assets held in trust would be protected from inheritance tax, capital gains tax and income tax (other than in relation to UK source income which would continue to be taxed as it arises). A deemed domiciled settlor would only be taxable on benefits received from the structure or conferred on close family members.

One significant surprise in the August consultation paper therefore was a proposal that a deemed domiciled settlor would be taxed on all of the gains of an offshore trust once the settlor or a close family member has received any benefit from the trust – ie the receipt of the benefit would mean that the capital gains tax protections would be lost for the future.

As part of the consultation discussions, a paper has been prepared by a barrister with input from colleagues from various representative bodies including STEP. The paper is very much in draft form but sets out a potential alternative approach to legislating the trust protections. A copy of the paper can be found below.

We have been asked to make it absolutely clear that the paper was not commissioned by HMRC or HMT. Nor does it represent an approach to trusts preferred either by HMT, HMRC or the government. The paper was prepared to facilitate discussion at a consultation meeting between HMRC/HMT and various representative bodies to consider alternative approaches to how it is best to legislate the protections and it should be read in that context.

Having said this, it is important that STEP members are aware that alternative proposals are being put forward and discussed and that the final proposals may well be different to those made in the 19 August 2016 consultation paper.

We are expecting the government’s position to be announced as part of the Autumn Statement on 23 November 2016 with draft legislation being available by 5 December as part of the draft Finance Bill.

 

STEP UK Technical Committee

HMRC takes aim at inheritance tax planning

Robin VosImagine a client comes to you looking to reduce the inheritance tax bill on his death. He cannot afford to make outright gifts, and so instead you suggest he sets up a trust for his grandchildren and makes an interest free loan to the trust. The trust will invest in a UK authorised investment fund. The client is therefore just giving away the growth in value so that, over time, as the loan is repaid and the money spent, the client’s estate will reduce. Not an uncommon situation.

Under regulations proposed by HMRC, you may well be required to report this sort of planning to HMRC under the ‘Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Schemes’ (DOTAS) rules.

This is a serious matter. Failure to report when required to do so can lead to significant penalties for the ‘promoter’ as well as a range of other possible sanctions for both the promoter and the client.

The DOTAS regime was originally introduced in 2004 to ferret out information about marketed tax avoidance schemes. Arrangements only have to be notified if they fall within certain ‘hallmarks’. These include indicators such as whether the promoter is charging a premium fee or whether they ask clients to sign up to some sort of confidentiality agreement.

The DOTAS rules were first applied to inheritance tax in 2011. Currently they only apply to arrangements designed to get assets into a trust without paying the upfront 20 per cent lifetime inheritance tax charge.

In relation to other taxes, specific hallmarks were introduced to combat schemes in particular areas such as the use of losses, tax avoidance using financial products and attempts to get round the disguised remuneration rules for employment income.

However the proposed new regulations which will apply to inheritance tax are much wider. The starting point is that any planning which gives rise to an inheritance tax advantage will have to be notified if it contains steps which are ‘contrived or abnormal’.

The problem with inheritance tax planning is that much of what is done could be described as contrived or abnormal – ie the steps which are taken are not ones which somebody would normally take, unless they were trying to reduce their inheritance tax bill.

Targeting an entire tax with a filter based only on whether the arrangements are contrived or abnormal is a novel approach.

Whilst HMRC has promised guidance as to what it considers to be acceptable and what is not, the risk is that practitioners will be left not knowing whether what they are doing has to be notified. Many will make notifications just to be on the safe side. HMRC may well be overwhelmed with a deluge of notifications as a result.

The proposals are contained in a consultation paper issued on 20 April 2016. Anybody is free to respond to the consultation. Responses have to be submitted by 13 July 2016.

STEP will be submitting a response suggesting that the same approach should be taken for inheritance tax as with other taxes. This would mean that HMRC should identify specific areas where it sees abuse, and create hallmarks relating to those areas rather than attacking all planning which gives rise to any inheritance tax advantage.

The existing hallmark relating to attempts to get assets into trust, without paying the upfront inheritance tax charge, may not be the only area targeted. Others might include avoiding the reservation of benefit rules without incurring pre-owned assets tax, acquiring interests in excluded property settlements without falling foul of the existing anti-avoidance rules, abuse of agricultural property relief or business property relief and schemes to avoid inheritance tax ten year charges in relation to relevant property trusts.

As demonstrated by the example at the beginning of this article, the proposed regulations have the potential to affect much of the inheritance tax planning which practitioners will be dealing with on a daily basis. It certainly goes much wider than catching only abusive, marketed schemes.

The more responses HMRC receives, the more likely it is that it will understand that the regulations, as currently proposed, go too far.

 

Robin Vos TEP, a solicitor at Macfarlanes LLP in London, is chair of STEP’s UK Technical Committee

French trust register goes live to public on 30 June

George HodgsonFrance has taken the unprecedented decision to put its register of trusts online and freely accessible this week.

From 30 June the French trusts register can be accessed by using a number of search criteria, including the name of the trust, or identity of the trustee, settlor or beneficiaries.

France obtained this information as trustees of trusts which have a French connection, eg resident settlor, beneficiary and/or holding French assets, have been required to file reports with the French tax authorities since 1 January 2012. Failure to comply is punishable by a fine of at least EUR20,000, or 12.5 per cent of trust assets, if higher.

STEP is highly critical of the move, noting that the data was supplied for tax purposes in good faith, and with no permission for it to be made public.

There is no protection offered for details of vulnerable beneficiaries, such as children, elderly people, or those with limited mental capacity.

This information is strongly biased towards non-French structures, which are being treated on a different basis to French structures.

In addition, there has been no attempt to ensure that the information remains relevant or up to date; nor is there any facility to remove data that is no longer correct.

 

George Hodgson is Interim Chief Executive of STEP