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Introduction: The History Of Offshore Trusts

It's a fairly well known fact that the trust originated in England many hundreds of years ago, and that its purpose was to preserve assets against depredations occurring through death, matrimonial and family squabbles, spendthrift descendants and the like. Taxation at death was one of the incidents that trusts were effective against, but they were not particularly designed to guard against the taxation of income or capital during the settlor's life, because such taxes were not a major threat to wealth at the time, and anyway a domestic trust was a taxable person in itself.

Income tax was first levied in England at the beginning of the 20th century, and in many countries had become worth avoiding by mid-century; but initially at least the best way of avoiding it was to turn income into capital, which was not so heavily taxed. It was only when capital taxes of various types became significant that the offshore trust came into its heyday.

Very rich people had begun to use offshore trusts in the first half of the century, but at least as much because of the additional asset protection that they offered, simply by being in a different jurisdiction, as because they were tax efficient.

The administrative overhead and other complications of dealing with an offshore location were initially very great, so that at first only conveniently close-by jurisdictions like Jersey (Channel Isles) for the Brits and the Bahamas (for Americans) developed as 'offshore' jurisdictions. The first trusts legislation in the Bahamas, surprisingly, dates from 1893. The great expansion of trusts, both in terms of number of jurisdictions and volume of business, came later when telecommunications, air transport and the end of capital controls opened up the world and gave freedom to investors and the owners of capital.

At all events, by say 1980, offshore was burgeoning in response to horrific tax rates, and tax avoidance had taken over as the main driver of offshore growth. In this process, and as more and more countries laid claim to the worldwide income and assets of individuals during life and at the end of it, the trust played a key part. But in two respects at least the traditional English trust was lacking: first in its perpetuity rule, which limited the duration of a trust to 'life in being' plus 35 years, or to 80 years, in order not to permit the alienation of property for more than one generation after death of the settlor; and secondly in its abhorrence of 'spendthrift' clauses, ie wording which prevents a creditor from 'seeing through' the trust to obtain settled assets if the settlor is a beneficiary.

In the US, and in the main island offshore jurisdictions, which all inherited English trust law (since almost all of them were British originally) perpetuities were legislated away during the 1980s and '90s - no-one wants to see assets reverting to family members who may still be living in the country from which the settlor had removed them, with disastrous tax consequences. During this period, tax authorities in high-tax countries gradually began to attack the offshore trust, either through specific legislation or through general anti-avoidance provisions, and as this process whittled away at the tax advantages of offshore trusts, asset protection began to take over as the predominant motive for offshore settlements. The 'spendthrift' problem stood in the way, particularly for non-common-law families, who had to cope with 'Code' country legislation which often incorporates forced heirship provisions and specific creditor protection (both usually absent in common law jurisdictions).

Initially, rich 'continentals' used different techniques to protect their assets, but in time they grew to like the friendly Anglo-Saxon trust, and in the latter part of the 20th century as trust law began to be implanted into the foreign soil of one 'Code' jurisdiction after another, the common-law jurisdictions needed to follow and passed laws which specifically excluded forced heirship and creditor protection provisions. The US itself has largely removed anti-spendthrift wording from its trust legislation - unlike in the unitary UK, there is a kind of onshore offshore in the US because of its federal structure, and there has been a competition between states to offer good trust regimes to residents in other states, and for that matter to compete against the offshore 'offshore', which is nowadays practicable because after the enactment of Section 679 of the Tax Code, the IRS treatment of offshore trusts is now worse than its treatment of onshore trusts.

Even without perpetuities and with asset protection features, the bare offshore trust came to be seen as vulnerable and by the turn of the century was much more likely to be used as part of a more complex framework involving corporate features and multiple jurisdictions than on its own. It's not right in fact to say that a plain trust is ineffective: in the Cook Islands, which may have been the first jurisdiction to offer asset protection trusts per se, only one trust has been penetrated by creditors in 20 years, and that was due to a weakness in the drafting of the governing law which has subsequently been corrected.

The trend towards complexity also reflects growing corporate interest in the trust, and the tendency for the more advanced offshore jurisdictions to offer structures suited to particular purposes - hence the 'purpose' trust. A trust which is suitable for one purpose may well not be suitable for another, and the original English trust law was one more time not ideal for purpose trusts, which has led to a third round of adjustment of trust legislation in many jurisdictions.

The Report

Offshore Trusts Guide: Introduction

Offshore Trusts Guide: Jurisdictions

Bahamas Barbados Bermuda British Virgin Islands Cayman Islands Cook Islands Cyprus Gibraltar Guernsey Isle of Man Jersey Liechtenstein Madeira Malta Mauritius Monaco Nevis New Zealand Panama Seychelles Turks & Caicos Vanuatu


Offshore Trusts News

EU Takes Action Against Spain Over Rules On Reporting Of Assets
Thursday 13/6/2019
The European Commission is taking Spain to the Court of Justice over the imposition of "disproportionate" sanctions for failure to report assets held abroad.

Hungary Announces Tax Cut Plan
Wednesday 5/6/2019
On May 31, 2019, the Hungarian Ministry of Finance announced numerous tax cuts as part of an economic growth plan.

Belgium Begins Accepting Personal Income Tax Returns
Friday 10/5/2019
On May 2, 2019, Belgium's finance ministry confirmed that the Tax-on-web portal has been opened for personal and corporate income tax returns for the 2019 fiscal year.

Austria To Cut Corporate Tax To 21pc By 2023
Friday 10/5/2019
Austria's Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, has announced plans for significant tax cuts for businesses and individuals.

HMRC Loses High-Profile IR35 Case
Friday 10/5/2019
The UK tax agency, HM Revenue and Customs, has lost a significant ruling concerning the application of the IR35 intermediaries legislation.

NZ Accountants Welcome Tax Reform Decisions
Monday 29/4/2019
Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) has given a guarded welcome to the New Zealand Government's response to the recommendations of the Tax Working Group.

Barbados To Slash PIT Rates Through Indirect Tax Grab
Monday 15/4/2019
Barbados's 2019 Budget includes proposals to remove VAT input tax credits for various supplies, reform the personal income tax regime, and generate more revenues from property taxes and the gaming sector.

Denmark Seeking To Modernize Labor Tax Rules
Friday 5/4/2019
On March 25, 2019, the Danish Tax Ministry announced that it is studying ways in which the tax system can be adapted to new forms of employment and ways of working, with an emphasis on technological developments.

UK's Making Tax Digital Initiative To Cover Only VAT Until 2021
Tuesday 26/3/2019
British businesses have welcomed confirmation from the UK Government that Making Tax Digital will not be rolled out to other taxes and more businesses in 2020.

Canada Launches Tax Filing Season
Tuesday 26/2/2019
On February 19, the Canada Revenue Agency officially opened the 2019 tax filing season.