Perhaps something that may have slipped by most people in the Chancellor’s Summer Budget was the commitment to reduce Corporation Tax firstly from 20% to 19% by 2017 and then to 18% by 2020. The United Kingdom already enjoys one of the lowest Corporation Tax rates in the developed world comparing favourably with the United States (40%), Japan (33%) and Germany (29.65%).
It may not be immediately apparent how this impacts on estate planning so allow me to introduce the concept of a Family Investment Company (FIC). Since the Finance Act 2006 removed much of the favourable tax treatment for trusts there has been a comparative lack of alternatives to the more traditional trust structure.
In short a FIC is a private company whose shareholders are members of the same family. The shares can be structured to allow the ownership of the underlying assets to pass to the next generation without the older family members relinquishing control of the underlying assets before they are ready to do so.
If the initial subscription for shares is in cash there is no tax charge on setting up the FIC. If land or property is used it is likely there would be capital gains and stamp duty tax implications.
Perhaps this is best illustrated by example. The Jones family have considerable cash savings and create a FIC with Mr and Mrs Jones as directors and their four adult children as shareholders. They transfer £3.5 million in cash into the FIC with no tax implications.
As Mr and Mrs Jones wish to retain control over the company the children are not given voting rights meaning they are entitled to receive dividends and also to capital should the FIC be wound up.
Any profits the FIC makes are taxable at 20% which is significantly lower than the higher rate of income tax (40 or 45%) or the rate applicable to discretionary trusts (37.5 or 40%). Any UK dividend income received by the FIC will not be subject to tax but interest, rent and other income will be.
There is however the possibility of double taxation within the FIC structure where profits are first taxed at 20% and are then subject to income tax in the hands of the shareholders. It is still possible for shareholders to make tax efficient withdrawals in the form of dividends subject to their personal circumstances.
This is not to say that trusts no longer serve a purpose in estate planning. Where assets can be transferred into trust without incurring a charge to inheritance tax possibly through the use of business property relief or agricultural property relief it is likely that the more traditional trust structure will still prove to be more suitable. If the assets are cash a FIC is something that should be seriously considered as an alternative to a trust.
If the Treasury is committed to a scheme of graduated reductions in the rate of Corporation Tax it is likely that the FIC will become an ever more popular vehicle in estate planning in the years ahead.