One of the most effective ways you can manage your estate planning is through setting up a trust. The structures into which you can transfer your assets can have lasting consequences for you and your family, so it is important that you obtain professional advice, as the right structures can protect assets and give your family lasting benefits.
A trust is a legal arrangement where one or more trustees are made legally responsible for assets. The assets – such as land, money, buildings, shares or even antiques – are placed in trust for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries. They are not the sole domain of the super-rich. Trusts are incredibly useful and flexible devices that people employ for all sorts of different purposes, including Inheritance Tax planning.
In its simplest form, a trust is just a legal mechanism for separating the ownership of an asset into two parts: the ‘legal’ ownership (or title to the asset) on the one hand, and the ‘beneficial’ ownership on the other hand. It is in the course of IHT planning, though, that people are most likely to come face to face with trusts and seek to get an understanding of what they are and how they work. Their use is widespread and, despite some recent adverse changes in tax law, they remain an important tool in estate planning. The trust is created when the settlor transfers assets to the trustees, who hold the assets in trust for the beneficiaries.
The main reason a person would put assets into a trust rather than make an outright gift is that trusts offer far more flexibility than outright gifts. The trustees are responsible for managing the trust and carrying out the wishes of the person who has put the assets into trust (the settlor). The settlor’s wishes for the trust are usually written in their Will or given in a legal document called the ‘trust deed’.
Trusts may be set up for a number of reasons, for example:
• To control and protect family assets
• When someone is too young to handle their affairs
• When someone can’t handle their affairs because they are incapacitated
• To pass on money or property while you are still alive
• To pass on money or assets when you die under the terms of your Will – known as a ‘will trust’
• Under the rules of inheritance that apply when someone dies without leaving a valid Will (England and Wales only)
There are several types of UK family trusts, and each type of trust may be taxed differently. There are other types of non-family trusts. These are set up for many reasons, for example, to operate as a charity or to provide a means for employers to create a pension scheme for their staff.
There are four main situations when IHT may be due on trusts:
• When assets are transferred or settled into a trust
• When a trust reaches a ten-year anniversary of when it was set up
• When assets are transferred out of a trust or the trust comes to an end
• When someone dies and a trust is involved when sorting out their estate
The treatment of trusts for tax purposes is the same throughout the United Kingdom. However, Scottish law on trusts and the terms used in relation to trusts in Scotland are different from the laws of England & Wales and Northern Ireland.