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It is increasingly common for individuals to own more than one property and in many cases the first investment after the family residence is in a holiday home. Whether you are buying a place in the sun, a country retreat or a city centre apartment, if it is in a foreign country you will be exposed to an unfamiliar legal system and to taxes in the country concerned. It is therefore important, even before a contract is signed, to decide whether to make the purchase in your personal name or through a company. To change course later will always be expensive. It is however usually possible to reduce exposure to tax.

Buying in a personal name

Assuming the property is for personal occupation, the form of tax, which is most easily avoided, is estate or inheritance tax. The death of the person in whose name the property is registered will normally give rise to a liability which may exceed 40% of the value at the time and the tax will usually have to be paid before the property can be sold or transferred.

Buying in a corporate name

If, however, the property is purchased in the name of a company, the death of the owner does not create a need to transfer the property. The property will be owned by the company, and it is the shares in the company which will form part of the owner's estate and not the property itself. If the company is formed in an offshore territory, the British Virgin Islands for example, which does not impose taxation on non-residents, the objective of avoiding foreign death taxes will have been achieved. There is a bonus, in that the name of the owner of the company need not be a matter of public record, thereby maintaining confidentiality.

Ownership through an offshore company will also ensure that, on death, the property will pass to the intended heirs. It will overcome the forced inheritance provisions found in the civil law and in Sharia law.

Purchasing through a company does increase the cost. The purchase may attract a higher rate of stamp duty, the company will need to be professionally managed and it may be required to file a tax return. These costs are however generally modest in relation to the potential tax saving.

Some words of caution

Some countries, whether in an attempt to prevent tax evasion by their residents, as part of increased international co-operation against tax avoidance or merely to raise revenue from non-voting foreigners, impose taxes on a notional income of companies incorporated in tax- free centres, but not against companies formed in taxing locations. Examples are France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Argentina.

Others, such as the U.K. have hit on the wheeze of taxing their residents on a notional benefit, where the property is owned by a company rather than by the taxpayer personally, and no occupational rent is paid. Foreign investors in U.K. property are not discriminated against however. The answer, as always, is to take advice before acting.

The Chesterfield Group provides a full range of trustee, and corporate advisory, formation and management services and invites enquiries. More particulars can be found on our web-site http://www.chesterfield-management.comREF=CH4EZ


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