Please avoid inheritance tax surprises

3 August 2023

We meet many entrepreneurs and help them planning taxes, also when they will die. Its purpose is making sure that as much as possible of someone’s hard earned wealth lands at the intended recipient, which is rarely the tax inspector.

The primary beneficiary of the deceased is almost always the family, or more specifically the spouse. Next are charities; many charities to not pay inheritance tax.

Your will is made

The most effective way to secure directionality of one’s wealth is a will. This formal document is available and respected in most countries. If an estate involves possessions in more countries we sometimes see there are wills per jurisdiction. It helps to ensure local execution of a person’s last will and testament without questioning legal validity or tax consequences. As it requires local tweaking making sure the overall picture is clear regularly requires professional help in planning the estate.

This is particularly caused by different speeds of evolution in family law and inheritance taxation. As governments do not wait on each other you can imagine this gets messy every now and then.

It does not always work out as planned

Recently a case came before a Dutch judge involving only Dutch persons and Dutch assets. A “simple” case. The deceased entrepreneur had a will, leaving his assets to charities after his spouse could live of these assets (and could consume as much as she saw fit) during her life. A large part of the estate involved the shares to the company he had built. When she died several years later, the legal transfer of these shares to the charities was taxed. The family was shocked as the intention of the entrepreneur was not executed as intended.

Without going into the technical details, the point is that things change. Ownership of assets is almost always grandfathered (so new legislation does not contest the ownership itself) but fiscal treatment is not. Wills are often long dated, and rightfully so. We see wills made 50 years ago and when the time comes to have these executed, there is often a large gap between what was intended at the time and what is realized.

Build in a safety net

There is no need to update your financial plan every year (unless something dramatically positive or negative happens of course), and your estate plan neither. But if your will is over 10 years old it will probably make sense to have your plan and that will reviewed. The result is that your expectations will be updated and if necessary your last will and testament as well.

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