Estate planning : the impact of estate duty and capital gains tax on offshore assets
Death and taxes are unavoidable. In terms of the current legislation both estate duty and capital gains tax (hereinafter referred to as "CGT") are levied upon death. The South African National Treasury is reconsidering taxes on death as estate duty contributes minuscule revenue, and its administration is cumbersome. Worldwide taxation is based on either source or residence. Because of the R3 500 000 exemption from estate duty, only wealthy individuals are generally subject to estate duty. Wealthy individuals make use of the annual R4 000 000 foreign investment capital allowance by owning offshore property. The aim of this study is to document how death taxes are currently levied on an estate which holds offshore property, given the perception that foreign property is exempt from death duties, and also to consider the impact on taxes payable on offshore property at death if estate duty were to be abolished. These objectives cannot be achieved without a thorough understanding of the development and future of estate duty, the impact of CGT on death, how selected foreign countries levy taxes upon death, and how residents of South Africa are taxed on property situated within foreign countries. When CGT was introduced in 2001 the estate duty rate was reduced and it is likely that, if estate duty is repealed, the rate of CGT will be increased. In South Africa, residents are taxed on worldwide income and capital gains. The international perspective is that the foreign country has the sovereignty to levy taxes on a person who owns property situated within its boundaries. An estate which holds offshore property may also be subject to estate duty in terms of the tax law of that country which results in double taxation in the hands of the deceased estate. South Africa has concluded international agreements with a number of foreign countries through double tax agreements and estate tax treaties to prevent double taxation. In terms of the Estate Duty Act, and in some of the treaties, a rebate is allowed in respect of foreign estate taxes paid. However, if estate duty is abolished, the deceased estate may be liable for estate tax in the foreign country where the assets are situated and the deceased estate may not qualify for any rebate in South Africa in respect of foreign taxes paid. Hence, the abolition may have detrimental consequences on the liquidity requirements, and on the heirs, in cases where offshore property is involved. It is vital that proper estate and tax planning advice is given before a resident acquires offshore property as the tax implications may be enormous. The current impact of estate duty and CGT on a resident who owns offshore assets is that the said taxes will be levied either here in South Africa or in the foreign country. The effect of capital transfer tax on a resident with an offshore asset can never be underestimated.