UHNW families are looking to family offices for independent, neutral advice

There is a misconception that people who have a lot of money have excellent advisers who look after all their problems.

This is of course true for families with family offices, but for those who do not, or their family office only looks after their investments, the industry is confusing. It is made up of specialists and until recently there were very few general practitioners to whom they could turn for guidance. This has been recognised and family offices are now being set up to provide independent, neutral and general advice.

In the medical profession there are numerous independent and unbiased general practitioners. If you have a pain you go to your doctor who may refer you to a specialist having diagnosed what the problem is likely to be. If it does not get fixed you go back to your doctor to discuss with them any ongoing concerns.

Imagine a medical profession without a doctor and then you will get some idea the frustration the UHNW community experiences in finding a good advisor for a variety of concerns. Without a general practitioner they need first to recognise their problem – without the early warning sign of pain, analyse who best to serve them, instruct them, monitor progress and at the same time stop fees running out of control. UHNW families are not always loyal because they have found an adviser they trust, but because there has not until recently been a general practitioner to turn to for an independent neutral opinion.

David came to see me Monday afternoon; he has a home in the UK which he owns through a company in Jersey. He lives in Switzerland and is anxious about the Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings which is approaching; this year it will cost him in excess of £100,000. His trustees in Jersey have told him that it will take between six to eight weeks to de-envelope. He sought advice from his lawyer as soon as George Osborne said his house would be subject to inheritance tax as from 2017, but was told to wait until the Government paper on ATED is published. It was promised to be forthcoming after the summer recess, but there is still no sign of it and his lawyer is away for the next few weeks abroad.

David is cynical. ‘The Government only wants another round of ATED collection. The tax on homes owned through offshore companies has been a ‘windfall’. I suspect we won’t have the consultation paper until it is too late to get our properties out of offshore companies. If I want to de-envelope by the 1st April, I need to start the process at the latest in early February which is in two weeks or I face another year’s tax. My lawyer seems to think that paying another year’s tax excess of £100,000 is somehow fine – well it is not!’

Of course I was unable to comment, but told him that ATED and IHT on UK real estate was not going away and there were a number of options. Which option was best for him was dependent on his life expectancy, circumstances and priorities. It became clear after some discussion that David was planning to sell his home as soon as his wife and children no longer wanted to come to London together. His children were now in their early twenties and would soon want homes of their own.  His intention was therefore to sell in four years.

David easily made up his mind as to what he wanted to do. I said I could introduce him to an advisor who would quickly and inexpensively provide a tax audit of his offshore structure and then I would make sure the protector gave the necessary instructions to liquidate the Jersey Company.

David would then own his home directly with his wife as joint tenants.

David was delighted; he was able to get on with what he was convinced was the right thing to do, save many thousands of pounds of tax, and feel in control of his planning.

In David’s opinion his advisers had become complacent. Their holidays and international travel seemed to be of greater importance than the concerns of their clients. Although he had known his advisers for many years David felt they only ever responded when prodded and had never once picked up the phone to warn him of any dangers or to show real interest in his concerns.

If David is not alone in his frustrations, the industry which serves the UHNW community may not only face increased dangers of litigation from clients and HMRC– as I noted last week, but as the number of family offices which provide independent estate and succession planning advice grows so may the dissatisfaction with existing advisers become evident by business going elsewhere.