Peter Pexton, one of our partners and also the founder Chairman of the Jersey branch of STEP - the Society for Trust and Estate Practitioners, reviews the activities of the Jersey branch over the past year.

There are two certainties in life: death and taxation. Certainly, much effort and expense goes into trying to avoid both!

With proper planning, keeping one's assets in Jersey can legitimately avoid or defer tax. It may be less successful in deflecting the attention of the Grim Reaper, but at least the new Jersey Probate Law will greatly assist the smooth transfer of Jersey assets to one's heirs. The Branch was pleased to be involved in the detailed consultation process leading to the new legislation which now awaits Privy Council approval. Given the large number of deceased estates administered in Jersey (in 1996 over 2,100, of which only 671 related to local deaths), trust and estate practitioners will no doubt be exploring the exciting opportunities offered by the new provisions.

The range of probate applications is indicative of the truly international appeal of Jersey. The demand from our members for training in international matters confirms this is definitely the case for Jersey trustee services. The Branch has sought to satisfy these requirements with a wide range of seminars presented by leading specialist practitioners.

Developed jurisdictions are adopting tougher anti-tax avoidance measures and intrusive information disclosure requirements. As a result, trust and estate planning is becoming increasingly technical and specialised.

Being offshore is, in itself, no longer sufficient. The structures themselves must be correctly designed and implemented, with compliance issues receiving proper attention. This was the message delivered time and time again by our visiting lecturers. Although the robust attitude of the New World tax authorities was evident in separate presentations on trusts for Australia and for Canada, our speakers were able to identify continuing opportunities for Jersey trusts.

Our flagship event - the annual conference - was held in November and, as usual, played to a full house. Eminent speakers left us in no doubt that we live in a global economy, exploring current issues in France, US, UK and in competitor offshore centres. A talk on Revenue investigation powers introduced a chilling note, warning of severe criminal sanctions for those who stray, deliberately or accidentally, across the boundary between legitimate tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion. Authorities such as the Inland Revenue can and will deploy a formidable armoury of search, investigation and prosecution powers when necessary.

The international and investigation themes came together in a seminar on VAT and was particularly relevant for Jersey trusts and companies owning property and boats in the EU. The message again was that failure to comply with the rules will be costly. Another popular and instructive event was a mock trial presented by a leading firm of London solicitors, with the audience acting as judge and jury.

One unwelcome aspect of international activity is money laundering. Throughout the year, speakers have kept us informed on the proposed new anti-money laundering legislation, the so- called 'All Crimes Law'. The current discussions have rather overshadowed the existing legislation, so representatives from the States' Financial Investigation Unit updated us on the Island's successful fight against laundering the proceeds of terrorism and drug trafficking.

Our Branch now has 430 members and is the second largest in the world. The present minimum entry requirement is five years practical experience at a senior level, but most members hold other relevant professional qualifications. At the end of this year, membership by invitation will be replaced with entry by dissertation or examination. We have a small sub-committee researching how these requirements can best be tailored to suit the Jersey business environment.

STEP continues to support training by sponsoring probate courses run at Highlands College. The current programme of seminars addresses the complexities of administering the estates of Lloyds Underwriters, Scottish trust and property law (topical with forthcoming devolution) and a review of the recent UK tax changes affecting offshore trusts. We have another first class line-up of speakers for what will be our fifth international conference to be held on 13 November.

Important developments are likely later this year when draft legislation is published by the States introducing statutory control over the provision of professional trustee services. This could well be pioneering law with no equivalent anywhere else. Recent Royal Court cases have considered the rights of beneficiaries to trust information, and this whole topic is now dealt with in a comprehensive discussion document released by the Jersey Law Commission. We look forward to providing the opportunity for Branch members to consider the effects of the draft law and the tentative conclusions of the Law Commission when these are issued.

In STEP, our members are participators, not spectators. Lectures are generally presented by members to members. In this way, information is shared and costs are kept to a minimum. The multi-disciplinary approach of STEP appears well suited to meeting the ever more demanding requirements of an international clientele. The Branch will continue to draw on the resources of STEP to provide focused and relevant training opportunities for Jersey trust and estate practitioners.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

For further information please contact:

Veronica Tonge
Ernst & Young Trust Company (Jersey) Limited
PO Box 621
Le Gallais Chambers
54 Bath Street
St Helier
Channel Islands

Tel No: 01534 501000
Fax No: 01534 23265
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