Passing wealth to your children while retaining control
What you need to know
- A family investment company (FIC) can act as a shelter from the higher rates of personal taxation
- It can also enable you to pass wealth to your family while retaining control
- FICs shouldn’t be expensive to administer, but you should seek expert tax advice at the outset
- Always consider if there are other wrappers which can be combined with, or used instead of, FICs
Passing on wealth to younger generations is a common goal for families, but many fear the worst could happen if they simply hand over cash to their children.
Instead parents often look for ways to retain some control over this wealth, while also maximising tax efficiency.
Family investment companies (FICs) can be seen as a useful way to achieve these goals, as they are a tax-efficient wrapper for investments and can form part of an inheritance tax (IHT) planning strategy. But there are some drawbacks users must also be aware of.
In this article we will consider the pros and cons of using FICs. But please note Rothschild & Co does not provide tax advice and you should contact a tax adviser before making any financial decisions.
We work with a network of tax experts who can help you make the best decision for your circumstances and structure an FIC to meet the needs of you and your family.
What is a family investment company?
FICs are UK resident companies which hold investments, and whose shares are normally held by a few members of the same family – typically parents and their children.
It’s this simplicity, and the fact that many investors are already familiar with the concept of a company, that makes FICs so popular.
FICs are normally created for two reasons:
- They are used to serve as a tax-efficient wrapper for holding investments, since the FIC will normally pay tax at lower rates than individuals.
- FICs are often part of an IHT or succession planning strategy. An FIC may be particularly appropriate where a parent wishes to pass wealth to his or her children but is keen not to give the children control of the wealth.
FICs are used as a tax-efficient wrapper for holding investments, since the FIC will normally pay tax at lower rates than individuals."
A good way to highlight the benefits of FICs is to consider an example.
John has recently sold his family company and has £20 million to invest. He wishes to provide for his two sons, who are 18 and 20, but wants to ensure they remain motivated to build their careers. His solicitor suggested an FIC as an appropriate family investment vehicle.
John forms the FIC as a UK company and lends £20 million to the FIC. The funds within the FIC are invested by Rothschild & Co. Dividends received by the company are tax free and corporation tax rates are often – but not always – lower than income tax rates.
Moreover, investment management fees paid by the FIC may be tax deductible.
If John wants to withdraw some of his money from the FIC, the company can repay part of the loan to John and there will be no tax for John on that receipt.
John gifts some of the shares in the FIC to his children, and there is no tax on this gift provided he survives it by seven years. Moreover, John’s solicitor has structured the children’s shares so that John retains effective control and he decides when the children receive the value represented by their shares.
The FIC also enables John to involve his sons in discussions on matters such as the purpose of the wealth and in what circumstances the children should be able to receive funds from the FIC, such as helping them buy a home.
Navigating the pros and cons
We have set out the ways families can benefit, but it’s important to note there are also several potential disadvantages of using family investment companies.
Families should think carefully before using an FIC as, depending on the circumstances, there may be a more appropriate vehicle.
FICs pay corporation tax and so if tax rates were to rise they would become less efficient.
Capital gains in FICs are already taxed at 25% whereas the rate for an individual is currently 20%.1
It’s also worth noting that FICs should be long term vehicles and it’s not appropriate to dismantle them within a few years of their creation.
This means your children may effectively be locked into the structure. If your child wished to extract money from the company to start their own business, they would not be able to do so without triggering a tax charge.
Likewise, if the family member who created the FIC asks it to repay their loan, the company will have to sell assets and will trigger a tax bill for the FIC.
There are also annual running costs of the FIC to consider, although these will not normally be large. Details of the company, including its value, may be a matter of public record, although the amount of information publicly available can be reduced by using an unlimited company.
Also worth noting is that FICs are becoming more common and this may result in HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) attempting to challenge them, or introducing legislation to negate their tax advantages.
From a tax perspective FICs are not straightforward, so you should always seek advice from a tax expert, particularly if you have children under the age of 18.
From a tax perspective FICs are not straightforward, so you should always seek advice from a tax expert."
Alternative family investments
Before choosing an FIC, you should take a look at the alternatives, or consider combining the FIC with another wrapper for increased efficiency.
A trust can be a more flexible vehicle than a company. However, in many cases there will be a 20% IHT charge levied by HMRC when you create a trust, meaning their use is more restricted.2
Your tax adviser can advise you on the options available to you and the most efficient vehicle to use.
Should I use a family investment company?
There’s no right answer to this question as it will depend on your objectives. The answer may be yes if you wish to pass assets to your children while retaining control.
FICs can also act as an investment wrapper and are particularly useful for real estate, which cannot normally be held in other wrappers.
However, if you have no wish to undertake IHT planning, there may be more suitable vehicles to achieve compound growth on your assets.
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