The Use of a Swiss Trustee: How and Why?

Trusts originated in England in the 12th century and developed across many Common Law jurisdictions. Trusts are now also used by many Civil Law jurisdictions.

Dixcart in Switzerland and Trust Services

The Dixcart office in Switzerland is a member of the Swiss Association of Trust Companies (SATC) and is registered with the Association Romande des Intermediaires Financiers in Switzerland (ARIF).

Switzerland and the Use of Trusts

Switzerland does not have specific Trust Law, but recognised trusts with the ratification of The Hague Convention on the Law Applicable to Trusts (1985) on 1 July 2007.

Whilst there is no domestic law governing trusts in Switzerland, trusts from other jurisdictions, and their specific rules, are recognised and can be administered in Switzerland.

In Switzerland the Settlor (the individual who settles assets into the trust for the benefit of the Beneficiaries) can choose the law of any specified trust jurisdiction to govern the trust. For example a Guernsey trust can be established with a Swiss Trustee. The Trustee holds and manages the assets in the trust on behalf of the Beneficiaries.

Why Use a Trust?

A trust is a very flexible instrument and is particularly useful for estate planning, wealth management and asset protection.

At a basic level, the concept of a trust is relatively simple: the Settlor places assets in the legal custody of another (Trustee), who holds the assets for the benefit of a third party (Beneficiary). The trust is not a separate legal entity, but more of a legal obligation agreed between two parties: the Settlor and the Trustee.

Trustees owe a fiduciary duty to both the Settlor and the Beneficiaries, as well as to the trust itself. Depending on the jurisdiction under whose laws the trust is constituted, the trust can either have a pre-determined life span or be indefinite. Trusts are intrinsically very flexible.

Why use a Swiss Trustee?

There are a number of reasons why use of a Swiss Trustee can be advantageous:

  • Swiss economic, political and legal stability provides a solid base for the provision of local administration services.
  • Switzerland has a number of favourable and well developed banking laws, and has been a popular international private banking centre for many years. It is a jurisdiction with a good reputation and offers a high quality of knowledgeable professionals working within asset management, tax planning and private banking.
  • Switzerland has a well deserved reputation for discreet professional support when managing the affairs of wealthy private individuals.
  • Switzerland is located in the centre of Europe where many affluent individuals are based. Swiss Trustees therefore offer the advantage of being able to provide frequent and high quality support as they can regularly meet appropriate clients in Switzerland.

Taxation of Trusts in Switzerland

The Hague Convention (Article. 19) stipulates that the Convention does not prejudice the powers of sovereign states in fiscal matters. Consequently Switzerland has maintained its sovereignty in relation to the tax treatment of trusts.

The tax advantages available in using a trust with a Swiss Trustee essentially depend on the tax residence of the Settlor and the Beneficiaries.

In terms of Swiss Law:

  • A Swiss resident Trustee is not liable to Swiss income tax or capital gains tax on the assets held under management in a trust.
  • Settlors and Beneficiaries are exempt from Swiss taxation as long as they are not considered to be Swiss residents.

Regulation of Swiss Trustees

Swiss Trustees have to be registered as financial intermediaries in accordance with Swiss Anti Money Laundering Law. They can be registered with the Central Regulatory Authority or with a self-regulatory organisation (SRO), which must be recognised by the Swiss Federal State.

Annual Accounts

The Swiss Association of Trust Companies (SATC) provides in its Code of Ethics and Business Conduct that: “A Member must keep adequate, suitably detailed and orderly records for each trust. A Member must ensure that records are maintained for an appropriate number of years.”

Protection

Under Common Law the Trustee is the owner of the assets and is required to administer the trust assets separately from his own assets. In the event of death or bankruptcy of the Trustee, the assets are not considered as belonging to the Trustee but are submitted to the trust’s protection and held separately for the Beneficiaries. The trust’s assets are therefore segregated from the Trustee’s estate.

Confidentiality in Switzerland

Switzerland is well known for its commitment to banking services, professional confidentiality and commercial competence.

SATC provides that: “Any and all information related to a trusteeship and acquired by a Member must be kept strictly confidential by the Member, its directors, officers and other employees.”

A breach of confidentiality, whether professional or commercial, would only be permitted by law in the event of criminal liability.

Summary

An English, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Maltese or Nevis Law based trust with Swiss Trustees can offer a number of tax efficiencies as well as advantages in terms of wealth preservation and confidentiality. Dixcart can establish and manage such trust structures.

Additional Information

If you would like more information on this subject please speak to Christine Breitler at the Dixcart office in Geneva: advice.switzerland@dixcart.com or to your usual Dixcart contact.

Please also see our Trusts and Foundations page for further information.

Dixcart Trustees (Switzerland) SA is a member of SATC and registered with ARIF Switzerland

Portugal 1

Armed Guards to be Allowed on Board Portuguese Flagged Ships – Where Piracy Is Prevalant

New Law

On 10 January 2019, the Portuguese Council of Ministers approved a law to allow armed guards to sail on Portuguese flagged vessels.

This measure is long-awaited by the International Shipping Registry of Madeira (MAR) and by ship owners registered within it. The increase in financial loss due to hijackings and ransom demands, and the risk to human lives, as a result of hostage taking has led shipowners to demand such a of measure. Ship owners prefer to pay for additional protection rather than being potential victims of piracy.

Measures to Address the Increasingly Frequent Problem of Piracy

Unfortunately, piracy now constitutes a major threat to the shipping industry and it is recognised that the use of armed guards on board vessels is crucial to the decrease the number of piracy incidents.

The regime to be established by this law enables shipowners of Portuguese flagged vessels to hire private security companies, employing armed personnel to be on board ships, in order to protect these vessels when operating in areas of high piracy risk. The law also provides for the option to hire security contractors headquartered within the EU or EEA to protect Portuguese vessels.

Portugal will be joining the increasing number of ‘Flag States’ that allow the use of armed guards on board. This step is therefore logical and consistent with the actions being taken by a number of other countries.

Portugal and Shipping

As recently as November 2018 the Portuguese tonnage tax and seafarer scheme was enacted. The objective is to encourage new shipping companies by offering tax advantages, not only to shipowners, but also to seafarers. For more information regarding the advantages of the new Portuguese tonnage tax, please refer to the Dixcart Article: IN538 The Portuguese Tonnage Tax Scheme For Ships – What Benefits Will It Offer?.

The Madeira Shipping Registry (MAR): Other Advantages

This new law is designed to enhance Portugal’s shipping registry and Portugal’s second shipping register, the Madeira Registry (MAR). It is part of a comprehensive plan to develop the country’s entire maritime industry. This includes companies and individuals owning ships, shipping related infrastructure, maritime suppliers and those working in the maritime industry.

The Madeira Registry is already the fourth largest international shipping register within the EU. Its registered gross tonnage is over 15.5 million and its fleet comprises vessels from the largest shipowners such as APM-Maersk, MSC  (Mediterranean Shipping Company), CMA, CGM Group and Cosco Shipping. Please see: IN518 Why the International Shipping Register of Madeira (MAR) is so Attractive.

How Can Dixcart Help?

Dixcart has extensive experience working with the owners and operators of commercial vessels as well as pleasure and commercial yachts, registered with the Portuguese Registry and/or MAR. We can assist with the permanent and/or bareboat registration of vessels, re-flagging, mortgages and the establishment of corporate owning and/or operational structures for the holding or management of vessels.

Additional Information

If you require additional information on this topic, please speak to your usual Dixcart contact, or to Gisela Martins at the Dixcart office in Madeira:

advice.portugal@dixcart.com.