I remember during my legal studies, Trust law was not a popular subject. The French authorities do not like Trusts either. They don’t understand them, they mistrust them (pardon the pun). Interestingly Trusts originated in France, in Normandy, during the crusades. Crusaders entrusted their property to trusted third parties to manage until their return and the “trustees” had to pay the income to the crusader’s family. However today, the French authorities view Trusts as a way to hide assets (to avoid Wealth Tax for example) whereas from a UK perspective Trusts are a very useful way of managing assets for people who cannot manage them themselves and/or require protection. They are very often used in wills but when the beneficiary, settlor or trustee decides to go and live in France they may have forgotten all about the Trust and have no idea about the reporting obligations for Trusts in France.
Things are even more complicated by the notion of “deemed settlor”. When a settlor dies, the beneficiaries are deemed to be the settlor of the trust assets. Article 885 G ter of the French Tax Code states that the settlor or the “deemed settlor”, if their assets exceed the wealth tax threshold, must include the net value of the assets of the trust in the assessment of their assets on 1st January of the tax year.
Trusts are very often managed by solicitor’s firms and may contain investment portfolios. If a beneficiary is resident in another country the Trust falls under the requirement to report under the Common Reporting Standard Automatic Exchange of Information rules introduced by the OECD (please see my colleague Derek’s article).
There are two declarations which have to be filed. One for every event i.e. when the trust is created, amended or terminated, which must be filed in the month following the event. The other declaration is annual and must be made by the 15th June of each year and show the assets in the Trust as at 1st January of the same year. There is no income tax return for the Trust itself but beneficiaries should declare the income they receive from the Trust (whether it is dividends, interest, proceeds from sales of shares or rent from a property within the Trust) on their annual tax return form. If distributions are made to the beneficiaries, it may also be worth filing an event return mentioning the amounts distributed throughout the year.
Both of the Trust declarations require details (names, dates of birth, addresses etc) of each and every settlor, trustee and beneficiary whether or not they are French tax resident. It is the Trustees responsibility to file the information and the Trustee who will be liable for failure to declare, late declarations and for any penalties.
Since 8 December 2013, Trustees who failed to comply with their reporting requirements could have been fined €20,000 or 12.5% of the total value of the assets held in the trust, whichever was higher. For declarations due before this date the fine was only 5% of the assets in the trust or €10,000.
In March 2017 the French Constitutional Council ruled that the 5% or 12.5% penalties were unconstitutional with effect from 1st January 2017. The €20,000 fine does still apply however and can be cumulative, applying to each return that has not been filed on time.
With the Common Reporting Standards currently being enacted by the UK (including Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man) and France, I believe that there will be a lot more questions from the French tax authorities in the near future and in particular regarding undeclared bank accounts and trusts. Whilst the French tax authorities ask nicely the first time, if they suspect that assets or income have not been declared they do have the power to apply these fines. To better understand your tax obligations as regards Trusts, please do not hesitate to contact me.