Monday, February 13, 2012

Why the wealthy are moving their money offshore

[Jim Duggan, a tax and estate planning attorney who specializes in wealth management issues for the very rich,] says a growing number of wealthy people are looking into moving some of their money offshore. "The interest in offshore planning has increased basically by a factor of five in the last ten years," he says. Clients want to talk to him about it all the time.

Why?

Contrary to popular opinion, it's not really to save on taxes.

That's because American taxpayers are taxed on their worldwide income -- so if you're making $10,000 (or $10 million) in interest on a bank account in, say, the Caymans or Switzerland, you're getting taxed by Uncle Sam as if you're making it in a bank account here.

It's easy to scoff and assume the rich are hiding their money and cheating. Doubtless some are. But enforcement is tight, and the penalties aren't so much draconian as medieval. They are far more severe than for tax evasion onshore.

And there are plenty of tax shelters available here in the U.S. anyway -- such as trusts in low tax states, buying life insurance, and variable annuities.

So what are the real reasons the rich are casing the Caymans with their cash?

There are two, says Duggan: Litigation risk, and political risk.

Yes: Political risk. Or, as he puts in a nice legal euphemism, "jurisdictional diversification."

Litigation risk is the old reason. You could get hit by a crazy lawsuit here in the U.S. The wealthy are an easy mark, and anything onshore is vulnerable. ...

The new reason, though, is political risk: "Diversification from our government, policies, and banking systems," says Duggan. The last few years have shaken faith in our system. Duggan says growing numbers of his clients are worried about the financial system, confiscation -- the whole shebang. "They're concerned about our government, and where our society is headed. There's a lot of socialistic tendencies, capital controls, the redistribution of wealth."
--Brett Arends, SmartMoney, on offshore accounts as insurance