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NOTE: While the article below
is directed towards those in the upper income brackets, it is nonetheless
an extremely interesting article for all of us. It appeared in the November
1994 issue of Forbes Magazine. What has happened since 1994? The numbers
of expatriates mentioned in the article are misleading. A comparative look
at the procurable statistics from the U.S. State Department show that as
far back as 1971 there were approximately 1.5 million American civilians
living abroad. Today the U.S. State Department claims that there are 2.5
million; but they are basing those figures on expatriate Americans who
are paying taxes.* The number of Americanís who may have chosen to quietly
escape from the burden of paying into a system that will not meet their
needs because it cannot meet their needs could easily triple the number
of expatriate Americans. The U.S. Government has created a 5 trillion dollar
debt, which works out to $20,000.00 for every man, woman and child in America.
Any person who assumes that there is going to be any sort of Social Security,
Medicare, or other U.S. Government programs twenty years hence may well
be in for a big surprise. We did a lot of research for our book Escape
From America. Our research shows us that Americans are leaving America
in record numbers and most of those who are leaving are not telling anyone
they are leaving. What is crucial to understand, is that while there is
a record of those who enter America, there are no requirements whatsoever
for anyone to register that they are leaving. Statistics taken by Money
Magazine show that one in five Americans has considered leaving America,
and that three million Americans would do so right this moment if they
only knew how.
Excerpted: Forbes, Nov 21, 1994 v154 n12 p131(5)
"I TALK TO A new client interested in expatriating every week. Many people can't pay the federal tax rate and live in the style they want." So said Francis Mirabello, the head of the personal law department at the Philadelphia office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, speaking at a Bermuda conference on offshore money early this fall.
Expatriating? Give up U.S. citizenship? Who in his right mind would give up his U.S. citizenship? Lots of people. You could practically fill a Boeing 747 with well-heeled U.S. citizens who have taken on foreign citizenship rather than submit to what Learned Hand called "enforced exactions" at a level that amounts to virtual confiscation. The exodus may speed up under an Administration that campaigned for office on a tax-the-rich platform.
In 1981 Ronald Reagan lowered taxes. The following year not a single American gave up his citizenship. In 1993 the expatriate community grew by 306 names.
The expatriates of recent years have included:
Michael Dingman, chairman of Abex, and a Ford Motor director. Dingman is now a citizen of the Bahamas and lives there.
Billionaire John (Ippy) Dorrance III, an heir to the Campbell Soup fortune. Dorrance is now a citizen of Ireland and lives there as well as in the Bahamas and Devil's Tower, Wyo.
J. Mark Mobius, one of the most successful emerging market investment managers. Born a U.S. citizen, Mobius has the German citizenship of his ancestors and lives in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Kenneth Dart, an heir to Dart Container and his family's $1 billion fortune. He is a citizen of Belize and works in the Cayman Islands.
Ted Arison, founder of Carnival Cruise Lines. He kept Israeli citizenship and now lives there.
These newer emigrants join others of longer standing, including Robert Miller, the co-owner of Duty Free Shoppers International Ltd. Miller has a British passport obtained in Hong Kong, though he was raised in Quincy, Mass.
The U.S. is virtually the only country in the world that imposes significant income and death taxes on the worldwide income and assets of every citizen, even if the citizen is domiciled elsewhere. Even Canada, semisocialist, did away with estate taxes.
"Expatriation has been called the ultimate estate plan," says William Zabel, senior partner of Schulte Roth & Zabel, one of the nation's foremost authorities on trusts and estates, and author of the upcoming book The Rich Die Richer--And You Can Too.
The arithmetic is simple and brutal. A very rich Bahamian citizen pays zero estate tax; rich Americans--anyone with an estate worth $3 million or more--pay 55%. A fairly stiff 37% marginal rate kicks in for Americans leaving as little as $600,000 to their children. The marginal rate--what you pay on an additional dollar of assets--ranges upward from there to 60%. You get a credit for some or all of your state inheritance taxes, but your combined rate will still be in this range, or higher.
There are huge potential income tax savings, too, in giving up U.S. citizenship. St. Kitts-Nevis and the Cayman Islands, among others, levy no income taxes. Little wonder so many of the expatriate Americans have gone to the Caribbean for a year-round suntan.
Not that living in the Bahamas is any great sacrifice. Michael Dingman is building a 15,000-square-foot home at the exclusive Lyford Cay club in Nassau that will include a dock for his personal yacht. Cost: more than $10 million, but--who knows?--he might save more than that much in taxes.
The heirs of John (Ippy) Dorrance III, the Campbell Soup heir, won't have to pay Uncle Sam the maximum bite of 55% on the 26.7 million shares of Campbell Soup that make up most of his $1-billion-plus fortune. His new fatherland, Ireland, levies a 2% estate, or probate, tax. In any event, Dorrance doesn't escape the full federal income taxes. There's a U.S. withholding tax of 30% on the $30 million he gets in dividends every year from Campbell.
Many of these expatriates agonize over the decision, however. "I have serious reservations about expatriation for patriotic and practical reasons," says tax expert Zabel. "It is extraordinarily difficult for Americans to get back their citizenship once it is given up. To get it back you have to start like any other nonresident alien, with a green card, and go through the naturalization process.
"Before expatriating, I make my clients consider all the limitations on loss of citizenship--like giving up the ability to travel to the U.S. more than 120 days a year."
But losing that American passport isn't as hazardous as it once was. Profligate government policies are steadily eroding the value of the U.S. dollar, making overseas investments increasingly preferable for the wealthy. Investments in emerging markets look increasingly attractive. The end of the cold war means wealthy Americans can live in many developing nations safely. Global communication and jet travel facilitate an offshore lifestyle. What with computers and cable TV, you can be as well informed, and as quickly, living in Antigua as in New York City.
It certainly seems that way to Frederick Krieble, a director and former treasurer of Loctite Corp., the Rocky Hill, Conn. manufacturer of sealants and adhesives. Krieble, whose father, Robert, was formerly Loctite chairman, moved to Turks and Caicos Islands, where he runs an investment company. Krieble owns almost 1 million shares of Loctite, worth over $43 million.
"It's 85 degrees, but the market's down 35 points," Krieble told FORBES recently. When he heard we wanted to discuss the subject of expatriation, Krieble clammed up. "I don't wish to discuss that. Have to run now."
Yes, it's a bit embarrassing, but consider the consequences: decimation of your estate and huge reductions in your after-tax income.
Thus many money managers, senior executives and self-made entrepreneurs are on the phone quizzing their lawyers and accountants about how to leave the high-tax U.S.
Jane Siebels-Kilnes, a vice president of Templeton, Galbraith & Hansberger, in Nassau, told FORBES she was "following in the footsteps of Sir John Templeton," who gave up his U.S. citizenship in 1962 and moved to Nassau. Thus when Templeton sold his mutual fund management company in October 1992, he may have saved more than $100 million in capital gains taxes. Templeton, an extremely generous and public-spirited man, gives most of his money away. Apparently he wants to decide who gets the benefits rather than letting Donna Shalala or Mario Cuomo decide.
Siebels-Kilnes became a Norwegian citizen this year and moved her residence from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. to Nassau. "I've spoken to a number of hedge fund managers who are thinking of giving up their citizenship. It may be better to be offshore running offshore money before American authorities clamp down on the advantages," says Siebels-Kilnes.
A hot spot: St. Kitts-Nevis. All it requires is owning $150,000 worth of local real estate and paying $50,000 in fees, and presto. St. Kitts-Nevis levies neither a personal income tax nor an estate tax.
Top executives of midwestern industrial companies nearing retirement are considering expatriation as a way to ensure a high standard of living in a comfortable environment.
Is it greed alone that impels these citizenship changes? Not necessarily.
"These people love to challenge all the rules, even recognizing they may isolate themselves," says Carol Caruthers, a partner of Price Waterhouse in St. Louis. "We are doing preliminary planning for a few of them."
Expatriation is a fairly easy choice for many wealthy Americans who hold dual citizenship--as Mobius already did--and whose wealth is heavily concentrated abroad anyhow. "Since they may inherit these assets, a planning opportunity might be to give up U.S. citizenship in order to avoid taxation on assets and income that have no connection to the U.S.," says Robert C. Lawrence III, a Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft partner in New York who is advising on several such expatriations.
You'll need an ace attorney. If the Internal Revenue Service suspects you are renouncing your citizenship to avoid taxes, it will try to tax your holdings for another ten years, no matter where you live. All the IRS need establish is that it is reasonable to believe you gave up citizenship to avoid taxes. Then, the burden of proving the move was not for tax reasons falls on the former citizen.
But whatever the drawbacks, many nations put out the welcome mat for tax-averse Americans.
Lawyer Mirabello, who is working on six expatriations, is changing citizenship for a superwealthy Chinese-American whose headquarters is in Hong Kong. He has never set foot in the U.S. and wants to avoid estate taxes when he passes the empire to his children.
Some of Mirabello's clients are considering becoming Irish citizens. What does that require? Certainly no hardship, given what a pleasant place Ireland is for those with money. They need only buy a home there and reside there at least part of the year.
Why Ireland? An Irish passport lets its holder travel hassle-free in any member of the European Union. It also has more panache than a passport from Belize or St. Kitts, two small tropical outposts. And, Dublin is being developed as a global money center with tax advantages for individual and corporate investors.
How do you get an Irish passport? It should be fairly easy for the rich. New regulations will probably require a $1.6 million investment in a job producing operation like the reforestation of an area or modernization of a shipbuilding concern. This is the so called business migration scheme, administered in Dublin by the Department of Justice. Its guidelines are currently being reexamined for political reasons.
Another attractive destination is Switzerland. "You can pretty well negotiate your own private agreement with a Swiss canton about your annual income taxes," asserts Lawrence.
Can an affluent American keep the politicians at bay without sacrificing citizenship? It's not easy. Wealthy people hold over $2 trillion in offshore accounts from Zurich to the Cayman islands. No doubt some of these accounts are held by Americans who--illegally--omit mention of them on their tax returns.
Merrill Lynch, like all major investment firms, has a piece of this business. Merrill will not accept offshore accounts from U.S. citizens, but it is eager to service foreigners.
"Offshore money is growing faster than any other part of the financial services industry. It's multiplying at a double-digit rate of growth," says Nassos Michas, head of Merrill Lynch's private banking division. Merrill's trust bank in the Caymans, with assets growing at over $100 million a month, has almost $5 billion of wealthy individuals' holdings.
Actually, the Caymans trust is just a file for legal purposes. Merrill's banks in Geneva, New York and London hold the securities. The accounting is done in Singapore; the administration is done on the Isle of Man, famed for its trust business.
Wealthy Europeans, Latin Americans, Asians and Middle Easterners are Merrill's principal clients here. They want to buffer their fortunes against expropriation, political unrest, economic instability, angry first wives, kidnapping, family members, creditors and potential litigants.
Wealthy Europeans have expatriated their money to safety ever since the French Revolution, when they began hiding it in Switzerland.
When the Germans occupied the Netherlands in 1940, this activated a trust instrument transferring ownership from the homeland to a trust at a U.S. bank. In Europe, where the pounding of marching feet and air raid warnings are of recent memory, use of such trusts was common, at least up until the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Today many wealthy Kuwaitis have trusts offshore to protect their fortunes from Saddam Hussein. The rich in Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Middle East remember that it was only yesterday that their countries were ruled by thieving populists or arbitrary soldiers.
What is new is that Americans are beginning to feel the same sort of residual uncertainty about their possessions. They see courts eroding property rights. They read about bureaucrats who talk about "tax expenditures" when referring to that part of your earnings that they permit you to keep. They are subjected to retroactive taxation under the Clinton "deficit reduction bill." They live in a society that changes the tax rules so frequently that long-term planning is almost impossible.
So they consult legal experts like Cadwalader's Lawrence, who is an authority on generational and international planning, including the use of trusts, and taxation. "They want to sequester, organize and protect the privacy and maintenance of their wealth, plus the freedom to transfer it as they wish," says Lawrence.
But how, short of leaving for some sand dune in the Caribbean?
There are several clever strategies you can use to minimize the future tax bite on your estate (see box, opposite), but the fact is that Congress has done a very thorough job of plugging chinks in the tax code. Parking assets abroad or setting up holding companies will not get you out of the U.S.' steep income and estate tax rates. You really have to give up citizenship to get a big tax savings.
It's easier for foreigners who have property in the U.S. to avoid the worst of American taxation, but even for them there are pitfalls. They must pay U.S. estate taxes on assets held in the U.S. unless they safeguard them by means of an offshore legal structure. Only certain fixed-income investments are immune from the IRS.
A foreigner can shelter his U.S. assets in the following way: Set up a trust outside the U.S. in some tax-advantaged locale, such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands. "The foreign trust must own an underlying holding company, called a private investment company (PIC)," Lawrence says.
"The PIC opens an investment account in the U.S. Otherwise, a foreign individual who has a stocks-and-bonds portfolio of U.S. companies would be subject to U.S. estate tax. If the securities are owned by a true foreign corporation, the individual is not subject to the estate tax. The foreign corporation acts like a shield to the estate tax."
The IRS can't be happy about these paper-shuffling arrangements. Indeed, Lawrence is afraid it may crack down on them. But before you cheer at the prospect of making them furriners pay up, remember this: The U.S. needs foreign capital because we don't save enough. We must compete for that capital with lots of other places. Treat the capital shabbily and it can go elsewhere.
"I'm afraid that foreign capital may be scared away from the U.S. because of taxes and the complexity of our regulation," Lawrence warns.
It could happen, Lawrence insists. He points to the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act, passed in 1980, which forces foreigners to pay a capital gains tax when they sell real estate in the U.S. We shudder to think what would happen to the U.S. stock and bond markets if foreign paper holdings were similarly taxed.
It will come as a shock to many people to learn about the growing band of expatriates. But it is not unpatriotic to remind Americans that ours is no longer the only show in town as a place to invest. At a time when we urge developing countries to cut taxes and make capital more secure, a lot is happening to make it less secure and more heavily taxed at home. Those who give up their citizenship to escape Clintonomics and wealth redistribution are only the extreme part of a worrisome trend.
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