Expert Interview: The importance of estate planning in a complex world

Laurence Black is the Regional Director of Client Solutions, EMEA at Asiaciti Trust, and has over 30 years of experience in wealth structuring for HNW clients in the GCC region.

Last month, I was fortunate to catch up with Asiaciti Trust’s Laurence Black, for a conversation on the development of wealth and estate planning in the Middle East. During our discussion, Laurence noted how rapidly things are changing in the UAE — for the better — and how the advisory and services industry is challenged to keep clients and structures abreast of the latest developments and trends.

He also explained how Asiaciti Trust is working independently and increasingly also in collaboration with international partners like ourselves to solve the puzzle of optimal estate planning structures often across multiple jurisdictions.

RW: So, Laurence, why should I consider estate planning?

LB: Like investing for the future, having an estate plan is among the most important things we can do for ourselves and our loved ones. Not only will we get to outline our wishes, but it also avoids time-consuming and costly probate for our family members. It is, however, a task that many people do not consider until later in life. If there is one thing I can recommend, it is that it is never too early to start planning, but it can be too late.

If you do not have an estate plan to provide for your loved ones in the event of death or upon incapacity, you should consider putting one in place.

RW: Is this an easy process?

LB: If you are new to the concept of estate planning, it may seem overwhelming but do not let that deter you. An easy place to start is with the basics.

An estate plan is a collection of legal documents that set forth how you want your assets distributed when you pass away, and how you want people to handle health and financial decisions if you are unable to do so for yourself during your lifetime.

With a comprehensive estate plan in place, you will feel more confident about the future, knowing your loved ones will be taken care of and that the legacy you leave behind is the one you want.

Planning now can help to avoid probate fees, and ensure your family will have less to worry about when you are gone; however, failing to make plans for your estate can lead to unintended complications.

Putting in place a will, guardianship documents, trust or foundation are important steps to consider for both your estate planning and wealth protection.

RW: Is there anything to consider if I already have such provisions in place?

LB: Since the world is in constant flux, there is a need to review legacy plans regularly. Understanding the unique challenges of our clients’ – often international – family dynamics, evolving needs, and aspirations requires experienced professionals and specialists like you and me to engage in extensive consultations with them.

RW: Where do we start?

LB: Listen first. It remains essential to listen very carefully to the client’s requirements, and then devise the most robust and relevant solutions. “It seems that the global trend towards transparency in all matters, especially tax, is becoming more important in this region, and this is a key element we must communicate to clients and bear in mind when formulating our strategies and solutions,” Laurence explained.

RW: Can you explain what trust is?

LB: A trust is a legal arrangement or fiduciary relationship in which one party (the settlor), gives another party (the trustee) the responsibility to hold title to property or assets for the benefit of a third party (the beneficiary). The settlor and the beneficiary can be the same person. Real estate, cash, investment portfolio, operating businesses, shares, jewellery, art collections and other items of value can all be placed in a trust.

Trusts are established to protect assets and ensure these are distributed in an orderly manner according to the wishes of the settlor. A Trust must be established at the right time and for the right reasons for the settlor’s intentions to be fulfilled.

RW: What is the difference between a Will and a Trust?

LP: In summary…

A Will:

  • Comes into force after death.
  • May be a public document.
  • Assets left under your Will may be subjected to inheritance/gift tax or forced heirship rules of your place of residence and/or the place the assets are held.
  • Beneficiaries are entitled upon death (or grant of probate).
  • Does not normally allow the ongoing wishes of the settlor to be followed after death.
  • Subject to probate which can be costly and time-consuming, meaning the assets are effectively frozen whilst probate is obtained.
  • Recommended for each country in which assets are held.

A Trust:

  • Can be established during your lifetime.
  • Typically not a public document.
  • Not subject to inheritance/gift tax or forced heirship rules.
  • Allows far more flexibility as to when beneficiaries receive benefits.
  • Allows the ongoing wishes of the settlor to be followed after death.
  • Not subject to probate administration.
  • Can hold assets in many different geographical locations, either directly or through underlying companies.

RW: How can we help clients?

LB: Talk to a trusted, qualified trust and estate practitioner.

As an independent service provider since its inception more than 40 years ago, Asiaciti Trust advises can offer private clients flexible solutions for structuring, establishing and administering trusts, foundations, funds and corporate vehicles for the purposes of estate planning, succession planning, wealth protection and philanthropic endeavours. Solutions for private clients include customised cross-border structures and Sharia-compliant trust deeds or foundations.

As an international trust and corporate services provider, our firm is also able to leverage its network of offices and professional contacts in multiple jurisdictions – Singapore, Hong Kong, the Cook Islands, Dubai, Nevis, New Zealand, Panama and Samoa – to bring specialised wealth structuring and asset preservation services exclusively to high net worth individuals and their families.

In summary

Convey the best concepts…

As a well-known expert with a wealth of experience, Laurence is well-placed to provide solutions in the arena of structuring family wealth for preservation, growth and ease of transition to family members and younger generations, the last of these being increasingly important as the Middle East founder-patriarchs begin to pass on their wealth and businesses to the second and younger generations.

Collaboration in a complex world…

During our discussion, Laurence stresses that understanding the client, having the right solutions, and collaborating to assemble all the key elements in one package is vital for any provider wanting to survive and prosper in the fiduciary services world.

“We remain driven by devising and executing best-in-class solutions for our clients with the right structures onshore and offshore,” he explains.

Ross Whatnall

Ross Whatnall is CEO and co-founder of GSB and a highly experienced private client director. Ross holds many insurance and investment management qualifications, including CISI, CII, LIBF and CFA. He started his career in private banking with HSBC in the UK before moving to the UAE in 2013 to focus on serving his private clients.

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