On February 1st, 2017, the Indian Finance Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley, presented the Government of India’s annual financial statement for 2017-18, commonly referred to as the Union Budget. As is tradition, the Budget was accompanied by proposals to amend the direct tax regime contained in the Indian Income-tax Act, 1961 (IT Act).

Two proposed amendments, in particular, will cause considerable angst to estate practitioners across the country as they are likely to have a significant impact on estate planning structures commonly used in India. Ultimately, it will be Indian families looking at undertaking their succession planning, who will suffer when dealing with the consequences of such amendments.

The first proposed amendment relates to a ‘gift tax’ in respect of assets received by taxpayers (assessees) without consideration or for inadequate consideration. The other pertains to an ‘additional dividend tax’ on dividend income received from companies in which the taxpayer holds shares.

Notably, neither of these proposed amendments introduces a new levy. Instead, they attempt to plug gaps in the IT Act, which presently exclude certain assessees from the ambit of existing taxes. But if these proposed amendments are passed in their current form – as it is likely they will be – they are expected to considerably reduce the fiscal efficiency, and consequently attractiveness, of trusts as estate planning tools.
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