Devaluations

Over the last few days, the plummeting value of sterling and the volatility in the stock markets have been big news. Markets hate uncertainty and at the moment, there is a lot of uncertainty about and this is a feature that will remain for some time. This is likely to mean a period of prolonged volatility for traditional investments (such as stocks and shares) and, depending on the timetable for Brexit to be implemented, potentially for interest rates – both to manage inflation and seek to build investor confidence. What this volatility will look like is uncertain so careful, long term financial advice to complement your personal and estate planning will remain key.

As with all difficult circumstances, there may however be opportunities to pick up a bargain – spotting good investment opportunities that, for a period of time, are undervalued but will recover.

For those who hold roles of responsibility for others such as Trustees, Attorneys and Deputies, the need to keep finances under regular and robust review will never have been more important – to ensure that the best possible decisions are made and also that the holder of those roles fulfil their legal and fiduciary duties fully and effectively.

Overall, the need to take a long term view of investments will remain paramount, but for people who cannot carefully time their need to access money to suit the markets, may mean difficult budgetary discussions and controls have to be implemented and tough choices made especially as the longer term view is unclear. We’ve never been in this position before so whilst we have been able to forecast what coming out of a recession might look like, exiting the EU is an unknown entity.

Any further cuts to public funding – or the inability of the government to make impactful changes to funding structure – could have an adverse impact on services to the most vulnerable.

Government policy changes

With so much uncertainty, and some immediate negative reactions such as the downgrading of the UK’s rating with Standard and Poor, the need for public finances to be propped up without seeking further borrowing cannot be ruled out. If needed, the government may need to turn to tax policy – which they already love to tweak regularly.

Which taxes they may look at to fund society’s needs is uncertain – as is the level of any increase (or, arguably unlikely but possible, decrease) in tax levels. Despite indications that certain taxes would not be altered in the near future, the government may need to revise their position.

Income tax, national insurance, VAT, Stamp Duty, Land Tax, Inheritance Tax, Capital Gains Tax – some or all of these could be looked at – the biggest issue here is uncertainty too. We don’t know which tax(es), how or when any alterations may be made or the implications – so planning for the future becomes a more immediate issue… or does it?

With Capital Gains Tax for Trusts having been unexpectedly lowered to match personal rates, could a differentiation – probably in the form of a higher rate of tax for Trusts - be reintroduced? Will taxes for second homes be increased further? What about inheritance tax? Will the nil rate band for inheritance tax be increased? Will next year’s Residence Nil Rate Band still come into force or will this be abolished to save further revenue loss?

Finally, there are a range of tax breaks available that reflect government priorities e.g. Entrepreneur relief for Capital Gains Tax, Business Relief for Inheritance Tax both of which seek to promote investment in businesses  - will these remain part of the government’s priorities and retain their favoured status – or will they be altered or abolished? What (if anything) might take their place and become the new priority and what might support for that look like?

For business owners, contemplating the myriad requirements of EU legislation without any UK contribution towards its impact could see a change of focus or structure become necessary or advisable – less exporting perhaps? Or can this be an opportunity to embrace a new EU market from a different position with a different outlook?  Whatever the future holds it is likely that the most immediate impacts will come from the falling value of sterling.

State benefits are likely to remain under scrutiny but further sweeping changes to eligibility, nature and structure of such benefits is perhaps less likely – but if there is an urgent need to save public money, state benefits – whether in work support or out of work benefits – will continue to be carefully examined.

Legislation

Prior to Brexit, one of the most obvious concerns was for individuals, particularly those with an international footprint, being likely to see a change in their arrangements and treatment  through new and amended legislation – with Brexit now a reality, could the government’s need to focus on stabilising the ship and negotiating the best possible exit from the EU mean that some expected changes such as changes to ‘non dom’ status become less important –presenting greater planning opportunities for people in such categories in the short to medium term?

With recent ‘promises’ that the UK Human Rights Act 1998 would be repealed having been made, the position of Brexit might not be immediately relevant – but what political will would there be for change – never mind improvement of legislation in this area when there are other pressing priorities such as how the UK leaves the EU – and whether it does so as a united kingdom or not. Will a British Bill of Rights be more or less likely? Much may depend on exactly how the UK ‘brexits’ in due course – and just how much political and governmental time is taken up in dealing with that.

There could be further delays in some pending legislation, such as the Cohabitation Bill and No Fault Divorces as these become less of a priority and parliamentary time is needed for other matters.

The one certainty does appear to be that the UK will definitely become a Third Party State for the purposes of the EU Succession Regulations – making it clear that having different Wills in different jurisdictions covering the assets held there only is sensible.

Conclusion

Against a background of much instability across the board, the key message is that it has probably never been more important to keep your plans under regular review, to take up to date advice and to adopt and maintain as much flexibility as possible in how your personal affairs are structured both for now and the future.

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