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Israeli Law Confronts International Tax Treaties and Principles Via New Treatment of Mixed-Beneficiary Trusts

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Pre-2006 Situation – the Corporate Model

Israel has come a long way in its efforts to tax foreign-established trusts, which historically were assumed to have been used to shelter Israeli-source funds of high net worth Israeli residents and their families. Prior to the adoption of any relevant comprehensive Israeli tax legislation in 2006, the practice consisted mostly of viewing trusts and beneficiaries similarly to corporations and shareholders.

Thus, under customary Israeli international tax rules, if the “management and control” of the non-Israeli trust was effected outside of Israel, the trust was considered to be nonresident because the trust’s assets were situated outside of Israel and the trustees had full discretion over their control. No formal powers were exercised directly or indirectly by Israeli beneficiaries. Hence, the trust was simply not subject to Israeli taxation. Moreover, discretionary distributions were viewed as tax-free gifts. In this way, wealthy Israelis could cause foreign trusts to be funded by Israeli-source wealth and invested outside Israel without subjecting the resulting income to Israeli tax.

Israel has neither an estate/inheritance tax nor a gift tax, which means that bona fide gifts and inheritances are free of tax for both the donor or the decedent and the recipient. Thus, a foreign trust ostensibly became the perfect Israeli tax planning tool. Assets could be donated by an Israeli settlor to a foreign irrevocable discretionary trust for the benefit of family members. Legally, the assets were no longer owned by the Israeli donor but rather by a foreign body managed and controlled by a foreign trustee. Therefore, the trust’s non-Israeli assets and income were outside the scope of Israeli taxation. Distributions by these trusts to Israeli resident beneficiaries that were bona fide discretionary gifts were exempt in the hands of an Israeli recipient.