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‘There’s nothing that makes people more miserable than having a punch-up with their relatives, and equally there’s nothing that results in wealth being dissipated faster,’ says Jonathan Burt, Harbottle & Lewis’s new hire from Harcus Sinclair. He warns that feuding families are in danger of causing their business to suffer if they go down the litigious route.
Burt says the contentious element of tax goes back to Victorian times. ‘You can see that there was plenty of conflict [in the field]: the tendency is reflected in Jarndyce v Jarndyce,’ he says, referring to the convoluted case in Bleak House. Even today clients – from Europe to the Middle East and Africa – ask him for simple solutions in this complex area.
Burt has noted over more than 25 years in the ‘fascinatingly analytical’ profession that the answer is never straightforward: ‘If you own something personally, you’ve got to consider the option of making it simpler so that you’ve got direct control of it – but that in itself may expose you to enormous numbers of risks in business.’
However, he hails the flexibility of trusts as a tool for wealth protection. ‘In the right situations, it’s still unquestionably the leading structure, because of the inherent ability to separate legal ownership from the underlying beneficial interest.’ There has been a rise in alternatives in the shape of investment companies and corporations, but he says
‘no structure comes close’.