Italy's Tax Residency for Foreign Investors

Italy's tax residency for foreign taxpayers buying Italian real estate, and spending significant time in Italy for pleasure or business continues being a very critical and challenging issue. Italy assigns tax residency of individuals based on residence, which means fixed place of living ; domicile, which means main center of interests, or registration on the list of Italian resident individuals for administrative purposes. Whenever one of the three tests is met for more than 183 days in any given year, an individual is resident of Italy for Italian tax purposes for that particular year. Italian tax residency triggers worldwide income taxation and obligation to report worldwide financial and non financial assets to Italian tax authorities on taxpayer's Italian income tax return. 

In case of tax residency under the internal laws of Italy and another treaty country, Italy applies the tie breaker provisions of article 4 of the tax treaty to resolve the double residency problem, which assign tax residency based on the location of of permanent home, center of vital interests, habitual abode or nationality. The treaty "center of vital interests" test requires a comparative analysis of the taxpayer's contacts or ties in Italy and the other treaty country. According to one view, personal and family ties should prevail, while another interpretation gives relative weight to economic and business interests.

A recent decision of Italy's Supreme Court, which we comment here, seems to support the second interpretation. Proof of business and economic interests abroad while living or spending significant time in Italy for personal pleasure may help taxpayer demonstrate that that she kept her center of vital interest and tax residency in her own country.

This area of Italian international tax law is in flux and needs attention. Foreign taxpayers who transfer money to Italy to purchase homes, spend regular time there, register their administrative residency in Italy at their Italian address for convenience, open Italian bank accounts to handle the funds needed to manage their Italian house and living expenses are under the radar screen on Italian tax authorities, which check the real estate database, receive automatic information about the cross border transfers of the funds and often send inquiry letters asking for explanations on the taxpayer tax position in Italy in the absence of past filed Italian income tax returns.                

Such inquiries and related audits requires careful consideration, including the provision of carefully selected and explained tax documents and information, to avoid the risk of an Italian tax residency determination that would trigger far reaching and very troubling consequences.  
       

Italy's Supreme Court Holding That Economic Interests Prevail Over Personal Ties In Determining Italian Tax Residency

Italy’s Supreme Court’s decision n. 6501 of March 31, 2015, dealing with the case of an Italian citizen  who had most of his personal and family connections in Italy but moved to work in another country (Switzerland), where he had most of his economic and financial interests, ruled that the taxpayer’s economic and financial connections should prevail over the taxpayer’s personal and family connections under the center of vital interests test of the Italy-Switzerland treaty, and concluded that the taxpayer’s tax residency had to be allocated to Switzerland under that treaty.

The above decision is the last of a series of recent Italian tax courts' rulings supporting the conclusion that economic ties to a country are more important than personal or family ties to another country in determining an individual's tax residency.

The Supreme Court’s holding goes against older case law and has very important ramifications.

We refer, in particular, to the frequent cases of American citizens who transfer money from the United States from Italy, purchase and own valuable homes in Italy, and spend significant time there, together with their family. Those people usually pass the test for establishing tax residency in Italy under Italian domestic tax law.

In many cases, the Italian tax administration, who can rely on extensive data base detecting U.S. transfers of money to Italy and purchase and ownership of Italian homes, sends audit letters to inquire about the tax status of those foreign citizens in Italy, considering that they usually are not aware of the problem and have never filed any Italian income tax returns.

The recent case law offers a valuable opportunity to avoid unintended tax consequences arising from inadvertent Italian tax residency, in a sense that taxpayers in those cases can still argue that their tax residency remained in the United States whenever sufficient economic and financial interests are still located there, while physical presence and personal and family connections have shifted to Italy.

Overview of Italy's Tax Reporting Rules

Italian resident taxpayers are required to report all of their assets held outside of Italy,  on form RW of their Italian income tax returns (which include various sections and can be considered the equivalent of the FBAR and other international tax returns that are required to be filed in the United States).

Resident taxpayers subject to reporting include U.S. (or any other foreign) citizens who crossed the line and have become tax residents of Italy under Italian tax residency rules (unless they can claim U.S. tax residency under the tie breaker provisions of article 4 of the U.S.-Italy income tax treaty).

They also include Italian nationals who moved abroad but maintained their tax residency in Italy as a result of keeping their domicile there.   

Reporting requirements extend to any foreign asset, not just bank or financial accounts, which is capable of generating (currently or at any time in the future) foreign source income taxable in Italy (such as houses, boats, jewelry, artworks, etc.). 

Recently, the scope of reporting has been dramatically extended as a result of the enactment of the "beneficial owner" rule, which requires to report assets that are not immediately or directly owned by the taxpayer, but are owned indirectly as a result of owning shares of stock or similar interests in foreign entities, or that will be received in the future as distributions out of trusts of which the taxpayer is a beneficiary.

The new reporting rules adopt a "look through" approach pursuant to which the taxpayer is required to report her pro rata share of the underlying assets owned by an entity in which she is owns stock or other similar interests.

Reporting can be very daunting, in case of multiple entities and levels of ownership, and assets owned foreign in trusts that need to be properly classified and interpreted under Italian tax rules to understand exactly who and how (among the various settlors and beneficiaries) is required to report the assets held in trust.

In this article we provide a general overview of the new Italy's international tax reporting rules referred to here above. We hope it proves to be useful as an initial orientation guidance in a very complex area of Italian international tax law.                

 

     

Italian Perspective on Beneficial Ownership

In recent years the concept of 'beneficial ownership' has emerged as a major anti abuse rule applicable in the context of tax treaties and other important areas of international tax law. This article provides an overview of the recent interpretation and applications of the beneficial ownership rule as clarified by the OECD, pursued by tax administrations and courts in various countries, and carried out in Italy.

Italy's Tax Provisions on Trusts - Updated

Italy operates specific provisions on tax treatment of trusts. Trusts formed under foreign law are recognized and enforced in Italy pursuant to the Hague Convention on Trusts dated July 1, 1985. To the extent they have Italian assets, or Italian grantor, trustees or beneficiaries or Italian source income, foreign trusts may be subject to Italy's trust tax provisions. Under certain circumstances, trusts are disregarded and trust assets are treated as owned by the grantor or beneficiaries. This is the case when the grantor has an unconditional power to terminate or revoke the trust or when the beneficiaries have an unconditional right to claim an anticipated distribution of all or part of the trust assets at any time during the life of the trust, or when the trustee lacks actual independent power to administer the trust and is under the directions or instructions of either the grantor or the beneficiaries of the trust. When respected for tax purposes, the trust is taxed on a fiscally transparent basis or as a separate entity, depending on whether and to what extent the income of the trust is attributed to identified beneficiaries specifically mentioned in the trust agreement or separately by the grantor during the life of the trust. When a trust is taxed on a fiscally transparent basis, income of the trust is allocated to and taxed directly upon the beneficiaries. When a trust is taxed as a separate entity, the trust itself pays the corporate income tax on its own income. A trust administered in Italy or by an Italian resident trustee is treated a a resident trust and subject to tax on its world wide income. A trust administered abroad or by a foreign resident trustee is treated as a foreign trust and taxed only upon Italian source income. For more details about Italian tax treatment of trusts as it applies to trusts formed under the laws of any State of the United States or any other foreign country, we refer you to this article which was recently published on Tax Notes International.             

Italian Supreme Court Rules on Individual Tax Residency

The Italian Supreme Court in its Ruling 20285 dated September 4, 2013 held that an individual taxpayer claiming to have his tax residency outside of Italy had properly discharged his burden of proof and correctly established his tax residency abroad by producing copy of his residential lease, regular payments of rent and utility bills and use of personal bank account for day to day expenses, thereby proving that his actual and real residence and domicile was located in the foreign country. 

Under Italian tax law, individual tax residency is determined pursuant to highly factual tests and can be established even when there are relatively minor contacts with Italy, such as a house, frequent visits to the country, or business interests located there. Once determined, it subjects the taxpayer to worldwide taxation in Italy both for income and estate tax purposes including the obligation to report all of taxpayer's assets wherever located in the world under a form that is the equivalent of the american foreign bank account report, except that it requires reporting of non financial assets (such as cars, houses, planes, artworks, etc.) as well as financial assets and accounts. Foreign persons with interests in Italy must pay particular attention to those rules to avoid to be trapped into unintended Italian tax residency. 

Under the facts of the case decided by the Supreme Court,  the taxpayer - a tennis player originally resident in Italy - claimed to have moved his tax residency to Monaco, while still traveling to Italy and other countries in connection with his business interests and professional activity.

Under Italian law, Monaco is a tax haven, black listed jurisdiction and Italian taxpayers who register as residents there are presumed to be still resident in Italy for Italian tax purpose, unless they prove that their actual residence and domicile is located in that country. For this purpose, residence identifies the taxpayer's habitual and regular place of living, while domicile identifies the taxpayer's main center of personal, financial and business interests.  

 

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Italy Amends Its Rules On Tax Disclosure of Foreign Assets

Italy enacted a new law that significantly amends its rules requiring Italian resident individual taxpayers to report their foreign financial investment and accounts and other assets capable of generating foreign source taxable income.

SCOPE OF REPORTING

The fist significant change reduces the scope of the reporting. it eliminates the duty to report intra year transfers relating to reportable foreign assets, previously reported through sections III and I of form RW part of Italian tax returns. As a result, any transfers of money out of Italy for the purchase of foreign reportable assets, or into Italy as a result of a liquidation or sale of a reportable foreign assets, or foreign to foreign transfers relating to changes to the portfolio of foreign reportable assets, which occurred during a tax year, need not be reported.      

PENALTIES

The second significant change reduces the amount of applicable penalties. Under the old law, penalties could be assessed from a minimum of 10 percent up to a maximum of 50 percent of the value of unreported  foreign assets. Under the new rules, the penalties are reduced to 3 percent minimum and 15 percent maximum respectively. Furthermore, taxpayers can settle any audit out of court by paying a penalty equal to 1/3 of the minimum (that is to say, 1 percent of the value of unreported assets).

RETROACTIVE EFFECTS

The new rules have retroactive effect and apply to any situation in which penalties have not been assessed and paid yet.  Therefore, past violations that are no longer sanctioned under the new rules have become moot. 

BENEFICIAL OWNERS

The duty to report extends to taxpayers who are the "beneficial owners" of the reportable foreign assets, regardless of the fact that they may not be the owner of record or hold the legal title to those assets. The new law does not define the term "beneficial owner", but refers to the definition of the term that is provided by anti money laundering legislation. Accordingly, in case of companies, any shareholder, member or partner owning more than 25 percent of the company (by vote or value) is deemed to be a beneficial owner of the underlying investments or assets owned by the company. For other entities, such as foundations and trusts, beneficial owners are deemed to be the individuals who are the final beneficiaries or recipients of the entities' assets.

COMMENTS

The elimination of the duty to report intra year transfers and the reduction of penalties for failure to report is surely good news.  

On the other side, the extension of the duty to report to the beneficial owners of a reportable foreign assets is very concerning. How taxpayers will handle their reporting obligations under the new rules is not easy to predict and will likely require further clarifications and guidance from the tax administration.

Indeed, the term beneficial owner in the context of the anti money laundering rules is very wide in scope, and its automatic use also for foreign assets reporting purposes might have unintended consequences. If applied literally, it would require any shareholder  owning more than 25 percent of the stock of a company to report his or her pro rata share of all of the company's underlying assets held outside of Italy. While this might make sense in case of closely held companies or conduits that are set up for the sole purpose of holding and managing foreign financial investments and accounts, it may be completely impossible to handle in practice in case of straightforward commercial companies and other business entities engaged in trade or business.        

Further guidance on this issue is absolutely necessary 

 

 

 
  
 
 
 
 

Overview of Italy's Tax Provisions on Trust - Updated


I. Introduction

Italy does not have domestic rules on trust.

However, trusts created under foreign law are recognized and enforceable in Italy pursuant to the provisions of the 1985 Hague Convention on the Law Applicable to Trusts and Their Recognition, which has been ratified and implemented and is fully effective in Italy as part of Italian legal system.

 

The Hague Convention was signed on July 1, 1985 and ratified in Italy with law n. 364 of October 16, 1989 and entered into force on January 1, 1992. It is aimed at harmonizing the private international laws of the contracting states relating to trusts; provides that each contracting state recognizes the existence and validity of trusts created by a written trust instrument; sets out the general characteristics of a trust and establishes rules for determining the governing law of trusts with cross-border elements.

 

According to the Convention, as implemented in Italy, a trust created pursuant to and governed by the law of a country that has provisions governing trusts is recognized and valid in Italy, subject only to the overarching limitation of Italian public order principles.

 

Purely internal trusts, with Italian grantors, Italian beneficiaries and assets located in Italy are also recognized.

 

With the Finance Bill for 2007 Italy enacted, for the first time, specific provisions dictating the tax treatment of trusts for Italian tax purposes[1]. They establish general principles on tax classification and treatment of trusts in Italy for income and indirect tax purposes and have significant cross-border implications

 

On August 6, 2007 Italy’s tax administration issued Circular n. 48/E that provides administrative guidance on the interpretation and application of the new tax provisions on trust. Circular 48/E clarifies the tax treatment of trusts both for income tax and transfer (indirect) tax purposes. 

 

Subsequently, Italy’s tax administration issued additional interpretative guidance by way of Circular n. 61/E issued on December 27, 2010.

 

Generally, for a trust to exist as a legal and tax entity separate from the grantor, the trustee and its beneficiaries, there must be a real and effective legal separation of the trust’s assets from both the estate of the grantor and the beneficiaries of the trust and the trustee must be granted with real powers of administration of the trust, acting independently from and not being under the direct or indirect control of the grantor or beneficiaries of the trust.

 

Once it is positively established that a trust actually exists, as a general rule, for income tax purposes trusts are classified as separate taxable entities and taxed as corporations.

 

However, trusts with income beneficiaries that are identified and named in the trust agreement are treated as fiscally transparent entities - that is, income is attributed to the beneficiaries as provided for in the trust agreement, regardless of whether and how the trust distributes its funds, and the beneficiaries are taxed directly on their share of trust’s income. This fiscally transparent treatment applies also in the event that after the initial creation of the trust, the trustee determines the income beneficiaries of the trust pursuant to the authority granted in the trust agreement.

 

A trust is resident in Italy for tax purposes if its place of management or place of activity is located in Italy. Trusts formed in jurisdictions that do not allow exchange of information with Italy are treated as residents and subject to worldwide taxation in Italy, if certain connections with Italy exist (for example, if any grantor or beneficiary is Italian), unless taxpayers provide sufficient evidence that they are resident (that is, effectively managed) outside of Italy.

 

Trusts must keep tax books to compute their taxable income (taxed upon the trust in case of fiscally non transparent trusts, or passed through to and taxed upon the beneficiaries in case of fiscally transparent trusts).

 

A gratuitous transfer of assets to a trust is subject to gift or estate tax. The tax is charged at reduced rates (4 and 6 per cent) if beneficiaries named in the trust agreement or determined by the trustee at any time thereafter are close family members. Otherwise, the regular rate for trusts with no identified beneficiaries or beneficiaries that are not close family members or charitable trust is 8 per cent. 


 

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US Tax Administration Issued Final Regulations on FATCA Implementing International Tax Reporting and Compliance

 On January 17, 2013 the IRS issued final regulations providing rules on information reporting by foreign financial institutions (FFIs) and withholding on certain payments to FFIs and other foreign entities.

Under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act of 2009 (FATCA), enacted as part of the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act of 2010, P.L. 111-147, U.S. withholding agents are required to withhold tax on certain payments to foreign financial institutions (FFIs) that do not agree to report certain information to the IRS regarding their U.S. accounts and on certain payments to certain nonfinancial foreign entities (NFFEs) that do not provide information on their substantial U.S. owners to withholding agents.

The regulations finalize the proposed rules issued last February, making a number of changes in response to comments. As a result, the 389-page proposed regulations have become 544-page final rules, with a lengthy discussion of which comments prompted changes from the proposed regulations.

One area of simplification in the final regulations is the integration of model intergovernmental agreements into the reporting requirements of the regulations. There are two types of intergovernmental agreements: reciprocal agreements and nonreciprocal agreements, which are called Model 1 IGAs and Model 2 IGAs. A jurisdiction signing a Model 1 IGA agrees to adopt rules to identify and report information to the IRS that meets the standards in the Model 1 IGA. FFIs that are in Model 1 IGA jurisdictions report the information about U.S. accounts required by FATCA to their respective governments, which then exchange this information with the IRS. FFIs in Model 2 IGA jurisdictions must comply with the FATCA regulations except to the extent the relevant IGA provides otherwise.

The IRS announced that, to date, seven countries have entered into model agreements with the United States: Norway, Spain, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, and Switzerland. Discussions with more than 50 countries are ongoing, and more agreements are expected to be signed in the near future.

In recognition of the burden that complying with FATCA entails, the final regulations, among many other things:

  • Phase in over an extended transition period the timelines for withholding, due diligence, and reporting and align them with the IGAs.
  • Expand and clarify the types of payments subject to withholding, particularly for certain grandfathered obligations that are not subject to the rules and certain payments made by NFFEs.
  • Expand and clarify the treatment of certain low-risk institutions, such as government entities and retirement funds, provide that certain investment entities may be subject to being reported on by FFIs with which they hold accounts rather than being required to register as FFIs with the IRS, and clarify the type of passive investment entity that financial institutions must identify and report.
  • Streamline the compliance and registration requirements for groups of financial institutions, including commonly managed investment funds.


The regulations have become effective when published in the Federal Register (scheduled for Jan. 28, 2013).

 

 

Reciprocal Inter Governmental Agreement Will Introduce Automatic and Reciprocal US-Italy Disclosure and Exchange of Information For Tax Purposes

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) was enacted by the United States Congress in March 2010 and became effective on January 1, 2013. It is intended to assist US efforts to improve international compliance with US tax laws and will impose certain due diligence and reporting obligations on foreign (non-US) financial institutions which hold financial accounts for US customers. Under the new law, foreign financial institutions will provide to the U.S. tax administration automatic information about their US customers' financial accounts. 

On 26 July 2012, the U.S. Department of the Treasury published a Model Inter Governmental Agreement which will form the basis of bilateral IGAs with jurisdictions that wish to adopt this alternative means for their financial institutions to comply with FATCA while minimizing compliance burdens.

Italy joined the U.S. with a groups of other countries in a Joint Statement announcing that Italy will enter into and use the reciprocal agreement with the United States to implement FATCA and enact a system of reciprocal automatic exchange of information pursuant to which:

- Italian banks and financial institutions will provide the US tax administration with information about Italian banking and financial accounts held by U.S. customers with Italian banks in Italy,

- U.S. banks and financial institutions will provide Italy's tax authorities with information about US banking and financial accounts and investments held by Italian customers with US banks in the United States.        

The Model IGA follows the U.S. Department of the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service's release of proposed FATCA regulations, and the simultaneous announcement of an intergovernmental alternative to FATCA implementation, on 8 February 2012.

On January 17, 2013 the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Services issued the set of Final Regulations implementing the information reporting and back up withholding tax provisions of FATCA, with far reaching implications for U.S. taxpayers with Italian bank and financial accounts, as well as Italian taxpayers with US bank and financial accounts,  in addition to foreign financial institutions as well as US banks as explained above.   

 

 

 

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