Liechtenstein codified its Foundation Law in 1926 and is one of the worldwide leading jurisdictions dealing with foundation matters. In April 2009, a revised Foundation Law came into force that implemented earlier case law into statutory form and created more legal certainty.
The private Liechtenstein Foundation has proven to be a particularly popular wealth structuring vehicle. The wide ranging possibilities for a foundation’s organization, the high degree of privacy and the favorable taxation framework make the Foundation one of the most popular forms of legal entity in Liechtenstein. A private Liechtenstein Foundation has been and is regularly used for estate planning and asset protection purposes. The private Liechtenstein Foundation is also very popular as a holding structure for commercial companies.
Apart from private purpose Foundations, Liechtenstein Foundation Law also provides for the possibility to settle charitable Foundations. It is mandatory for charitable Foundations to be under the supervision of the Foundation Supervisory Authority. Private Foundations may submit themselves voluntarily to such supervision by a stipulation in the foundation documents.
Liechtenstein is the only civil law jurisdiction that has adopted a comprehensive codified form of the Anglo-Saxon common law trust and did so in 1926.
Similar to foundations, a Liechtenstein Trust is a flexible instrument for estate planning and asset protection purposes. Liechtenstein law leaves the settlor with a wide range of possibilities as how to structure a Trust. For example, the settlor can include provisions in the trust deed as to how a Trust shall be administered and determine the information rights of (potential) beneficiaries.
In addition to the advantage of a Trust being set up “tailor made” according to the wishes of a settlor, Liechtenstein Trust Law provides for judicial oversight of the trustee and the trust. In particular, the court has (subsidiary) power to remove a trustee or to appoint an official auditor. Furthermore, as a consequence of the beneficiary principle, (discretionary) beneficiaries can apply for supervisory proceedings to be initiated.
Like Foundations that qualify as a Private Asset Structure, Trusts benefit from the favorable taxation framework in Liechtenstein.
The Establishment is a legal form unique to Liechtenstein that has no counterpart in other jurisdictions. An Establishment is characterized by its flexibility with respect to its organization. Depending on the requirements of the founder, an Establishment can be structured like a Foundation or a Corporation. Therefore, this legal vehicle can be used for both estate planning/asset protection and commercial purposes. Like other legal forms, Establishments benefit from the favorable taxation framework in Liechtenstein (i.e. taxed at the corporate tax rate of 12.5% or at the lump-sum tax of CHF 1’800.00 p.a. if the Establishment qualifies as a Private Asset Structure).
The Liechtenstein Company Limited by Shares is a popular form of Liechtenstein legal entity. Due to Liechtenstein’s membership in the European Economic Area, the Company Limited by Shares is an entity which is harmonized with the applicable EU/EEA standards. The Company Limited by Shares can be used for holding or commercial purposes. It is also commonly used for companies that provide financial services which are regulated by the Liechtenstein Regulator, the Financial Market Authority (FMA).
The typical control bodies of a Company Limited by Shares include the board of directors (Verwaltungsrat), the general meeting of shareholders (Generalversammlung) and the auditor (Revisionsstelle). Shares can be issued as registered shares (Namenaktien) or as bearer shares (Inhaberaktien) which, however, are immobilized by law and subject to transparency standards supervised by a custodian. Companies Limited by Shares which pursue commercial activities within Liechtenstein require a trade license (Gewerbebewilligung) or, if pursuing regulated activities in the financial services sector, a license issued by the Liechtenstein FMA.
A Company Limited by Shares is regularly taxed at the corporate tax rate of 12.5%. If a company limited by shares qualifies as a Private Asset Structure, it can benefit from annual lump-sum taxation of CHF 1’800.00.
In addition to being the only jurisdiction in mainland Europe to have adopted a comprehensive codified form of the Anglo-Saxon common law trust, the Liechtenstein legal system also provides for its own interpretation of a legal institution known in common law jurisdictions as the Business Trust or Massachusetts Trust, namely the Liechtenstein Trust Enterprise, also referred to as the Liechtenstein Trust reg.
The Liechtenstein Trust Enterprise is an extraordinarily flexible legal vehicle. A Trust Enterprise can, depending on the settlor's requirements, be structured similar to a foundation, similar to a corporation or somewhere in-between. Due to this flexibility, a Trust Enterprise is a perfectly suitable legal vehicle for estate planning and asset protection purposes as well as for commercial activities.
While being popular in other European countries, the limited liability company (“GmbH”) in the past had a rather marginal position in Liechtenstein. The Liechtenstein Government decided to change this by enhancing the legal framework for GmbHs in a reform that did not only target SMEs but also start-up companies. As a result, the key features of the GmbH today include (i) a simplified formation process, (ii) a reduced minimum share capital of CHF 10'000.00 (or EUR 10'000.00 or USD 10'000.00) and (iii) the option to restrict the transferability of shares in order to tailor applicable shareholder rules in accordance with individual needs.
Liechtenstein's tax regime is in line with OECD standards (https://www.oecd.org/tax/beps/).
Liechtenstein participates in the Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) and applies the Common Reporting Standards (CRS) (https://www.oecd.org/tax/automatic-exchange/crs-implementation-and-assistance/crs-by-jurisdiction/).
Liechtenstein has signed a Model 1 Agreement with the U.S. in order to implement FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/tax-policy/treaties/pages/fatca.aspx).
Liechtenstein has concluded numerous Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs) and Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs) (https://www.llv.li/files/stv/int-uebersicht-dba-tiea.pdf).
The corporate tax rate for all legal entities (e.g. Foundation, Establishment, Trust Enterprise, Company Limited by Shares, Limited Liability Company) is 12.5%. Notwithstanding the newly implemented Anti-Abuse Rules, dividends and capital gains derived from the sale or liquidation of investments in shares or similar equity instruments, are generally not included in the taxable income of entities.
Entities which qualify as Private Asset Structures (PAS) (Privatvermögensstrukturen (PVS)) and trusts pay an annual lump-sum tax of CHF 1'800.00.
Distributions of Liechtenstein entities are not subject to a withholding tax.
Read more about the Taxation of Liechtenstein Entities.