Will you be one of the thousands of households in Britain that will have to pay Inheritance Tax? What’s the best way to avoid it? If you’re administering an estate because someone has died, how do you obtain probate? Is it ever possible to retrospectively minimise an estate’s tax liabilities?
Inheritance Tax receipts reached a record high of £5.25 billion in the 2017/18 tax year according to figures published by HM Revenue & Customs , despite the introduction of a new residence nil-rate band (RNRB).
Families are becoming increasingly complex entities, often shaped by divorces, remarriages and children from previous relationships. This can make estate and trust planning a challenge to navigate if an individual has strong feelings about those they would like to inherit their assets and those they wouldn’t.
If applicable to your situation, effective estate and trust planning could save your family a potential Inheritance Tax bill amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds. Inheritance Tax planning has become more important than ever following the Government’s decision to freeze the £325,000 lifetime exemption, with inflation eroding its value every year and subjecting more families to Inheritance Tax.
Reducing the amount of money beneficiaries have to pay
Inheritance Tax is usually payable on death. When a person dies, their assets form their estate. Any part of an estate that is left to a spouse or registered civil partner will be exempt from Inheritance Tax. The exception is if a spouse or registered civil partner is domiciled outside the UK. The maximum a person can give them before Inheritance Tax may need to be paid is £325,000. Unmarried partners, no matter how long-standing, have no automatic rights under Inheritance Tax rules.
However, there are steps people can take to reduce the amount of money their beneficiaries have to pay if Inheritance Tax affects them. Where a person’s estate is left to someone other than a spouse or registered civil partner (i.e. to a non-exempt beneficiary), Inheritance Tax will be payable on the amount that exceeds the £325,000 nil-rate threshold. The threshold is currently frozen until the tax year 2020/21.
IHT is payable at 40% on the amount exceeding the threshold
Every individual is entitled to a nil-rate band (NRB) – that is, every individual is entitled to leave an amount of their estate up to the value of the nil-rate threshold to a non-exempt beneficiary without incurring Inheritance Tax. If a widow or widower of the deceased spouse has not been used their entire NRB, the NRB applicable at the time of death can be increased by the percentage of the NRB unused on the death of the deceased spouse, provided the executors make the necessary elections within two years of your death.
To calculate the total amount of Inheritance Tax payable on a person’s death, gifts made during their lifetime that are not exempt transfers must also be taken into account. Where the total amount of non-exempt gifts made within seven years of death – plus the value of the element of the estate left to non-exempt beneficiaries – exceeds the nil-rate threshold, Inheritance Tax is payable at 40% on the amount exceeding the threshold.
Certain gifts made could qualify for taper relief
This percentage reduces to 36% if the estate qualifies for a reduced rate as a result of a charity bequest. In some circumstances, Inheritance Tax can also become payable on the lifetime gifts themselves – although gifts made between three and seven years before death could qualify for taper relief, which reduces the amount of Inheritance Tax payable.
From 6 April 2017, an Inheritance Tax RNRB was introduced in addition to the standard NRB. It’s worth up to £150,000 for the 2019/20 tax year and increases to £175,000 for 2020/21. In order to qualify, you must own a property or a share in a property, which you have lived in at some stage and which you leave to your direct descendants (including children, grandchildren or stepchildren). For estates over £2 million, the RNRB is reduced at the rate of £1 for every £2 over £2 million. In addition, it only applies on death and not on gifts or nay other lifetime transfers.
Property, land or certain types of shares where IHT is due
It might also apply if the person sold their home or downsized from 8 July 2015 onward. If spouses or registered civil partners don’t use the RNRB on first death – even if this was before 6 April 2017 – there are transferability options on the second death. Executors or legal personal representatives typically have six months from the end of the month of death to pay any Inheritance Tax due. The estate can’t pay out to the beneficiaries until this is done. The exception is any property, land or certain types of shares where the Inheritance Tax can be paid in instalments. Beneficiaries then have up to ten years to pay the tax owing, plus interest.