Inheritance Tax (IHT) is the current name for the levy made by HMRC (Capital Taxes Office) when assets are passed on by way of gift. This applies not only when a person dies but also when certain gifts are made during lifetime. It is calculated either at Death Rate (40%) or Lifetime Rate (20%). On death it is applied to all assets passing as a result of the death and may include life insurance policies and trust assets where the deceased person had an interest in possession.  A special rate of 36% will apply if at least 10% of an estate on death is left to charity.

The transfer of assets by way of gift is divided into 3 categories :-

  • Exempt Transfers – these are gifts that are not liable to IHT as listed overleaf.
  • Potentially Exempt Transfers (PETs) – these are gifts where no IHT is due at the time of the gift but may become payable at some time in the future – for instance where the person making the gift (the donor) dies within 7 years. If this happens the PET becomes a Chargeable Transfer. If the donor survives 7 years from the date of the gift it becomes an Exempt Transfer.
  • Chargeable Transfers – these are gifts that are, or have become, liable to IHT and include transfer on death, transfers into and from Discretionary Trusts, and failed PETs following a donor’s death within 7 years.

Other reliefs are available to reduce the liability to IHT the principal ones of which are :-

  • Nil Rate Band (NRB) – this allows for a proportion of the transfer (the first £325,000 – fixed until tax year 2019/2020 after which it may be increased) to be taxed at 0% – hence Nil Rate. The balance is charged at either the Death Rate (40%) or Lifetime Rate (20%) depending on the circumstances. Any unused allowance is transferrable to a surviving spouse or civil partner.
  • Residence Nil Rate Band (RNRB) – this applies from 6 April 2017 at £100,000 rising in annual increments of £25,000 until the maximum £175,000 in April 2020. The allowance will only apply to those persons who pass on their residence (or proceeds thereof) to direct descendents and is transferrable to a surviving spouse or civil partner. If the total estate exceeds £2 million the allowance is reduced by £1 for every £2 in excess.
  • Taper Relief – provides a reduction in the amount of IHT payable where for instance a PET becomes chargeable following the death of the donor within 7 years. The amount of relief is calculated by the length of time between gift and death – currently full IHT is payable if death occurs within 3 years, 80% in year 4, 60% in year 5, 40% in year 6, and 20% in year 7. After 7 years of course no IHT is due. Care must be taken in this calculation since gifts within 7 years of death utilise the NRB first starting with the oldest gift and moving forward in time until the NRB is completely used up. If this were to happen there would be nothing left to relieve the IHT due on death.
  • Quick Succession Relief (QSR) – applies where the same assets are taxed twice within a 5 year period for instance where a person dies leaving assets to another person who then dies within 5 years. The relief given is a reduction in the IHT payable on the second death calculated by reference to the time elapsed between the deaths. If the second death occurs within 1 year no IHT is payable on the inherited assets on the second death, in the second year 80% tax relief is due, in the third year 60%, in the fourth year 40%, and in the fifth year 20% with no relief available after 5 years.
  • Loss Relief – this is available where assets are realised by Executors for administration purposes within 1 year of death and allows the lower sale price to replace Probate Value for IHT purposes.

Exempt Transfers

At present there are a number of exempt transfers which do not attract a liability to IHT and these may be varied in future Budgets :-

  • Small Gift Allowance – where the total sum given to an individual does not exceed £250 in any tax year. If the total for any individual in any tax year exceeds £250 then the total sum counts as part of the Annual Allowance.
  • Annual Allowance – where the sums given to all individuals in any tax year (other than those falling under the Small Gift Allowance) do not exceed a total of £3000. Once gifts made in any tax year exceed this figure they are regarded as being PETs and 7 years will need to elapse before they become Exempt Transfers. However if the Annual Allowance is not used in a tax year then it can be carried forward for one year only. For example if no gifts (other than small gifts) were made in tax year 2015/2016 then £6000 is available to be used as the Annual Allowance for 2016/2017.
  • Marriage Allowance – where gifts are made to a person when they marry there is a one-off additional allowance available the amount of which depends on how closely you are related. If you are a parent to one of the parties marrying the allowance is £5000, if a grandparent £2500, and if any other relation £1000. This does not count towards the Annual Allowance but to be valid must not be made after the marriage.
  • Spouse Relief – any gifts to a legally married spouse (or civil partner) on death or during lifetime are exempt regardless of amount.
  • Charity Relief – any gifts to a U.K. registered charity on death or during lifetime are exempt regardless of amount. This also applies to gifts to U.K. political parties.
  • Gifts out of Income – where it can be shown, to the satisfaction of the Capital Taxes Office, that gifts were made on a regular basis out of income and that this had no detrimental effect to the donor’s usual standard of living then these gifts will be treated as exempt regardless of the amount. The onus of satisfying the Capital Taxes Office will usually fall upon the Executors or Administrators on the death of the donor and each case is looked at individually so no figures can be provided as to what is acceptable and what is not. It is important that detailed records be kept to evidence a claim for this relief.
  • Agricultural & Business Property Relief – this gives either 50% or 100% relief on certain assets subject to certain conditions being met. This is a very specialised area which requires professional help.

This guide is designed to cover most commonly encountered situations but there will be others, such as the treatment of assets held in Discretionary Trusts, where more specialised knowledge will be required. In any event it is vital to obtain professional advice when contemplating taking action to mitigate Inheritance Tax.