Effective inheritance tax planning could save your beneficiaries thousands of pounds, maybe even hundreds of thousands depending on the size of your estate. At its simplest, inheritance tax (IHT) is the tax payable on your estate when you die if the value of your estate exceeds a certain amount.

 

IHT is currently paid on amounts above £325,000 (£650,000 for married couples and registered civil partnerships) for the current 2012/13 tax year, at a rate of 40 per cent. If the value of your estate, including your home and certain gifts made in the previous seven years, exceeds the IHT threshold, tax will be due on the balance at 40 per cent.

Substantial tax liability
Without proper tax planning, many people could end up leaving a substantial tax liability on their death, considerably reducing the value of the estate passing to their chosen beneficiaries.

Your estate includes everything owned in your name, the share of anything owned jointly, gifts from which you keep back some benefit (such as a home given to a son or daughter but in which you still live) and assets held in some trusts from which you receive an income.

Against this total value is set everything that you owed, such as any outstanding mortgages or loans, unpaid bills and costs incurred during your lifetime for which bills have not been received, as well as funeral expenses.

Planning reduce your family’s IHT bill
There are a number of options that could, if appropriate, potentially reduce your family’s IHT bill. Make a will – an effective will could help reduce an IHT bill. Look into exemptions – there are a number of exemptions you can use to reduce the value of your estate. For example, moving assets between spouses or registered civil partners does not create an IHT liability. Consider gifts – if you can afford to give away some of the assets you own, it may be possible to reduce the size of your estate. Think about life assurance – a life assurance plan written in an appropriate trust won’t actually lessen the inheritance tax bill but the proceeds could be used to help pay the bill on death.

Consider trusts – if structured carefully, trusts can help to reduce or even eliminate an IHT liability.

Useful for tax planning
Any amount of money given away outright to an individual is not counted for tax if the person making the gift survives for seven years. These gifts are called ‘potentially exempt transfers’ and are useful for tax planning.

Money put into a ‘bare’ trust (a trust where the beneficiary is entitled to the trust fund at age 18) counts as a potentially exempt transfer, so it is possible to put money into a trust to prevent grandchildren, for example, from having access to it until they are 18.

Not subject to tax
However, gifts to most other types of trust will be treated as chargeable lifetime transfers. Chargeable lifetime transfers up to the threshold are not subject to tax but amounts over this are taxed at 20 per cent with a further 20 per cent payable if the person making the gift dies within seven years.

Some cash gifts are exempt from tax regardless of the seven-year rule. Regular gifts from after-tax income, such as a monthly payment to a family member, are also exempt as long as you still have sufficient income to maintain your standard of living.

Combined tax threshold
Any gifts between husbands and wives, or registered civil partners, are exempt from IHT whether they were made while both partners were still alive or left to the survivor on the death of the first. Tax will be due eventually when the surviving spouse or registered civil partner dies if the value of their estate is more than the combined tax threshold, currently £650,000.

If gifts are made that affect the liability to IHT and the giver dies less than seven years later, a special relief known as ‘taper relief’ may be available. The relief reduces the amount of tax payable on a gift.

How much tax should be paid?
In most cases, IHT must be paid within six months from the end of the month in which the death occurs. If not, interest is charged on the unpaid amount. Tax on some assets, including land and buildings, can be deferred and paid in instalments over ten years. However, if the asset is sold before all the instalments have been paid, the outstanding amount must be paid. The IHT threshold in force at the time of death is used to calculate how much tax should be paid.