How to reduce your Inheritance Tax bill

By Carol Cheesman

It’s not necessarily something we like to think about but if we’d like to reduce the Inheritance Tax (IHT) burden for those we leave behind, then it’s worth doing some planning – the sooner the better!

The IHT threshold is currently £325,000, and will remain at this figure until 2015. If you leave anything worth more than this, the tax will be charged at 40 per cent on anything extra.

However, if you are married or in a civil partnership, you and your spouse can combine your thresholds for a total of £650,000 and tax will not be charged unless the surviving partner leaves behind anything worth more than this.

Mr and Mrs Smith have assets worth £800,000 between them. Let’s say Mr Smith dies first, and leaves £200,000 to their children. The remaining £125,000 of his nil-rate allowance will pass on to Mrs Smith, leaving her with an IHT allowance of £450,000.

When she passes away, with assets of £600,000, she’ll owe 40 per cent on everything above £450k, meaning £60,000 (40 per cent of £150,000) will be payable in tax, leaving  the rest (£540,000) to the children.

Overseas IHT
Generally speaking, if you are UK domiciled then you will be liable to IHT on all your assets, wherever they are in the world. If you are domiciled in another country, then you are only liable for IHT on your UK assets.

What is domiciled?
You acquire your domicile at birth, and it is usually that of your father. So for example, if your father was UK domiciled but worked in Spain and you were born in Spain, your domicile would not be Spain, but the UK.

Even if you are domiciled outside the UK, you will be ‘deemed domiciled’ – which means you will be liable for IHT – if:

  • you were domiciled in the UK within the three years immediately before a transfer of assets, or
    you were resident in the UK in at least 17 of the 20 tax years ending with the year in which you make a transfer.
  • Before buying a property abroad, you need to be aware of the tax systems in the country in which you wish to buy. For example, Spain and France do not have a double taxation agreement with UK, meaning that should you be liable for IHT, you may have to pay it in both countries.
Ways to avoid Inheritance Tax:

The simplest way of avoiding or reducing the IHT bill on your estate is by gifting it away while you are still alive. You can gift up to £3,000 per year to your children, tax-free, as well as a one-off sum of £5,000 to your children, and £2,500 to your grandchildren, as wedding gifts. You can also give gifts of up to £250 a year to as many individuals as you like. Most gifts will be tax-free providing you survive for seven years after giving the gift. These are known as Potentially Exempt Transfers (PET).

If you want to gift away a property for example, it is subject to the seven-year rule. If you die before seven years is up, then IHT could arise. However, if you continue to live in the property, even after giving it away, it becomes a ‘gift with reservation’ meaning that you still benefit from it and subsequently IHT is applicable.

Gifts as part of your ‘normal expenditure’ are also exempt from tax provided they do not compromise your standard of living and come out of say, your current account rather than from savings or capital.

If tax does become due on a PET i.e. because you die before the seven-year time frame is up, the tax due may be reduced because of ‘taper relief’.
It works like this:

  • If the gift was made less than three years before death, no reduction in tax is due
  • If the gift was made three to four years before death, tax is reduced by 20 per cent
  • If the gift was made four to five years before death, tax is reduced by 40 per cent
  • If the gift was made five to six years before death, tax is reduced by 60 per cent
  • If the gift was made six to seven years before death, tax is reduced by 80 per cent

The PETs will also be added to the value of your estate to work out how much tax is due on it. If the total of PETs and your estate comes to less than £325,000, no tax will be due.

Life insurance
Another way to avoid the ‘death tax’ is to write your life insurance policies ‘in trust’. This means that they will be excluded from your estate and therefore won’t add to its value, increasing the risk of IHT being due. Life insurance polices when placed ‘in trust’ also mean that they are paid to your beneficiaries quickly and efficiently.

Inheritance Tax is a very lucrative tax for the government. Its purpose is to put money back into society so everybody can benefit, however many people say that tax was paid at the time of purchase on possessions and income tax paid at the time on earnings so it is unfair to pay tax twice. One thing is for certain, more and more people are being hit by it especially with the rise of house prices. It is therefore essential to prepare and take steps to avoid a big tax bill.

Carol Cheesman is Principal of Cheesmans Accountants based in Islington, North London. For more information visit