Inheritance tax is a 40% tax on your estate (your property, money and possessions), which is charged when you die. In most cases you only have to pay it if your estate is worth more than £325,000.
If your estate is likely to exceed this, there are some steps you can take to prepare for inheritance tax, and to ensure more of what you own goes to your loved ones.
Write a will
It’s well worth writing a will for a number of reasons. A professional advisor can make sure that your will takes into consideration any tax benefits that are available to you. If any benefits are overlooked, your executors can amend the will after your death, with a deed of variation.
Work out the value of your estate
You’ll need to work out how much your estate is worth to find out if you are going to be liable for inheritance tax. No tax is payable on the first £325,000, and this is known as the nil-rate band. But if you’re married, or in a civil partnership, you can pass your whole estate to your spouse or civil partner when you die, tax free. Your ‘nil-rate band’ then transfers to your spouse or civil partner, so when he or she dies, they will be able to pass on up to £650,000 tax free.
Inheritance tax benefits
Everybody gets an additional £175,000 free of inheritance tax to use against the value of their home, if it is left to children or grandchildren (2020-21 figures). As this allowance can be transferred to the second spouse/civil partner, a married couple could leave their family a combined estate of up to £1 million tax-free.
Other tax benefits
There are other benefits you can use, mainly by reducing the value of your estate. There is an annual exemption of £3,000 that you can give away inheritance-tax free and you can give £250 to as many different people as you like. Donations to charities are tax free, as are wedding/civil partnership gifts from parents (up to £5,000) from grandparents (up to £2,500) and from anyone else (up to £1,000). You can make cash gifts larger than this, but you will need to survive seven years for them to be free from inheritance tax. the UK’s tax authority, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), provides a sliding scale so you can work out how much tax is payable if you survive less than seven years.
Use a trust
If you can estimate the amount of money that you will need to pay for inheritance tax, you can arrange to hold a lump sum on trust. You can contribute the nil-rate band of up to £325,000 tax-free into a trust every seven years, and it will not be included in your taxable estate.
Take out a life insurance policy
To minimise any impact on your loved ones, you can take out a life insurance policy to cover your inheritance tax bill, which will pay out on your death. As above, the policy would be held on trust so would not be taxable.
Use excess income
If you can spare some of your income without this affecting your quality of life, this is known as excess income. You are entitled to make gifts of money from your excess income to other people free of inheritance tax. However you must keep good records of your regular expenditure as well as the gifts made so that your executors can report them to HMRC and obtain the inheritance-tax exemption.
Give to charity
All gifts to charity are exempt from inheritance tax, but if you arrange to give 10% of your estate to charity (less the £325,000 nil-rate band) then you can pay 36% inheritance tax on your death instead of the usual 40%.
A qualified advisor will be able to assess your individual circumstances and advise on what you can do to prepare for inheritance tax.