Inheritance tax (IHT) remains a topic that evokes confusion and concern for many individuals planning their estate. The complexities of the UK’s tax system make obtaining inheritance tax advice a crucial task. This blog describes 3 key strategies to effectively reduce any inheritance tax liability, namely:

  • Strategic Gifting
  • Contributing to a Pension and,
  • Optimising for Business Relief (BR) previously known as Business Property Relief (BPR)

To start off, let’s define Inheritance tax. Inheritance tax is a tax on the estate (the property, investments, and possessions) of someone who has passed away. An estate is not taxed on the first £325,000 known as the nil-rate band (NRB), this increases to £650,000 for a married couple or a couple in a civil partnership.

Furthermore, when passing on a home to direct descendants an estate can claim an additional exempt threshold known as the Residential Nil Rate Band (RNRB) which is a further allowance of £175,000 or £350,000 for a married couple. This means an individual can pass down £500,000 free of inheritance tax on their death, or if married, there’d be no inheritance tax to pay on first death if the beneficial interest passed to the surviving spouse, who could then use a total exempt threshold of £1,000,000, which will not be liable inheritance tax.

Anything above these allowances is taxed at a flat rate of 40%. This means most people in the UK will not face an inheritance tax liability. However, for those that do, there may be several options available to reduce this liability, but expert inheritance tax advice is needed. There are lots of moving parts.

Strategic Gifting

Lifetime gifting is a powerful strategy in IHT planning. By gifting assets during your lifetime, you can significantly reduce the value of your estate over time. There are several exemptions and allowances for gifts, including the:

  • Annual exemption – £3,000 per year
  • Small gifts exemption – £250 per person
  • Gifts in consideration of marriage or civil partnership – £5,000 for a child

These exemptions are too small to make a reasonable dent in a sizeable estate. This is where potential exempt transfers (PETs) and chargeable lifetime transfers (CLTs) come into play, both of which form critical components of inheritance tax advice. PETs refer to gifts made by an individual to another individual (not to a trust or a company) during their lifetime. A PET will only be exempt from inheritance tax if the donor lives for at least seven years after making the gift. There is no limit on how large a PET can be. CLTs refer to gifts made by an individual to a trust during their lifetime, which again, will only be exempt from inheritance tax if the donor survives at least seven years. There is no ‘limit’ per se on how large a CLT can be, however, it is common practice to limit CLTs to £325,000 every 7 years as anything above this would attract a lifetime inheritance tax charge of 20%. A further benefit of settling assets into a trust (CLT) vs. directly gifting to an individual (PET) is 3rd party protection. A gift to an individual will be at risk to divorce settlement claims, creditor claims and general financial mismanagement.

A gift to a trust, provided the trustees are managing the trust well, would provide far greater protection as a trust is a separate legal entity where the individual that the donor wants to benefit can be listed as a beneficiary of the trust, and the trust assets can be controlled by experts and only distributed in accordance with the trust deed and letters of wishes.

Pension Contributions

Pensions can be a potent tool in IHT planning, offering opportunities to pass on wealth outside of one’s estate, thus reducing an inheritance tax liability. A pensions’ primary use case is a vehicle to provide capital and income during retirement. However, if an individual can draw on other assets that are part of the estate first, such as cash, ISAs, and general investment accounts, then withdrawals from the pension can be deferred. In some cases, a pension can be left untouched as because it’s surplus to retirement income and capital needs and in such circumstances the pension becomes a great vehicle for passing on a tax-efficient legacy to chosen beneficiaries. Contributions to a pension attracts upfront tax relief and removes the cash invested from the estate immediately, making them an essential consideration in estate and financial planning.

Business Relief

Business Relief (BR) offers up to 100% relief from inheritance tax on business assets. Qualifying for BPR involves meeting specific criteria, such as holding the assets for at least two years, and ensuring the business is carrying out a trading activity. An investment activity is not considered a trading activity, therefore businesses primarily dealing in property letting and trading securities will not qualify for BPR.

If you own a trading business, it’s likely the shares you own will qualify for BR and the value of the shares will be exempt from inheritance tax. However, if there is any surplus cash on the balance sheet there is a risk this will be treated as an excepted asset. That is an asset that, despite being owned by the business, is not considered necessary for the future success of the business’s trading activities. This can impact the amount of BPR that can be claimed.

People approaching retirement typically look to sell their business. This is great from a cash flow point of view, as one can expect a generous windfall to fund their retirement needs. However, one loses the BR status of the shares sold with cash now sitting in their personal name which is liable to inheritance tax. To mitigate this one can explore deploying the proceeds into investments that qualify for BR such as:

  • Enterprise Investment Schemes (EIS)
    • Investments into UK start-ups and early-stage firms that attract very generous tax reliefs (including BR). This tends to be an investment into an unlisted company that in turn invests into crucial infrastructure projects. Provided you’re dealing with a mainstream provided these tend to have lower volatility than investing into an AIM IHT portfolio.
  • AIM IHT portfolios
    • Investments into AIM listed shares that qualify for BR.

Navigating the complexities of inheritance tax can seem overwhelming, but with the right inheritance tax advice and IHT planning, it’s possible to significantly reduce the tax burden on your estate. Effective estate planning allows you to pass on more of your wealth to your loved ones, highlighting the importance of seeking professional inheritance tax advice to guide you through the process. Whether it’s making strategic gifts, contributing to a pension scheme, or optimising for business property relief, each strategy offers a pathway to minimising inheritance tax and ensuring more of your estate passes to your children rather than the taxman.35t

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