Inheritance tax is a widely unpopular tax, but planning ahead can limit your inheritance tax exposure.

Inheritance tax (IHT) is a tax on transfers of value by individuals. It may be payable on certain lifetime transfers, on the value of an estate at death, on certain transfers into and out of trusts and on some transfers made by close companies. A transfer will either be a chargeable transfer, a potentially exempt transfer (PET) or exempt. IHT is levied on 'chargeable transfers'.

When valuing a transfer one looks at the loss to the donor and not the benefit to the donee.

Broadly, a UK domiciled or deemed domiciled individual is subject to IHT on chargeable transfers of worldwide assets, while a (non-UK deemed domiciled) foreign domiciliary's IHT exposure is limited to UK-sited assets.

The IHT provisions for registered civil partners are identical to those for spouses, so for brevity this factsheet only refers to spouses.

Nil-rate band

The nil-rate band is the amount that is subject to IHT at 0%. In calculating the nil-rate band available, one determines the cumulative value of the chargeable transfers made in the previous seven years. This figure is deducted from the nil-rate band available in the year in question to determine the unutilised nil-rate band. For the tax year to 5 April 2012, the nil-rate band remains at £325,000. It has been announced that the nil-rate band will be frozen at that level until 2014/15.

Transferable nil-rate band

Where an individual dies on or after 9 October 2007, the executors can claim that the deceased's nil-rate band should be increased by the unused portion(s) of the nil-rate band(s) of any spouse(s) who died before the deceased, although the maximum cannot exceed twice the current band.

Exempt transfers

IHT is not applicable (and a transfer of value is deemed not to have taken place) where a disposition is for the maintenance of close family or dependents or where there was no gratuitous intent (such as a bad bargain). Where there is a transfer of value the amount subject to IHT may be reduced in whole or in part as a result of one or more specific exemptions. Deductions are made before considering the nil-rate band availability.

Some transfers are exempt whether made during lifetime or by will. The following are examples of such transfers:

  • gifts to charities, housing associations, and for public benefit;
  • gifts to qualifying political parties;
  • gifts to a spouse (though see below for a restriction to this rule).

The exemption for transfers from a UK domiciled (or deemed domiciled) spouse to a foreign domiciled spouse (who is not deemed UK domiciled) is restricted to £55,000 (though certain international estate duty treaties override this in part). If there is any question as to domicile status, specialist advice should be sought.

There are a number of specific exemptions for lifetime transfers of value. An individual has an annual exemption of £3,000 (which, to the extent that it is, unutilised can be carried forward and added to the exemption for the following tax year). There are also specific exemptions for small gifts, gifts in consideration of marriage and for regular gifts out of income.

The basic IHT exemptions (and in particular the exemption for regular gifts out of income) can, if used appropriately, result in significant savings. Please get in touch with your usual Smith & Williamson contact for further details.


The following lifetime transfers are potentially exempt:

  • an absolute gift to another individual;
  • a disposition to a qualifying disabled person's trust; and
  • a disposition to a bereaved minor's trust on the coming to an end of an immediate post-death interest.

There is no IHT payable when such transfers are made. However, IHT may be payable if the donor dies within seven years of making the transfer (see overleaf).

Chargeable lifetime transfer (CLT)

A CLT is a lifetime gift which is neither exempt nor a PET. A lifetime gift to establish or add property to a trust will generally be a CLT. IHT at the lifetime rate of 20% is due on the value of the transfer in excess of the unutilised nil-rate band.

The IHT can be paid by the donee or the donor. Where the donor pays the IHT the tax payable is also a chargeable transfer meaning that the effective rate of IHT is 25%.


Pre-owned asset tax (POAT) is an annual income tax charge which can apply to individuals who are UK resident. It may be triggered where a transaction has been structured so as to allow an individual to benefit from property transferred (or property derived from the original property transferred) while avoiding an IHT charge under both normal principles and the gift with reservation of benefit (GWR) provisions. The rules are complex with specific regimes for: (i) land; (ii) chattels; and (iii) intangible property comprised in a settlement where the settlor retains an interest. Specialist advice should be sought.

IHT on death

On death IHT can be charged on: (i) gifts made within seven years of the date of death; (ii) the value of a person's estate on death; and (iii) assets caught by the GWR provisions.

Gifts (PETS and CLTs) made within seven years of the date of death

On death IHT has to be recalculated on every lifetime transfer made within seven years of death. Once the cumulative transfers exceed the nil-rate band, IHT will be payable on the excess at 40%.

Where the donor has survived for at least three years and the rate of tax is tapered effectively giving a reduced IHT rate (the reduction being greater for each additional year of survival). The donee is responsible for paying any tax triggered by the death.

The death estate

The death estate comprises the net assets of the individual less reasonable funeral expenses, all property to which the deceased had a qualifying interest in possession and non-settled property over which the deceased had a general power of disposal. IHT is charged at 40% on the value of the death estate after it has been reduced by appropriate exemptions and reliefs and by the unutilised nil-rate band.

The deceased's personal representatives are responsible for paying the tax on the death estate. Where relevant the trustees are responsible for paying any tax due with respect to the value of the deceased's qualifying interest in possession.

Assets caught by the GWR provisions

Broadly speaking, straightforward gifts where the deceased kept back some benefit, (e.g. a house gifted to a son but still lived in by the donor) are caught by the GWR provisions. Such gifts are deemed to form part of the donor's estate immediately before their death. The donee is responsible for paying the IHT due.

Reliefs for assets which qualify as business or agricultural property

Business property relief (BPR) and agricultural property relief (APR) may reduce the amount chargeable to IHT by either 100% or 50% depending on the type of asset. APR only covers the property's agricultural value. In contrast, BPR covers the entire value of the property. Eligibility for both reliefs is subject to various conditions such as use of the property, the business activities and length of ownership. The conditions for both reliefs can be complicated and professional advice should be sought.

Payment of IHT

There is a fixed IHT payment deadline of the following 30 April for lifetime transfers made between 6 April and 30 September. IHT for other lifetime transfers is payable six months after the end of the month when the transfer was made. IHT on death is due on the earlier of six months after the end of the month when the death occurred and the delivery of the IHT return.

IHT on either a lifetime transfer or on death can be paid in ten annual instalments where the IHT is attributable to land, shares or business assets, the qualifying conditions are met and a claim is made. The outstanding IHT will be payable if the property is disposed of. There is also a specialised IHT payment relief available for qualifying woodlands.

Planning for IHT

The impact of IHT can be mitigated by careful planning and by making use of the various exemptions during lifetime.

The way a Will is drafted may affect the IHT payable and so this should be reviewed regularly.

A common method of mitigating the impact of an IHT liability is through the use of life assurance policies.

Furthermore, and life assurance and pension arrangements should wherever possible be written in trust so as to fall outside the death estate for IHT purposes.

A consultation document was published in June 2011 regarding the proposal that, with effect from April 2012, a reduced 36% rate of IHT is to apply to estates where more than 10% of the net death estate (after deducting the available nil-rate band and various exemptions) is left to charity.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.