Inheritance Tax & Estate Planning

This article provides some useful advice regarding the benefits of making a will and the use of available Inheritance Tax lifetime exemptions and the nil rate band of £325,000.

Dying intestate

You may be surprised to learn that less than one-third of the adult population in the UK has bothered to make a will. They thus take the risk of dying intestate and their estate being possibly distributed in a way that they did not intend. For example, did you realise that if a husband dies intestate with a large enough estate his widow could have to share his assets with his brothers and sisters and/or nephews and nieces.

Other problems that can occur of dying estate include:

  • Unmarried partners not being recognised resulting in financial difficulties for them
  • Protracted arguments arising over family heirlooms
  • A greater amount of Inheritance Tax having to be paid than is necessary
  • Delays and additional costs being suffered in winding up the estate

Making a valid will

Clearly this unwelcome situation can easily be avoided by asking a solicitor to draw up a valid will (often a husband and wife will have mirror images of each others) and then ensure that the assets and bequests mentioned in the will are reviewed on a regular basis. It is clearly important to review a will after significant ‘milestones’ such as a separation or a divorce, the marriage of one’s children and the birth of grandchildren. It is also important to review the contents following the announcement of any or major changes to the Inheritance Tax (IHT) rules in a Budget statement.

Lifetime gift planning

Although the first £325,000 of a person’s estate is currently charged at a nil rate of IHT there are several ways in which a person can reduce the amount of tax ultimately payable on their death by utilising the following lifetime exemptions:

  • The first £3,000 of any gift in a tax year (which can be carried forward one year only)
  • Small gifts up to £250 per recipient per tax year
  • Gifts in consideration of marriage or a civil partnership up to £5,000
  • Regular gifts made out of a person’s disposable income

Also, even where a gift is not covered by any of the above exemptions (known as a potentially exempt transfer) the amount is ignored completely once the donor has survived seven years.

There also exist generous reliefs up to 100% for business and agricultural property both in terms of lifetime giving or where qualifying property is left as part of an estate on death.

Transfer of an unused nil rate band

In 2007 a welcome change was made to the rules regarding married couples and civil partnerships which permit an unused IHT nil rate band on the first death to be carried forward and used against the estate of the surviving spouse or civil partner.

The following example illustrates the benefit of this relatively recent change to the IHT rules:

Mr Taylor died in June 1994 leaving his estate worth £300,000 to his widow. At the date of his death the IHT nil rate band was £150,000. Mrs Taylor died in September 2012 leaving her estate worth £800,000 to her two adult children and four grandchildren. Neither Mr nor Mrs Taylor has made any significant lifetime gifts.

  • On Mr Taylor’s death in 1994 no Inheritance Tax would have been due as he has left his entire estate to a surviving spouse resulting in his nil rate band being unused.
  • On Mrs Taylor’s death in 2012 her own nil rate band of £325,000 is available together with her late husband’s unused band of a further £325,000. This is because the unused nil rate band available on the second death is based on the percentage unused on the first death multiplied by the current nil rate band.
  • Therefore only £150,000 (£800,000 – £650,000) of the late Mrs Taylor’s estate would be chargeable at 40% resulting in IHT due of £60,000. On an estate of £800,000 this results in an effective rate of IHT of only 7.5%.

Note however that the use of any available unused nil rate band  does not happen automatically and must be claimed on form IHT 402 within two years following the end of the month in which the second death occurs. The form and explanatory notes can be accessed on the HM Revenue & Customs website by clicking on the following link:

The use of trusts, both during lifetime and on death, should always be considered in any estate planning exercise but are outside the scope of this article.

If you require advice on any aspect of Inheritance Tax and estate planning or would like to arrange a comprehensive ‘Tax Health Check’ then please call us on 01633 215544 or email us at