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Did you know that more and more people are becoming liable to Inheritance Tax (IHT), yet it can be a mitigated tax. Even with the effective doubling of the IHT threshold for married couples (and civil partnerships) many people are still being caught by this tax.
Inheritance tax (IHT) is no longer a concern just for the wealthy. It is a growing worry for many people, especially homeowners who have benefited from growth in the value of their properties. Property is not the only asset that makes up a person’s estate. Your estate also includes: your contents and possessions, your savings and investments, your pension fund and any life insurance not in trust.
Over the years, the IHT thresholds have, in real terms, stealthily fallen. The threshold (nil rate band) has not kept pace with property inflation and as such, more and more people are falling into the trap of paying inheritance tax. IHT is payable at a flat rate of 40% on assets above the nil rate band. Unlike many other taxes though, there are plenty of things you can do now to make sure you pass as much of your wealth on to your family and friends, and not the taxman.
Make a Will
The first thing to do is to see a professional will writer or solicitor to make a will. There is no IHT payable between spouses, so if a partner dies and leaves his or her estate in full to the spouse, there is no tax to pay. It is the children who typically pay the inheritance tax liability after the death of both parents.
Another means by which IHT can be minimised is the setting up of specialised trusts. These are legal documents that should always be drawn up by experts, usually barristers. Always consult a member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners.
Two in every three trust deeds written are used to reduce liabilities to Inheritance Tax. Many more are used to prevent children from getting their hands on money until a predetermined age which, depending on the type of trust, can be 18, 21 or 25 - or sometimes until a named individual decides they are capable of dealing with it sensibly.
If the aim is tax-saving, it’s important to understand that, once assets have been placed in trust, your access to the money will be affected, so you will need to think carefully about what you can safely afford to give away. There are typically four types of trust in popular use at the present time: Interest in Possession; Life Interest; Discretionary; and Accumulation & Maintenance. Each type of trust does a different job and each comes with its own sets of pros and cons. The utilisation of trusts is the best way to minimise your exposure to IHT and if this has piqued your interest, your next step is to consult the legal profession.
Gifting money away and lifetime allowances
Wills are not the only weapon in the battle to minimise IHT bills. You can, for instance, simply give away as much as possible while you’re still alive. This is known as a “Potentially-Exempt Transfer”, or PET. Anything you give away is IHT-free, as long as you manage to survive for more than seven years after handing it over. If you die within seven years, the recipients will still be taxed, but on a sliding scale. If you die within three years, they have to pay the full 40 per cent of anything above the Nil-Rate Band. If, however, you die after three years, the tax reduces. When gifting money away, it may be useful to use BONDS as an investment vehicle, and put the bond in trust.
Equity release may be a useful tool for anyone over the age of 60, with no mortgage on their property. Given that property is often the biggest asset one has, it can be prudent to reduce the estate by drawing on the equity in the house. You can either release a lump sum or a monthly income or a combination of the two. The amount you can release is determined by the valuation of your house and your age. The release of capital is tax free. In most cases, interest is rolled up so you don’t need to pay the money back until death or until you sell your house, however, the rolling up of interest may mean that the eventual repayment may be significantly greater than the sum originally released. If you move home, you can ‘port’ the mortgage to another property within certain criteria. SHIP (safe home income plans) members also provide a ‘no negative equity guarantee,’ so that no matter what happens to the value of your home or however long you live, the beneficiaries of your estate will not have to pay any additional costs on the sale of the home.
Whole of life policies
Using a life insurance policy with no end term such as a whole of life (WOL) policy can be very useful in mitigating inheritance tax. The policy can be written in a single name if a widow or the applicant is single, or joint names if the applicants are married. If married a couple would apply for a joint life second death policy, so that only on the second death would the policy pay out to the beneficiaries. The amount of cover selected would be set at the outset as the IHT liability, and it should be reviewed once per annum. A WOL policy can be set up on standard cover or maximum cover. The premium will vary depending on the options taken. To decide which type is suitable, please contact us for additional information.