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If your estate is worth more than the Inheritance Tax threshold - £325,000 per person for the current tax year - there are some important Inheritance Tax exemptions that allow you to make gifts to others and not have to pay tax on them when you die.
Spouses/civil partners can transfer their allowance between them so the surviving partner's estate can be worth up to £650,000 before any inheritance tax is due.
You can make gifts to certain people and organisations without having to pay any Inheritance Tax. These gifts are exempt whether you make them during your life or as part of your Will.
Gifts that you give to your unmarried partner, or a partner that you're not in a registered civil partnership with, are not exempt.
You can give away gifts worth up to £3,000 in total in each tax year and these gifts will be exempt from Inheritance Tax when you die. You can carry forward any unused part of the £3,000 exemption to the following year, but if you don't use it in that year, the carried-over exemption expires.
In addition to the annual exemption there are other exemptions for certain types of gifts. These are explained below. Exemptions cannot be combined to increase the amounts given away to the same person.
Some gifts made during your lifetime are exempt from Inheritance Tax because of the type of gift or the reason for making it.
Wedding or civil partnership ceremony gifts are exempt from Inheritance Tax, subject to certain limits:
You have to make the gift - or promise to make it - on or shortly before the date of the wedding or civil partnership ceremony. If the ceremony is called off and you still make the gift - or if you make the gift after the ceremony without having promised it first - this exemption won't apply.
There's no Inheritance Tax on individual gifts worth up to £250. You can give as many people as you like up to £250 each in any one tax year.
You can't give someone another £250 if you've given them a gift using a different exemption, e.g. the £3,000 annual exemption.
If you give someone more than £250 in a year, the whole amount counts - the first £250 is not exempt.
Any regular gifts you make out of your after-tax income, not including your capital, are exempt from Inheritance Tax. These gifts will only qualify if you have enough income left after making them to maintain your normal lifestyle.
You can also make exempt maintenance payments to:
Any gifts you make to individuals will be exempt from Inheritance Tax as long as you live for seven years after making the gift. These sorts of gifts are known as 'Potentially Exempt Transfers' (PETs).
However if you give an asset away at any time, but keep an interest in it - for example you give your house away but continue to live in it rent-free - this gift will not be a potentially exempt transfer, but will be a failed gift. The gift must be outright and unconditional to succeed as a PET.
If you die within seven years and the total value of gifts you made is less than the Inheritance Tax threshold, then the value of the gifts is added back to your estate and any tax due is paid out of the estate (unless you agreed for the donee of the gift to meet such tax)
However, if you die within seven years of making a gift and the gift is valued at more than the Inheritance Tax threshold, Inheritance Tax will need to be paid on its value, either by the person receiving the gift or by the representatives of the estate.
If you die between three and seven years after making a gift, and the total value of gifts that you made is over the threshold, any Inheritance Tax due on the gift is reduced on a sliding scale. This is known as 'Taper Relief'.
|Years between gift and death
|Percentage of the tax you pay
|Taper Relief (effective tax rate)
|less than 3
|3 to 4
|4 to 5
|5 to 6
|6 to 7
Gifts into trust are not generally exempt from Inheritance Tax.
It will help your executor or personal representative to sort out your financial affairs when you die if you keep a record of any gifts you make and note on that record which exemption you've used.
It's also a good idea to keep a record of your after-tax income if you make regular gifts out of income as part of your normal expenditure. This will show that the gifts are regular and that you have enough income to cover them and your usual day-to-day expenditure without having to draw on your capital.