The Many Ways To Avoid Inheritance Tax

Inheritance tax is becoming a reality for many families simply because of rising house prices. Mortgages giant Halifax Bank of Scotland has estimated that more than 2m properties in Britain could be worth enough to land their owners with a tax bill.

Inheritance tax is charged at 40% and in the current tax year it kicks in on every £1 of assets over £300,000. Tax due on a property worth £400,000 would be 40% of £100,000, a bill of £40,000.

Sophie Neary, product director for says: “This is a significant amount of money but inheritance tax is often called a voluntary tax because there are many ways that you can quite legally organise your finances to avoid or reduce it. You will almost certainly need independent advice as some options including equity release or remortgaging can be complex. But one of the secrets for dealing with inheritance tax is to start planning early.”

* Husbands and wives do not pay inheritance tax on money they leave each other and nor do same-sex couples who have registered as civil partners. But if you are in a heterosexual relationship and not married think about tying the knot. Otherwise your share of joint assets may leave your partner with a tax bill.

* Make a will: not all of your money will automatically go to a spouse if you die without a will and this could leave the family with a bill.

* Husbands and wives can organise their wills so that they don’t “waste” one nil rate band by simply leaving everything to the other. A will trust can be set up to pass assets to children but allow the surviving spouse to benefit. You can save up to £120,000 in tax by doing this (40% of the nil rate band that would otherwise have been lost). This can include a share in the family home but it is essential to get advice on this as the arrangements – particularly those related to family homes – must set up properly to satisfy HM Customs and Revenue.

* There is usually no tax to pay on pension funds and life insurance policies that are written “in trust” and when setting up insurance or pensions it is important to consider doing this. It is standard procedure for many insurance companies and pension providers.

* Debt can be good: equity release or remortgaging will reduce the value of your estate. But take care as there are pitfalls. The Financial Services Authority’s consumer website has advice on equity release.

* Give money away if you can afford to. Gifts of up to £3,000 in total will be tax free and if you gave nothing in the tax year before, you can give £6,000 in one year. Gifts of up to £250 each to as many people as you like in one tax year are also tax free. Parents can give £5,000 as a wedding gift to a child and grandparents £2,500.

* If you use up all the standard gift exemptions, other amounts given away will be tax free if you survive for seven years.

* Leave money to charity in your will; no inheritance tax is payable on charitable donations.

* Life insurance can be taken out to pay an expected inheritance tax bill.

* Discounted gift and loans schemes from insurance companies use different methods to allow investors some regular payments to money put into trust.

Philip Smith writes for Beat That Quote on all loans and finance topics.