Inheritance tax & houses – common errors

General election time tends to cause a spike in views being expressed on IHT and houses. By a combination of lack of awareness, the complex tax system, and sometimes political intent, common errors arise.

Some examples from the December 2019 election campaign are:

  • Not realising that only around 5% of death estates suffer IHT each year – see https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/832126/IHT_Commentary.pdf
  • Not being aware that the residence nil rate band can increase the normal £325k nil rate band by £150k* – see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/inheritance-tax-residence-nil-rate-band
  • Thinking IHT is double tax, rather than often being partly or mainly the result of otherwise tax free growth (or not much worse “double tax” than VAT)
  • Hoping that giving away all or part of the house saves IHT – in many cases it makes things worse, due to reservation of benefit, pre-owned asset tax and loss of capital gains tax free uplift
  • Forgetting the instalment option – see https://www.gov.uk/paying-inheritance-tax/yearly-instalments
  • Worrying, when young and healthy enough that life cover can cheaply cover the IHT risk
  • Forgetting the transferable nil rate band – see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/inheritance-tax-transfer-of-threshold
  • Focusing on “40%”, rather than what actual blended tax rate might apply – eg the estate of a married couple (or widow/widower) with £1.2m house might suffer 8.3% IHT on that asset
  • Not realising that a reduction in the IHT rate, or its abolishment, might be balanced by the removal of the tax free uplift on death or private residence relief
  • In hoping for IHT to be replaced with something else, that an annual wealth tax might cause more hardship than IHT on an elderly low income and valuable house owning taxpayer
  • Worrying about IHT but not taking advice

If any others are spotted, I am happy to add to the above list.

Some additions:

  • Even if IHT is payable on the house, there may be other resources to draw upon, such as the deceased’s pension fund
  • In some circumstances, where more than one generation live in the family home, it is possible to gift and share part of the property with the younger generation without it being a reservation of benefit – see https://www.gov.uk/hmrc-internal-manuals/inheritance-tax-manual/ihtm14360

*it is this residence nil rate band that Labour’s 2019 manifesto suggests should be removed, leaving just £325k (but not £125k as some suggest, which is from an earlier report commissioned, but not written, by Labour).

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