Inheritance tax explained Inheritance tax: thresholds, rates and who pays
Inheritance tax (IHT) is a tax on money or possessions you leave behind when you die, and on some gifts you make during your lifetime.
However, a certain amount can be passed on tax-free, which we call the 'tax-free allowance'. This is also known as the 'nil rate band'.
Everyone in the 2015-2016 tax year has a tax-free inheritance tax allowance of £325,000. The allowance has remained the same since 2010-11, and will stay frozen until at least 2017.
There are also a number of gifts that you can make during your lifetime or in your will that are also tax free and these are covered later (see Inheritance tax planning and tax-free gifts).
The Which? Money Helpline offers independent guidance on all types of tax issues, including those involving inheritance tax. If you're not a Which? member, and you'd like to get unlimited access to our Money Helpline experts, you can try Which? Money for two months for £1.
Inheritance tax thresholds and rates
If you are single and die during the tax year 2015-2016 with an estate worth more than £325,000 (including money, property and investments, but after deducting debts and expenses such as funeral costs), 40% tax will become due on anything above £325,000.
For example, if you leave behind an estate worth £500,000 the tax bill will be £70,000 (40% on £175,000 – the difference between £500,000 and £325,000).
However, if you are married or in a civil partnership, you may be able to leave more than this before paying tax.
Inheritance tax rule changes
In the 2015 Summer Budget, the Chancellor, George Osborne announced a new transferable main residence allowance, which will gradually increase from £100,000 in April 2017 to £175,000 per person by 2020/21. This is in addition to the main nil-rate band. It will effectively raise the IHT-free allowance to £500,000 per person. Where married couples jointly own a family home and want to leave this to their children, the total IHT exemption will be £1m.
Inheritance tax rules for married couples and civil partners
Married couples and civil partners are allowed to pass their possessions and assets to each other tax-free and, since October 2007, the surviving partner is now allowed to use both tax-free allowances (providing one wasn’t used at the first death).
At the extreme, this effectively doubles the amount the surviving partner can leave behind tax-free without the need for special tax planning.
However, some people whose partner died before 21 March 1972 will be caught by a loophole which means they don't get a 'double allowance'.
Making a gift
As well as on your estate at death, inheritance tax may also be payable on gifts you make during your lifetime, especially if you die within seven years of making the gift.
Gifts fall into four basic categories:
- Always tax-free irrespective of when you make them – see Inheritance tax planning and tax-free gifts.
- Potentially tax-free (known as potentially exempt transfers or PETs) – see Inheritance tax planning and tax-free gifts.
- Taxable, but no tax due at the time the gift is made – see Taxable gifts.
- Taxable, and tax is paid at the time the gift is made – see Taxable gifts.
Who pays the inheritance tax bill?
Inheritance tax that becomes due on money or possessions passed on when you die is usually paid from your estate. Basically your estate is made up of everything you own, minus debts such as your mortgage and expenses such as funeral expenses.
However, if the tax is due on gifts you made during the last seven years before your death, the people who received the gifts must pay the tax due.
If they cannot or will not pay, the amount due then comes out of your estate.
- Which? tax calculator- check your 2014-15 tax bill with our tax calculator
- What to do when someone dies - see our step-by-step guide
- Writing a Will - we list the key points to consider
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