What is IHT?
If you plan to pass on assets or money after you die, your heirs could face a tax bill of up to 40% of your estate.
Your estate is defined as your property, savings and other assets after any debts and funeral expenses have been deducted.
You can reduce or avoid IHT in a number of ways. There's a tax-free allowance, and you can also give away a certain amount of your money during your lifetime, tax-free and without it counting towards your estate.
Video: How IHT works
Our short video explains what makes up your estate, how married couples can pool their allowances, and how the main residence nil-rate band works.
IHT thresholds and rates 2020-21
Everyone in the 2020-21 tax year has a tax-free inheritance tax allowance of £325,000 – known as the nil-rate band. The allowance has remained the same since 2010-11.
The standard inheritance tax rate is 40% of anything in your estate over the £325,000 threshold.
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're married or in a civil partnership, you may be able to leave more than this before paying tax.
As of April 2017, you can also pay less inheritance tax if you're leaving property to a family member. For the 2020-21 tax year, this new transferable allowance rose to £175,000, up from £150,000 in 2019-20.
You can find out more in our inheritance tax property guide.
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Calculate your IHT bill
Try our calculator to work out how much inheritance tax may be due on your estate.
Do spouses pay IHT?
Married couples and civil partners are allowed to pass their possessions and assets to each other tax-free in most cases.
The surviving partner is allowed to use both tax-free allowances, providing the first spouse to die did not use up their full inheritance tax allowance by giving away a big chunk of money in their will.
In 2020-21, most married couple or civil partners can pass on up to £650,000, or £1m if your estate includes your home, effectively doubling 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'.
Find out more: inheritance tax for married couples and civil partners: see the benefits to your inheritance tax bill
Gifts and other ways to avoid IHT
Some gifts are usually tax-free. These include gifts between spouses and civil partners, and gifts to charities.
Other gifts are potentially tax-free (known as potentially exempt transfers or PETs) depending on when they were made. Generally, as long as a gift is made more than seven years before your death to an individual – not to a business or a trust – you won't pay tax on it.
If you do die within these seven years, the tax payable on the gift may be reduced, depending on when the gift was made. You can find out more in our guide to tax-free gifts.
There are other ways to avoid inheritance tax, too - including putting your life insurance policy under trust or having a deed of variation in your will.
Trusts can also be a useful way to manage your IHT bill, and keep an element of control over what happens to your assets when you pass away. Find out more in our guide to trusts and IHT.
There are also other options like equity release and insurance policies: we explain in our guide to avoiding inheritance tax.
Who pays the IHT bill?
Inheritance tax due on money or possessions passed on when you die is usually paid from your estate.
Your estate is made up of everything you own, minus debts, such as your mortgage, and expenses such as funeral expenses.
Your heirs must pay IHT by the end of the sixth month after the person died. An inheritance tax reference number from HMRC is needed first, and should be applied for at least three weeks before a payment needs to be made.
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 in most circumstances.
If they can't or will not pay, the amount due then comes out of your estate.
To find out more about the legal process of dealing with the estate of someone who has died, check out our probate guides.