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A Rough Guide to IHT

By Contractor Weekly


The aftermath of the storm in a teacup surrounding the cash gifts to David Cameron by his late father and his mother to legally avoid £70K in Inheritance Tax (IHT), serves as a good time to take a look at this tax.

IHT is principally a death duty and to a lesser extent a tax on lifetime gifts.

Who is affected?

Those individuals who are UK domiciled are chargeable to IHT on their worldwide property and non-UK domiciled individuals are chargeable in respect of property in the UK.

Upon the death of a person the value of their estate, after various exemptions and reliefs is liable to IHT. The executor of the will or the administrator of the estate will then pay the IHT using the funds from the estate. The tax has to be paid by the end of the six month after the person died.

In general, the recipient of an inheritance doesn’t have to pay IHT although there are some exceptions.

Rate of tax

The first £325K (nil-rate band) of the estate is exempted, with the balance charged at 40%. The rate may be reduced to 36% if 10% or more of the estate is left to charity.

In addition to a person’s own nil-rate band it is possible to utilise any proportion of a spouse’s or civil partner’s nil-rate band that was unused upon death. For example, if a wife leaves her whole estate to her husband on her death, on the husband’s death his estate would benefit from his own nil-rate band plus his wife’s, giving a total of £650K free from IHT. This applies even if that person remarries.


An estate may not have to pay IHT on assets that the deceased gave away as gifts while they were alive.

A gift can be anything that has a value, e.g money, property or possessions.

Gifts between married couples or civil partners are free from IHT provided they live in the UK permanently.

Potentially Exempt Transfers (PETs)

Gifts to individuals or to a trust for a disabled person where the donor lives for seven years after making the gift, is exempt from IHT. Where the donor dies before the seven years however, the value of those gifts count towards the IHT threshold of £325K.

In calculating the tax payable on gifts within the seven years before death, the tax is reduced if the donor survives the gift by more than three years. This is known as taper relief.

Years between gift and death

Rate of tax payable (%)

Less than 3


3 – 4


4 – 5


5 – 6


6 – 7


Annual exemption

Gifts of £3K in a tax year are exempt. Any surplus allowance can be carried over from one tax year to the next but the maximum exemption is £6K.

Regular use of this exemption say over a 10-year period would result in £30K free of IHT out of a chargeable estate or £60K for a married couple/civil partnership, saving tax of £12K and £24K respectively.

Small gifts exemption £250

There is no IHT on individual gifts worth up to £250. A person may give as many people as they like up to £250 in any one tax year. This is intended to cover the likes of birthday and Christmas presents. This cannot be used in conjunction with the £3K annual exemption. It is not possible therefore to give someone another £250 if the donor has already given them a gift using the £3K exemption.

Wedding gifts

Where a son or daughter or step-son/daughter gets married or enters into a civil partnership, a cash gift or gift in kind will be exempt depending on the relationship between the donor and donee:

  • £5,000 for parents
  • £2,500 for grandparents and great grandparents
  • £1,000 for all others

Normal expenditure out of income

To qualify for this exemption, gifts must be part of the donor’s normal expenditure. Taking one year with another, it must be made out of the donor’s income and must not reduce their available income (after they paid tax) below that required to maintain their usual standard of living. Typically, this will often apply to life insurance premiums paid for the benefit of someone else.

Family maintenance

No IHT is due on gifts to help with other people’s living costs if they are made to, for example:

  • an ex-spouse or former civil partner
  • a relative who’s dependant on them because of old age, illness or disability
  • a child (including adopted and step-child) under 18 and in full-time education


Gifts to charities, museums, universities or community amateur sports clubs are fully exempt from IHT.

Political parties

Gifts to political parties are exempt where that party has either:

  • Two members elected to the House of Commons
  • One MP who received 150,000 votes at the last general election

In addition to the above there are a number of other exemptions available, e.g gifts for national interest.

Business property relief (BPR)

Whilst there are a number of reliefs available that allow some assets to be passed on free of IHT or with a reduced bill, BPR is the main one of interest for contractors.

Any ownership of a business or share of a business is included in the estate for IHT purposes.

BPR reduces the value of a business or its assets when calculating the IHT liability and is given at either 50% or 100% on business assets that are passed on either pre or post death.

100% relief

  • A business or interest in a business
  • Shares in an unlisted company

50% relief

  • Shares controlling more than 50% of the voting rights in a listed company
  • Land, buildings or machinery owned by the deceased and used in a business they were a partner in or controlled
  • Land, buildings or machinery used in the business and held in a trust that it has the right to benefit from.

Relief can only be claimed where the deceased owned the business or asset for at least two years before they died.

BPR cannot be claimed if the company:

  • Mainly deals with securities, stocks or shares, land or buildings, or in making or holding investments
  • Is a not-for-profit organisation
  • Is being sold, unless the sale is to a company that will carry on the business and the estate will be paid mainly in shares of the company
  • Is being wound up, unless this is part of a process to allow the business of the company to carry on

BPR cannot be claimed on an asset if it:

  • Also qualifies for Agricultural Relief
  • Wasn’t used mainly for business in the two years before it was either passed on as a gift or as part of the will
  • Is not needed for future use in the business

Gift with reservation of benefit

Where someone passes on their home to their children or someone else and continues to live in it rent-free, the value of the home is included in their estate even if they have lived in it for seven years after giving it away. This is known as a gift with reservation of benefit.

However, this rule will not apply if the donor pays the new owner a ‘market rent’ (the going rate for similar local rental properties) for as long as they reside there.

Living abroad

When someone living abroad dies, the rules for IHT depend on:

  • How long they lived abroad
  • Whether their assets are in the UK or abroad
  • If their assets in the UK are ‘excluded assets’
  • If their assets were put into a trust

Deemed domicile

For IHT purposes, HMRC can treat someone who had their permanent home (domicile) abroad as if it was in the UK (known as deemed domicile) if they had either:

  • Had their home in the UK at any time in the three years before they died
  • Been resident in the UK for at least 17 of the 20 income tax years up to their death

If the deceased is deemed domiciled in the UK, their estate has to pay UK IHT on all their assets. If they are not deemed domiciled, their estate:

  • Has to pay IHT on their assets in the UK with the exception of excluded assets
  • Won’t have to pay UK IHT on their assets outside the UK

Published April 2016