If your estate is worth more than the Inheritance Tax threshold (£325, 000 for the 2010-11 tax year) there are some important Inheritance Tax exemptions that allow you to make gifts to others which you will not have to pay tax on after you pass away.
Exempt beneficiaries or 'donees'
You can make gifts to certain people and organisations without having to pay any Inheritance Tax. These gifts are exempt whether you make them during your lifetime or as part of your will.
You can make exempt gifts to:
• your husband, wife or civil partner, as long as they have a permanent home in the UK
• a 'qualifying' charity established in the EU or another specified country (find out more in the link below)
• some national institutions such as museums, universities and the National Trust
• any UK political party that has at least two members elected to the House of Commons or has one elected member but the party received at least 150, 000 votes
Gifts that you give to your unmarried partner, or a partner that you're not in a registered civil partnership with, are not exempt.
Members of the armed forces
Both the MoD and HMRC point out that section 154 of the Inheritance Tax Act is referred to in their literature and websites, and that the families of deceased soldiers, sailors and airmen should be aware of it. This statute provides a complete and unlimited exemption from inheritance tax (IHT) for members of the Armed Forces and former members where active service was a contributory factor in their death, whenever it occurred.
You can give away gifts worth up to £3, 000 in each tax year and these gifts will be exempt from Inheritance Tax when you die. You can carry forward any unused part of the £3, 000 exemption to the following year, but if you don't use it in that year, the carried-over exemption expires.
The annual exemption is in addition to the other gift exemptions.
Some gifts made during your lifetime are exempt from Inheritance Tax because of the type of gift or the reason for making it.
Wedding gifts/civil partnership ceremony gifts
Wedding or civil partnership ceremony gifts are exempt from Inheritance Tax, subject to certain limits:
• parents can each give cash or gifts worth £5, 000
• grandparents and great grandparents can each give cash or gifts worth £2, 500
• anyone else can give cash or gifts worth £1, 000
You have to make the gift - or promise to make it - on or shortly before the date of the wedding or civil partnership ceremony. If the ceremony is called off and you still make the gift - or if you make the gift after the ceremony without having promised it first - this exemption won't apply.
You can make small gifts up to the value of £250 to as many people as you like in any one tax year. However, you can't give a larger sum and claim exemption for the first £250.
You can't use your small gifts allowance together with any other exemption when giving to the same person.
Regular gifts or payments that are part of your normal expenditure
Any regular gifts you make out of your after-tax income, not including your capital, are exempt from Inheritance Tax. These gifts will only qualify if you have enough income left after making them to maintain your normal lifestyle.
• monthly or other regular payments to someone
• regular gifts for Christmas and birthdays, or wedding/civil partnership anniversaries
• regular premiums on a life insurance policy - for you or someone else
You can also make exempt maintenance payments to:
• your husband, wife or civil partner
• your ex-spouse or former civil partner
• relatives who are dependent on you because of old age or infirmity
• your children, including adopted children and step-children, who are under 18 or in full-time education
The seven-year rule - 'potentially exempt transfers'
Any gifts you make to individuals will be exempt from Inheritance Tax as long as you live for seven years after making the gift. These sorts of gifts are known as 'potentially exempt transfers'.
However, if you give an asset away at any time, but keep an interest in it - for example you give your house away but continue to live in it rent-free - this gift will not be a potentially exempt transfer. Follow the link below to find out more.
If you die within seven years and the total value of gifts you made is less than the Inheritance Tax threshold, then the value of the gifts is added to your estate and any tax due is paid out of the estate.
However, if you die within seven years of making a gift and the gift is valued at more than the Inheritance Tax threshold, Inheritance Tax will need to be paid on its value, either by the person receiving the gift or by the representatives of the estate.
If you die between three and seven years after making a gift, and the total value of gifts that you made is over the threshold, any Inheritance Tax due on the gift is reduced on a sliding scale. This is known as 'Taper Relief'.
• Inheritance Tax and giving your home away
• More about Taper Relief Opens new window
Gifts into trust
Gifts into trust are not generally exempt from Inheritance Tax. If the trust is for a disabled person, the transfer into trust counts as a potentially exempt transfer - it will be exempt from Inheritance Tax if you survive for seven years after making the gift.
• Inheritance Tax on transfers into trust Opens new window
The importance of keeping records
It will help your executor or personal representative to sort out your financial affairs when you die if you keep a record of any gifts you make and note on that record which exemption you've used.
It's also a good idea to keep a record of your after-tax income if you make regular gifts out of income as part of your normal expenditure. This will show that the gifts are regular and that you have enough income to cover them and your usual day-to-day expenditure without having to draw on your capital.