Inheritance Tax: Thresholds, Allowances and Relief Explained

Inheritance tax is charged when someone leaves behind an estate worth more than £325,000. Understanding how inheritance tax works ensures your heirs will receive the money or assets you plan to pass on. Read on to find out how it works.

Felicity Hannah, Brean Horne Last updated on 11 April 2022.
Inheritance Tax: Thresholds, Allowances and Relief Explained

Inheritance tax (IHT) is a tax paid on assets left behind after a person dies. It isn’t applied to everyone and will only be charged on estates worth over a certain amount. Here, we explain how inheritance tax works and who has to pay.

What is inheritance tax?

Very simply, IHT is a levy on money or assets worth over £325,000 left behind after you die.

It’s set at a rate of 40% after the tax-free allowance (known as the nil rate band), and it’s payable per estate rather than per person who inherits. That means you can’t reduce the bill by sharing it with more people and using up multiple allowances.

Who pays inheritance tax?

Inheritance tax is paid from your estate to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). This is carried out by the executor, who is the person that deals with the estate if there’s a will in place.

If you gift anyone assets worth over £325,000 within seven years of your death, they may need to pay Inheritance Tax too.

Inheritance tax isn’t usually paid if:

  • An estate is worth less than £325,000
  • Anything above £325,000 is left to a spouse, civil partner, a charity or a community amateur sports club

What is the inheritance tax threshold?

The inheritance tax threshold for 2022/23 is £325,000. You’ll have to pay 40% on anything in your estate above that value.

On top of the IHT standard nil rate band of £325,000, there is also a residence nil rate band which allows individuals to pass on up to £175,000-worth of property without paying any tax, so long as it's the family home and being passed on to their children, grandchildren, step-children or foster-children.

This means married couples or civil partners, who pass on their main residence, can leave an inheritance of up to £1m without incurring any IHT.

That extra allowance for homes means that any one person can effectively leave up to £500,000 without paying tax. And married or civil-partnered couples can also combine their property allowances, meaning they can effectively pass on an estate worth up to £1m without any tax becoming due.

However the benefits of the ‘residential nil rate band’ are reduced on the largest estates. For every £2 over £2m, the allowance is reduced by £1. This means that if you have an estate worth more than £2.35m you will not benefit from the additional residence nil rate band allowance.

When do you pay inheritance tax?

HMRC has to receive the payment by the end of the sixth month after a death and interest will be charged if it is not paid in time.

If assets take time to sell, executors may choose to pay in instalments over a 10 year period, but again interest will be charged.

IHT can be paid out of the estate of the person who has died or from the recipient’s account – this will need to be discussed with the executor of the estate.

How to avoid inheritance tax

There are ways for people to maximise the amount they can pass onto their heirs and reduce the amount of IHT they pay. This can include giving money away before you die to reduce the value of your estate as well as specialist investments and life insurance policies.

Because this can be quite complicated, it’s an area where getting some qualified financial advice can be a sensible decision – and the earlier the better because it can take years to pass on wealth in the most tax-efficient way allowed.

A qualified financial adviser, looking at your specific circumstances will be able to help you plan your affairs so that your estate will eventually pass on as smoothly as possible.

Life insurance pay-outs can count towards the value of an estate, so – to hammer home the point - this really is an area where advice helps.

Do you have to pay inheritance tax on gifts?

Giving gifts is one way that some people can pass on wealth before their death, in order to avoid IHT.

For example, everyone is allowed to give away up to £3,000 a year without it being subject to any tax, that’s your annual exemption – so this can be a way to pass on some of your estate in advance without having to worry about tax.

There are a few other exemptions, including for wedding gifts, small presents and gifts from your surplus income which do not reduce your own standard of living.

If you want to make larger gifts, in excess of the gifting allowance rules you can, but whether or not they become liable for IHT depends on how long the person making the gift lives. These are known as potentially exempt transfers and they only become wholly free of IHT seven years after the gift is made.

If you die within three years the full 40% IHT rate applies, but if the donor dies between three and seven years a gradually reducing rate is charged.

There are also strict rules around gifts. For example, if you give away an asset but continue to use it – like a car or a house – then it may still be considered part of your estate.

Meanwhile, gifts to charities are exempt and substantial donations can even cut the rate of tax that has to be paid.

With inheritance tax there’s a lot at stake so it’s important to plan early, discuss the options with your beneficiaries and take some specialist advice on your specific circumstances.

» MORE: How to start thinking about estate planning

Image source: Getty Images

About the authors:

Felicity is a personal finance journalist. She regularly writes for The Times, The Mirror and The Independent. She has won five awards for her work, including Household Money Journalist of the year. Read more

Brean is a personal finance writer at NerdWallet. She covers a range of financial topics and has written for consumer titles including Which?, Moneywise and The Motley Fool. Read more

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