When you pass away you may want to leave all of your estate to your loved ones, but HM Revenue & Customs may have other ideas.
Inheritance Tax is the tax paid on your estate, which is basically everything you own at the time you die. Sometimes it is also payable on assets you may have given away during your lifetime. Assets include property, possessions, money and investments.
Inheritance Tax is currently charged at two rates: 0% applies to the value of your estate up to £325,000, and from 6th April 2010 40% applies to anything over the £325,000 threshold. In certain circumstances there may also be a Residence Nil Rate Band (0% applies) of up to a further £175,000 if the estate is within certain limits.
If all of the estate is passed to a spouse or civil partner there is normally no Inheritance Tax, but this may only delay the problem.
Inheritance Tax can be a real financial headache for your beneficiaries when they need it least. For example, the Inheritance Tax bill must usually be paid before the state can be distributed. This means your beneficiaries may experience a delay in receiving what you have left them, especially as your savings may not be accessible to pay the bill.
What you can do now
If you think your estate exceeds the Inheritance Tax threshold - or could do so in the future - there is plenty you can do now to plan for it in advance. Making a will with Inheritance Tax planning in mind is a good start for instance. You could also make gifts (limits apply) during your lifetime in order to minimise your Inheritance Tax liability and try to make full use of any Inheritance Tax exemptions. There are also ways in which life assurance and investments can be used for Inheritance Tax planning.
Whatever you do, start now.