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IHT: know your limit

Insurance company Canada Life’s annual survey for 2017 has revealed growing confusion over the operation of inheritance tax. According to the survey, more than two thirds of respondents did not know the current level of the inheritance tax nil rate band – among adults over the age of 45 with assets in excess of £325,000, some 70% did not know that the threshold for the standard nil rate band is currently £325,000. This is a significant increase on the 61% shown in the 2016 survey. In addition, 55% of respondents did not know the rate at which assets above their available nil rate band are taxed – this represents an increase of 3% on 2016 figures.

The research found that over a quarter (27%) of those aged 45 or over with enough assets to trigger a potential IHT bill do not have a will, leaving their inheritance plans unclear and meaning their wealth could pass to relatives they did not intend to provide for under intestacy rules.

Another simple and effective estate planning strategy is to gift money to relatives, but just a fifth of respondents had done so – with over half (51%) saying they don’t see a need.

One of the main reasons that simple estate planning tools are being ignored by people with enough wealth to benefit from them is a lack of understanding that could easily be rectified by better use of financial advice. However, Canada Life’s research found that just 27% of wealthy Brits over the age of 45 have sought professional advice on IHT planning. At the end of January 2018, the Chancellor requested the Office for Tax Simplification (OTS) to carry out an IHT review, with the view to simplifying the ‘particularly complex’ system in which it operates.

The review will focus on the technical and administrative issues within IHT, such as the process of submitting returns and paying any tax due, as well as practical issues around routine estate planning and disclosure. It may also look at how current gift rules interact with the wider IHT system, and whether the current framework causes any distortions to taxpayers’ decisions surrounding transfers, investments and other relevant transactions. Although there are no changes at present, there are likely to be future reforms in this area. With this in mind, individuals would do well to check their current position on inheritance tax issues and check that adequate provisions are in place.

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