Tribute and the Wedding Gift

Weddings are both a time of celebrating, where a beautiful couple decide to make a declaration to each other that they will stick together through thick and thin. And the declaration is in front of friends and family (and sometimes colleagues) and published appropriately. Being married creates a contract that is witnessed before numerous people, which is as much kept by the parties to it, as it is sheltered by social norms.

A more jaded person might think that any time between May and September is wedding season, and judge just how expensive a wedding might be. Not only for the nuptial pair, but for all the rest. How many times can you wear that wedding hat? And can you really afford to attend seven weddings in a year, where the gift list ranges from the Denby cups and saucers through to the Villeroy & Boch and all the way through to the very best of wedding ranges on offer. Being a guest at a wedding can involve an outlay from £100 through to many thousands. The wedding lists can be enormously revealing – how can the happy couple expect to manage without silver napkin rings from Tiffany ?  At what point does a gift become just the price tag for entry, the tribute to be rendered?

In ancient times, of course, the wedding of two people was the moment when they set up house together for the first time, when they left the home of their parents. In more recent centuries, a couple would have to work towards their “bottom drawer” of items for the new home. Making quilts for the bed was part of the way that friends and relatives could make a contribution, if you came from humbler stock, and wanted to wish the new couple well. Perhaps in previous decades even, the items commonly bought for the happy day was limited by the technology available – the automatic pop-up toaster was not patented until 1919, and so cannot have featured before then – the microwave, breadmaker, smoothie maker, vacuum cleaner, fridge, freezer, and electronic food processor also being recent inventions.

What might have been more important in those times would be the financial security of the couple – perhaps in a time when marriages left one party more financially vulnerable than the other. Marriage settlements safeguarding the assets of the female party were common amongst those who had significant assets to preserve.

Inheritance Tax legislation has existed in many guises, and has preserved a special category of gifts for the wedding event, but some might think that the allowances given do not reflect the size of gifts that are expected (moneysavingexpert
reported the average price of a wedding as £20,000 for this year)

These specific gifts are called those in contemplation of marriage, defined in section 22 IHTA:

  • a parent of a child to the marriage may give £5000
  • a grandparent or remoter ancestor £2500
  • a party to the marriage, £2,500
  • If you are not related to the parties getting married, £1000

When it comes down to what counts as a gift for this exemption, then clearly, proving retrospectively that a gift is made in this way requires a nexus between the event and the gift that is reasonable. For example, the delivery of presents to the home of the bride and groom two weeks after the event would be in contemplation of the marriage, on the basis that the event can clearly be tied to the item transferred. However, the gift of a cheque that did not clear the bank until three months after the marriage might not – as it might be unclear that this was a gift made for the marriage. The payment of the invoice for the cake might be closely connected with the wedding as to form part of a wedding-gift. Payment for a late honeymoon trip might not, if it cannot be distinguished from an ordinary holiday.

To err on the side of safety, all cheques to the couple should probably be presented and have cleared by the date of the wedding or civil partnership. You might keep a record of your gift card to the happy couple for later reference.

If you spend more than £5000 on your son’s civil partnership, as one of the more honoured guests, you might have to use your annual exemption for gifts (ss19 IHTA) to the total. This could give you up to £6,000, if you did not use the previous year’s allowance. As this allowance relates to you as an individual, then potentially there might be four parents with their allowances intact.

Gifts, Tribute and Taxes

In my family, where there are important gifts to be made, gift giving is noted formally, and full notes are kept.  For this purpose, when I’m talking about gifts, I mean a gift of money or items that have a resale value that is relatively substantial – and which has a meaning for Inheritance Tax – since the particular giver (aka donor) is someone who might be expected to have an estate that would suffer inheritance tax on death.

In my own circumstances, where there are children who share one parent, but not both, recording gifts has also been a way of making sure that the pattern of giving is fair.

Fair is a subjective term – of course it is.  Children born earlier may be fully “paid for” by the time a person dies.  Children (and of course grandchildren) born later may not be so.  To keep things fair is a difficult subject.  What is fair to one might not be to another.  What makes judging these things so hard is that usually, no records are kept.

Not in my particular family – largely because my father is very familiar with family disputes and inheritance tax law, having been a succession and tax lawyer for many decades.

Being a person who likes to understand the principle of equity and to practice what he preaches, he has devised a way of making sure that all his children understand the impact of the gifts that have been given over the years and the exemptions that cover each gift, so that in the event of his death, his executors have an easier time of it, and that if there are any disputes (polite or otherwise) between his heirs, at least there are some documents to back up the process.  On the basis that knowledge can give you truth, if not happiness.

If the role of being a child is to learn from a parent, then this is something that I hope to be able to use – in the role of a lawyer learning from another in the same field, I would also like to take this on board. 

And tribute?  That’s the way the family choose to look at an enforced gift – one that has to be made, for social or other purposes.  Like gifts for a wedding…  or gifts on the occasion of an event that is made popular by greetings card manufacturers.  It does have the feel of an individual approaching a tribal leader, laden down with gold and silver, spices and fine goods, to impress or placate.  On reflection, that is rather like the wedding gift table.