Give Generously: why leave it to the taxman?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person with fortune must give some of that wealth to the government of the day.  But it is not necessary to do so with every appearance of enjoyment, and it is not a moral obligation, but a legal one.

Death and Taxation are two of the great certainties.  In the UK, we have a wealth tax that is calculated on the amount a person leaves when they die (Inheritance Tax).  This is in addition to the wealth tax that a person pays when they dispose of an asset that has increased in value (Capital Gains Tax) the wealth tax that a person is in the process of acquiring (Income Tax) and the wealth tax paid on the transfer of a property (Stamp Duty).

It might almost seem as if the money that a person makes, saves, invests and then finally dies owning has been taxed two or three times over before it can be passed on to one’s family.  The moral certainty about paying one’s fair dues can wear a little thin, in the circumstances.

If you are an individual and have assets exceeding £325,000, then there is a real possibility that you will be giving the taxman a large chunk of what you have worked hard for – everything over this amount will be taxed at 40%, unless it goes to an exempt person.  The figure of £325,000 is not an arbitrary sum – it is the amount that an individual can leave at 0% tax, and has been set for the next three tax years.

Happily, there are some ways of lowering an inheritance tax bill. Essentially, the basic way to reduce the tax is to be poorer by the time you die.  To spend so that there is less money, or give money whilst you still have many years to live, when your children can appreciate it.  By the time you die, your children might be well into middle age, and perhaps may have got past the difficult years.

The very basic patterns for giving are permitted by legislation – an annual amount per donor of £3000, together with small gifts that can be given, and gifts out of surplus income.  The one that people know best is the Potentially Exempt Transfer – this is where you give something away (completely, and do not keep any benefit from it) and if you survive that gift, it is out of your estate.  You are thus poorer when you die.  A direct gift is a potentially exempt transfer.

My uncle, now in his seventies, made a trust for the benefit of his children and grandchildren.  That trust fund was set up a few years ago, and is the means of providing for not only his daughter (who is not quite married but not quite divorced), his disabled granddaughter but also his able sons and grandsons.    By using the trust, he can retain control of the assets, to a certain extent, and make sure that the money is used in a way that truly benefits his grandchildren, rather than giving them too much money too young.  This also indirectly benefits his adult children, who have their lives lifted slightly, by knowing that there are some reserves for school expenses when times are tough.  And best of all, with luck, in a few more years, the amount put into the trust will have ceased to be counted as part of his estate planning strategy.  This latter sort of giving is not potentially exempt – but if kept within a single 0% band, is effectively without any lifetime Inheritance Tax to pay.

This is not a complete list of all the ways in which you can reduce your inheritance tax liability, and if you are planning to give away a substantial sum to lessen the inheritance tax burden, you are best advised by a professional, to make sure that your objective is achieved.  Your own situation is the most important to bear in mind, when giving, and your legal adviser can give a particular view based on your particular circumstances.


Auth comment:  yes, this was written to be a small article.  Now I look at it, I know it is not really a blog post.   Soz.


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