Building blocks

The basics of estate planning

Estate planning series: Taking advantage of lower asset values

Rebecca Durrant, Partner, National Head of Private Clients
11/11/2020
Building blocks
There has been an increasing amount of press coverage throughout the pandemic regarding the importance of estate planning and the opportunities that reduced asset values have presented. 

This article is part of a series first published in eprivateclient in summer 2020, which considers these opportunities in more detail. Click below to read our other articles.

Part 2: Making lifetime gifts to the next generation    Part 3: Gifting buy-to-let property 

Part 4: Giving to charity – good for the soul but what about tax?

Part 1: The basics of estate planning

In broad terms, the aim of estate planning is to reduce the value of an individual’s estate such that, on death, the value exposed to Inheritance Tax (IHT) is minimised. This aim must however be balanced with an understanding of what income and capital assets an individual may need, to cover the costs of living to, what we all hope, is a ripe old age!

A fundamental part of estate planning is therefore to consider what assets an individual holds and which are surplus to their current and future requirements. In doing so, one can then look at a programme of lifetime giving, often directly to the next generation but possibly also to grandchildren, albeit with the appropriate protection, usually via a Trust.

Why is the value important?

The value of the asset is important for a number of reasons.

  • There are often other tax issues, such as capital gains tax and stamp duty land tax to take into account on a gift of an asset other than cash (these are covered in detail across the series). Therefore, the lower the asset value, the lower the possible tax charge at the time of the gift.
  • Transferring assets at a lower value now means that the future growth of the asset is removed from the estate straight away. If the market picks up as quickly as we hope, then this can remove value from the donor’s estate much faster than would normally be the case.
  • Transfers to Trusts are chargeable lifetime transfers (see below) on the value over and above the nil rate band. While asset values are lower, this may mean that more can be settled into a trust tax free.

When is Inheritance tax charged?

A liability to IHT arises for a UK domiciled individual in two scenarios.

  1. On the making of a gift to a transferee other than an individual (e.g. a Trust, a company or other ‘non-natural’ entity). This is known as a Chargeable Lifetime Transfer (CLT) and is usually charged at 20% of the value of the asset transferred, over and above the available nil rate band (currently £325,000).
  2. On death where the value of the deceased estate may be liable to IHT, subject to any available reliefs and exemptions. Tax on the death estate is charged at 40% of the estates value which takes into account any transfers made chargeable or otherwise in the preceding seven years.

What about direct gifts?

Any lifetime gift made by one individual to another is a Potentially Exempt Transfer (PET).  The gift is ‘potentially exempt’ because if the donor survives the gift by seven years, the value gifted falls outside of their estate and is therefore exempt.  Until the ‘clock’ reaches seven years, the gift is only potentially exempt, however the effective rate of IHT applying to a failed PET is discounted after three years on a tapered basis:

Years survived by the donor from the date of the gift  Rate of IHT 
Less than three years  40% 
More than three years but less than four  32% 
More than four years but less than five  24% 
More than five years but less than six  16% 
More than six years but less than seven  8% 
Seven years or more Exempt

What reliefs are available? 

There are a number of reliefs available which can be used to reduce the exposure to IHT, not least the fact that transfers between UK domiciled married couples and civil partners are tax free.

  • The nil rate band currently at £325,000 can be used against CLTs and is ‘renewed’ every seven years.
  • The residence nil rate band is currently £175,000 and can be available against the value of the family home left to lineal descendants.
  • Business and Agricultural Property Reliefs against business assets.
  • Gifts to charity.
  • Regular gifts out of income.
  • Annual allowance of £3,000 per year. 

All these can and should be taken into account as part of the overall plan for the estate and can go some significant way to reducing the tax position on death.

What can I give away?

Typically, nothing is off the table when considering estate planning. However, some assets are harder to give away than others, particularly where the donor still wants to use or enjoy it. The family home is usually the most difficult and, in many cases, it is the most valuable taxable asset in the estate. That said, property, artwork, jewellery, cash and business interests should all be considered. The implications of each will be considered as we progress through the series.

Summary

The reduction in asset values has presented us with a unique opportunity to review estate planning and a make some meaningful inroads in to the tax exposure for many people. We should also be mindful of the fact that there are likely to be changes to the tax system across the board, as people pay for the financial support provided by the government during this pandemic. IHT is likely to be high on the list for reform, alongside the potential introduction of a wealth tax. It may therefore be advisable to take action sooner rather than later.

That said, tax should not be the ultimate driver for family wealth planning, it should always be considered in conjunction with asset protection and the family’s wishes. As we progress through this series, we will look at how Trusts and other structures can play a part in this and how they can work on a practical level.

Contact us

Rebecca Durrant
Rebecca Durrant
Partner, National Head of Private Clients
Manchester