Whether you’ve earned your wealth, inherited it or made shrewd investments, you will want to ensure that as little of it as possible ends up in the hands of the taxman and that it can be enjoyed by you, your family and your intended beneficiaries.
Without an appropriate estate plan, when you pass away, your family may end up spending a substantial amount of time and money battling over your assets – and no one can really be sure of how you were planning to distribute your wealth.
This means that the process of dividing up your assets could become complicated. Estate planning gives you control over what happens to your assets when you pass away. It is a fundamental part of financial planning, no matter how much wealth you have accumulated.
Not only does an estate plan help to ensure that those who are important to you will be taken care of when you’re no longer around, but it can also help ensure that assets are transferred in an orderly manner and that Inheritance Tax liabilities are minimised.
The process involves developing a clear plan that details how you would like all of your wealth and property to be distributed after your death. It involves putting documentation in place to ensure that your assets are transferred in line with your wishes.
Your estate consists of everything you own. This includes savings, investments, pensions, property, life insurance (not written in an appropriate trust) and personal possessions. Debts and liabilities are subtracted from the total value of all assets.
What to consider when developing an effective plan for the future
One of the most important components of an estate plan is a Will. First and foremost, a Will puts you in control. You choose who will benefit from your estate and what they are entitled to. You also decide who will administer your affairs after your death.
If you don’t make a Will, the intestacy rules will decide who benefits from your estate – and that can produce undesirable results. The law also sets a hierarchy of who is able to handle your financial affairs after death which may lead to problems if the person is not suitable because of age, health, capability, geographical location, or for any other reason.
A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) can be made to cover Property and Financial Affairs, as well as a separate one for issues concerning Health and Welfare. These documents can be put in place at any time and it is important to consider setting them up, no matter what age you are in case you’re unable to deal with your financial affairs yourself, perhaps due to a decline or impairment to your mental capacity for example.
An LPA sets out your wishes as to who should assist you in relation to your property and financial affairs and health and welfare. You can control who deals with these and set out any limitations and guidance.
Once the Will and the LPA are in place, the next step is to think about Inheritance Tax planning. Whenever someone dies, the value of their estate may become liable for Inheritance Tax. If you are domiciled in the UK, your estate is made up of everything you personally own, including your home and certain trusts in which you may have an interest.
Inheritance Tax is potentially charged at a rate of 40% on the value of everything you own above the nil-rate band threshold. The nil-rate band is the value of your estate that is charged at 0% Inheritance Tax. This amount is set by the Government and is currently £325,000, a limit that is frozen until 2021. In addition, since 6 April 2017, if you leave your home to direct lineal descendants, the value of your estate that can be exempt from Inheritance Tax is paid will increase by the addition of the applicable residence nil-rate band. For the 2020/21 tax year, the residence nil-rate band is £175,000.
For married couples and civil partners, where no IHT is charged on assets passing across on the first death, any unused NRB and RNRB may be claimed on a transferable basis when the estate of the second person to die is being administered.
One thing that’s important to remember when developing an estate plan is that the process isn’t just about passing on your assets when you die. It’s also about analysing your finances now and potentially making the most use of your assets while you are still alive. By gifting assets to younger generations while you’re still around, you could enjoy seeing these put to good use, while potentially reducing the eventual Inheritance Tax liability of your estate.
A gift from one individual to another constitutes a Potentially Exempt Transfer (PET) for Inheritance Tax. (The exceptions are those transfers between legally married spouses and civil partners, plus a number of Exemptions, as below) If you survive for seven years from the date of making the gift, no Inheritance Tax arises on the PET.
Each tax year, each individual can give away £3,000 worth of gifts (your ‘annual exemption’) tax-free. You can also give away wedding or registered civil partnership gifts up to £1,000 per person (£2,500 for a grandchild and £5,000 for a child). In addition, you can give your children regular sums of money from your income. Gifts between legally married spouses or civil partners are not subject to IHT.
You can also give as many gifts of up to £250 to as many individuals as you want, although not to anyone who has already received a gift of your whole £3,000 annual exemption. None of these gifts are subject to Inheritance Tax.
For experienced suitable investors with a suitable approach to investment risk, another way to potentially minimise Inheritance Tax liabilities is to invest in Inheritance Tax-exempt assets. These schemes are higher risk and are therefore not suitable for all investors, and any investment decisions should always be made with the benefit of professional financial advice.
One example of this is the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS). The vast majority of EIS-qualifying investments attract 100% Inheritance Tax relief via Business Relief (BR) because the qualifying trades for EIS purposes are very similar to those investment holdings which qualify for BR. Qualification for BR is subject to the minimum holding period of two years (from the later of the share issue date and trade commencement).
Arranging to set up life insurance in an appropriate trust is one of the best ways to protect your family’s future in the event of your death. Your life insurance policy is a significant asset – and by putting life insurance in trust, you can manage the way your beneficiaries receive their inheritance.
The proceeds from the policy can be paid directly to your beneficiaries rather than to your legal estate and will therefore not be taken into account when Inheritance Tax is calculated.
A typical Personal Pension Plan of the defined contribution type is normally free of Inheritance Tax, unlike many other investments. It is not part of your taxable estate. Keeping your pension wealth within your personal pension and passing it down to future generations can be very tax-efficient estate planning.
If you die before 75, your pension will be passed on tax-free. However, if you die after 75, your beneficiaries will pay tax on the proceeds at their highest income tax rate. Your pension will not be covered by your Will, so you will need to ensure that your pension provider knows who your nominated beneficiaries are.
We all have one thing in common: we can’t take our assets with us when we die. If you want to ensure that your wealth is preserved for future generations and passed on efficiently, an estate plan is crucial. To discuss your situation, please contact us for more information.