If your estate is worth more than the Inheritance Tax threshold - £325,000 for the 2014 to 15 tax year - there are some important Inheritance Tax exemptions that allow you to make gifts to others and not have to pay tax on them when you die.
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You can make gifts to certain people and organisations without having to pay any Inheritance Tax. These gifts are exempt whether you make them during your life or as part of your will.
You can make exempt gifts to:
Gifts that you give to your unmarried partner, or a partner that you're not in a registered civil partnership with, are not exempt.
You can give away gifts worth up to £3,000 in total in each tax year and these gifts will be exempt from Inheritance Tax when you die. You can carry forward any unused part of the £3,000 exemption to the following year, but if you don't use it in that year, the carried-over exemption expires.
In addition to the annual exemption there are other exemptions for certain types of gifts. These are explained below.
Some gifts made during your lifetime are exempt from Inheritance Tax because of the type of gift or the reason for making it.
Wedding or civil partnership ceremony gifts are exempt from Inheritance Tax, subject to certain limits:
You have to make the gift on or shortly before the date of the wedding or civil partnership ceremony. If the ceremony is called off and you still make the gift this exemption won't apply.
You can make small gifts up to the value of £250 to as many individuals as you like in any one tax year. However, you can't give more than £250 and claim that the first £250 is a small gift. If you give an amount greater than £250 the exemption is lost altogether.
You also can't use your small gifts allowance together with any other exemption when giving to the same person.
Any regular gifts you make out of your after-tax income, not including your capital, are exempt from Inheritance Tax. These gifts will only qualify if you have enough income left after making them to maintain your normal lifestyle.
You can also make exempt maintenance payments to:
Any gifts you make to individuals will be exempt from Inheritance Tax as long as you live for 7 years after making the gift. These sorts of gifts are known as 'Potentially Exempt Transfers' (PETs).
However if you give an asset away at any time, but keep an interest in it - for example you give your house away but continue to live in it rent-free - this gift will not be a potentially exempt transfer. Follow the link below to find out more.
If you die within 7 years and the total value of gifts you made is less than the Inheritance Tax threshold, then the value of the gifts is added to your estate and any tax due is paid out of the estate.
However, if you die within 7 years of making a gift and the gift is valued at more than the Inheritance Tax threshold, Inheritance Tax will need to be paid on its value, either by the person receiving the gift or by the representatives of the estate.
If you die between 3 and 7 years after making a gift, and the total value of gifts that you made is over the threshold, any Inheritance Tax due on the gift is reduced on a sliding scale. This is known as 'Taper Relief'.
Gifts into trust are not generally exempt from Inheritance Tax.
It will help your executor or personal representative to sort out your financial affairs when you die if you keep a record of any gifts you make and note on that record which exemption you've used.
It's also a good idea to keep a record of your after-tax income if you make regular gifts out of income as part of your normal expenditure. This will show that the gifts are regular and that you have enough income to cover them and your usual day-to-day expenditure without having to draw on your capital.