How to cut your Inheritance Tax bill in 2021

Updated on 22 April 2021

British families hand over more than £5 billion every year in Inheritance Tax. Thankfully, it is possible to minimise the death tax, but proper planning is key.

Inheritance Tax bills

The Government amassed £5.13 billion worth of Inheritance Tax (IHT) receipts during the 2019/20 tax year alone, official figures show. 

That's actually slightly lower than the previous year's record £5.4 billion haul, most likely due to the planned increased to the tax break which is applied when residential property is left to direct descendants (which we'll cover in more detail later).

It's actually the first decrease we've seen in almost a decade, although it's unlikely we'll keep seeing bills fall in the future. 

With house price rises showing no sign of slowing, combined with the chancellor announcing a freeze on the Inheritance Tax allowance in his March Budget, we'll likely be paying more and more in the future.

That means you need to take steps to ensure your family isn't left with a sky-high IHT bill – and the sooner you start planning the better. 

Here's how to cut your costs.

Remember, Inheritance tax is just one of many taxes out there. If you're looking for a complete guide to cutting down your Income Tax, Council Tax and Capital Gains Tax bills, click here.

Tax relief: the nil-rate bands that matter

There are effectively two tax allowances you need to know about. 

First of all is the general nil-rate band, which covers anything up to £325,000.

The existing nil-rate band will remain at this level until the end of 2020/2021.

The second, known as the main residence nil-rate band, was introduced in April 2017.

It only applies when a main residence is passed to children or grandchildren after death.

It was initially worth £100,000, but was gradually increased to £175,000 in 2019/20. There are no plans to increase it any further.

This band sits on top of the existing Inheritance Tax threshold, so it creates an effective threshold of £500,000 for individuals and £1 million for couples.

What if I downsize?

The main residence nil-rate band still applies if someone downsizes or ceases to own a home.

For example, let’s say you choose to downsize from a home worth £200,000 to one worth £100,000.  

According to the Treasury, you can still benefit from the maximum allowance of £175,000 if you leave the home and £75,000 of other assets to direct descendants.

Unfortunately, many plan to leave their home to other family members like nieces, nephews, aunts or cousins, ruling themselves out. 

Property plays a major role in inheritance tax (image: Shutterstock)

The most expensive homes

What's more, there will be tapered withdrawal of the main residence nil-rate band for estates with a net value of more than £2 million. This withdrawal will be at a rate of £1 for every £2 the estate is valued over the £2 million threshold.

So for example, if your estate is valued at £2.1 million, it would lose £50,000 of the new allowance.

Read about the other exemptions over at Inheritance Tax: new 'family home allowance' exclusions you need to know about.

Use a charity discount if you want to help others

There's a reduced rate of Inheritance Tax of 36% for those who leave 10% or more of the net value of their estate to charity.

Your loved ones won’t be any better off if you go down this route – you’ll just ensure that some of your bill goes towards a cause you care about, rather than to the Treasury! 

HMRC has even provided a calculator to work out how much you could save: click here.

If you want to leave money to charity in your will, there's never been a more important time to do it. Read How to make a cheap and free will to find out why.

Gifts can help you shift small sums tax-free

We all have a £3,000 limit each year for gifts, which is completely free of Inheritance Tax. What’s more, if you don’t use your allocation this year, it can be carried over to next year, so you can hand over £6,000 to a loved one, tax-free!

You can also give away £250 each to a number of people every year, though you can’t combine it with the £3,000 annual allowance. They are different exemptions.

Weddings also offer an opportunity to avoid Inheritance Tax. Parents can give their children £5,000 each as wedding gifts, £2,500 to grandchildren or great-grandchildren, or wedding gifts of £1,000 to anyone else.

There are hoops to jump through though. The gift must be made (or at least promised) on or shortly before the day of the wedding.

You can leave cash to a political party free of tax too. However, not all parties qualify – they will need to have at least two members elected to the House of Commons, or one member where the party received at least 150,000 votes.

Finally, regular gifts that come out of your income (say a monthly payment to a family member) are also exempt so long as they do not affect your standard of living.

You can give generous gifts related to weddings (image: shutterstock)

Potentially exempt transfers (PET) are key. Just don't die!

You can actually make additional gifts, above and beyond those detailed above, without the taxman trying to claim a slice. These are known as ‘potentially exempt transfers’.

All you have to do is live for seven years after making the gift. If you die within seven years of making the gift, and the total value of the gifts is valued at less than the Inheritance Tax threshold, then it will be added to the value of your estate.

However, should the gifts be valued at more than the Inheritance Tax threshold, then either the person receiving the gift or the person managing your estate will need to pay Inheritance Tax on its value.

All simple so far, but since this is Revenue & Customs we are dealing with, there’s room for a bit of added complexity! Should you die between three and seven years after making the gift, and the value of the gifts is valued at more than the Inheritance Tax threshold, then the tax due is reduced on a sliding scale.

For a full run-down on the ‘taper relief’, check out this section of the HMRC website, but the table below shows the sliding scale of relief:

Years between gift and death Tax paid
less than 3 40%
3 to 4 32%
4 to 5 24%
5 to 6 16%
6 to 7 8%
7 or more 0%

Don't forget your life insurance

If you have a life insurance policy, should you die, the payout to your relatives may actually be subject to Inheritance Tax.

That’s because the payout will be added to the value of your estate. What’s more, it can then take months before your family receives the cash. It’s all far from ideal.

However, you can have the policy written in trust. This basically separates the policy from the rest of your estate, which means that there will be no tax to pay. It also helps to speed up the process of your family receiving the cash.

Also take a look at this guide by Sarah Coles, personal finance specialist at Hargreaves Lansdown, on putting your affairs in order.


Calculate your Inheritance Tax bill

Which? has put together this handy tool to help you work out how much Inheritance Tax you're likely to pay. We've embedded it below, or you can head over to Which? and view it there



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