Personal Law
June 1, 2021

How unspent income from lockdown could cut future tax bills

Internet shopping may have boomed during lockdown, but many people have spent less than usual while forced to stay home, and those with spare money have an opportunity to make the most of Inheritance Tax reliefs on gifts to family and friends if they act swiftly.  

Giving away assets while you are alive can reduce the size of your estate for Inheritance Tax (IHT) purposes, and with IHT charged at 40 per cent it’s worth doing a regular check on where you stand.

Each person has a “Nil Rate Band” of £325,000 free of Inheritance Tax which can include savings, shares and property for example. There is an extra £175,000 allowance when the main home passes to a direct descendant known as the “Residence Nil Rate Band.”  If someone is in a marriage or civil partnership, they can leave everything free of IHT to their spouse or civil partner, and when the second partner dies, two allowances are added together when calculating whether tax is due on the combined value of the estate.  

But while alive, anyone can make gifts from their asset base, whether to those who will inherit when they die, or to other family, friends or charities they wish to support during their lifetime.  Making these gifts can help reduce the value of the estate and the tax due, if they follow some simple rules.  

One very useful method form of Inheritance Tax planning is to make gifts out of surplus income.

Surplus income is what remains after you have maintained your normal standard of living and all your usual expenditure, without using any savings or other retained assets.  Record-keeping is essential to note the different forms of expenditure you have incurred during the tax year and the types of income you have received.  A gift will only qualify for this exemption if it is part of a regular pattern of giving and you can demonstrate that it came from surplus, current income.  If time elapses and income is effectively converted to savings, then it is unlikely to fit the criteria.  

David Lea, Associate Solicitor in our Private Client department confirms that “if anyone has surplus income that has built up during the lifestyle restrictions of the past year, it’s a good idea to review this swiftly while it is still current income.  To make such gifts, it is essential you record your intention in writing, and then keep a simple record of income and outgoings during the year, for example by taking the figures from your bank statements. A useful guide is to print off the relevant page in HMRC’s IHT 403 Schedule concerning gifts which details the precise information needed to claim the exemption.

“The exemption for gifts from surplus income must be claimed after death by the executors of a person’s will, because they are not given automatically.  The executors must be able to demonstrate that the criteria for the exemption, in particular that the gifts were made out of surplus income and that you were able to maintain your normal lifestyle, have been met.  This is why it is important to keep a record of income and expenditure.  

When gifts are made to an individual out of capital, rather than income, they are known as potentially exempt transfers because they drop out of account and become wholly exempt if you live for seven years after the date of the gift. If you die within that seven-year period, the value of the gift must be brought into account in working out the IHT payable by the estate.  

Alongside these potentially exempt gifts, there are some automatic allowances, these include an annual exemption to allow gifting of up to £3000, together with a separate small gifts allowance of up to £250 per person.  

The annual exemption of £3000 can be gifted as a single sum to one person or divided among many.  It can also be carried forward only by one year but cannot be combined with the small gift allowance for anyone.  The small gift allowance allows any number of gifts of up to £250 per recipient, as long as no individual receives more than £250.

Gifts to charities and political parties are exempt and when you die the IHT rate on your estate will be cut from 40% to 36%, if you leave at least 10% of your net estate to charity.

“Whether dealing with automatic allowances, surplus income or other potentially exempt transfers, it’s crucial to track all gifts as it will make it much easier when executors later have to deal with HMRC,” added David. “You should also make gifting part of a regular, annual review because the rules change and this will act as a prompt to keep record keeping up to date.  It is also important to review your will if you have made any significant gifts. By keeping accurate up-to-date records, this will save time and cost to your Executors when administering your estate.

Need to talk to us about Inheritance Tax?

Members of our Private Client team are on hand to advise on any issues relating to Inheritance Tax. Please telephone 01892 526344 or email

For further information on all our Private Client services, please click here.

Whilst our offices are closed to the public during the coronavirus pandemic, we are offering a telephone or video link appointment service which gives you one hour of time with a solicitor for £100 + VAT. Please get in touch if you feel this type of appointment would be beneficial.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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