Giving away money free of inheritance tax

Date posted: 26th Jun 2023

Most people do not want to give money to the taxman when they die.

However, while it is said that inheritance tax (IHT) is a voluntary tax that can be avoided by giving away money during your lifetime, there is the practical issue that people need money to live on while they are alive.

This is compounded by the fact that most people do not know when they are going to die, making planning with any certainty difficult, to say the least.

Despite these limitations, there are some simple steps which can be taken to allow money to be given away IHT-free.

Nil rate band

Everyone has a nil rate band (NRB) – set at £325,000 and remaining at this level until at least 5 April 2028.

In very basic terms, this means that no IHT is payable on an individual’s estate if it is below the NRB at the date of death. However, if you know you are dying (perhaps via a terminal illness) and your assets are simply cash of £525,000, then you may think a cunning ruse would be to gift £200,000 just before you die to reduce the value of your estate.

However, this is where the “7 year rule” comes in and the value of gifts made in the seven years prior to death is brought back into the calculation of the value of your estate at the date of death. In addition, gifts to trust also complicate matters further.

Any unused portion of the nil rate band can be used by the deceased’s spouse or civil partner’s estate on their death.

Residence nil rate band

A separate nil rate band applies where a main residence is left to a direct descendant, such as a child or grandchild.

This is set at £175,000. However, it is reduced by £1 for every £2 by which the deceased’s estate exceeds £2 million (so not available where the value of the estate is at least £2.35 million). As with the standard nil rate band, any unused portion can be claimed by the estate of the deceased’s spouse or civil partner.

Gifts from income

The gifts from income exemption is a very useful exemption.

It allows an individual who does not need all their income to make regular gifts of that income free of IHT, rather than simply letting it accumulate in a bank account and attracting a potential IHT charge if passed on when the individual dies.

There are conditions. The gift must be made regularly and must leave the individual with enough to meet their outgoings. The gifts must be made from income rather than depleting the individual’s capital.

This exemption could be used by a parent to help a child with their rent or mortgage payments – here it is usually advisable to set up a regular standing order. Alternatively, a grandparent can pay a grandchild’s school fees.

Inter-spouse exemption

There is no IHT to pay on anything left to a spouse or civil partner.

The ability to transfer any unused nil rate band eliminates worries about leaving the surviving spouse or civil partner provided with sufficient funds for the remainder of their life while passing on the estate in a tax-efficient manner. Both parties’ nil rate bands can be used when the estate is passed on following the death of the surviving spouse/civil partner.

Other exemptions

There are a number of small exemptions that can be useful.

The first is the annual exemption set at £3,000 a year. Where it is not used one year, it can be carried forward to the next year and used once the exemption for that year has been used. Over 20 years, this exemption allows £60,000 to be given away IHT-free, saving IHT of up to £24,000.

There is also a specific exemption for wedding gifts – set at £5,000 for a gift to a child, £2,500 for a gift to a grandchild and £1,000 for other wedding gifts.

There is also an exemption for small gifts of up to £250 per person (as long as they have not benefitted from another IHT-free gift, such as a wedding gift).


Trusts can be effective at saving IHT; however, consideration of trusts is outside the scope of this article as this is an extremely complex area.

At Clive Owen LLP we have members of the tax team with the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) qualification who are experts at guiding clients through the set up of trusts and considering the tax issues of trusts.

If you have any queries, please give us a call.


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