Inheritance tax and spouses and civil partners
Special rules apply for inheritance tax purposes to married couples and civil partners. To ensure valuable tax reliefs are not lost, it is beneficial to consider the combined position, rather than dealing with each individual separately. Married couples and civil partners benefit from exemptions that are not available to unmarried couples.
The main inheritance tax benefit of being married or in a civil partnership is the inter-spouse exemption. Transfers between married couples and civil partners are not subject to inheritance tax. This applies both to lifetime transfers and to those made on death.
The inter-spouse exemption makes it possible for the first spouse or civil partner to die to leave their entire estate to their partner without triggering an inheritance tax liability, regardless of whether it exceeds the nil rate band.
Transferable nil rate band
The proportion of the nil rate band that is unused on the death of the first spouse or civil partner can be used by the surviving partner on his or her death. This makes tax planning easier and there is no panic about each spouse using their own nil rate band. If the entire estate is left to the spouse on the first death, on the death of the surviving spouse or civil partner, there will be two nil rate bands to play with.
If the first spouse or civil partner to die has used some of their nil rate band, for example, to leave part of their estate to their children, the surviving spouse or civil partner can utilise the remaining portion. It should be noticed it is the unused percentage that is transferred, rather than the absolute amount unused at the time of the first death – this provides an automatic uplift for increases in the nil rate band.
The nil rate band is currently £325,000.
Residence nil rate band
The residence nil rate band (RNRB) is an additional nil rate band which is available where a main residence is left to a direct descendant. It is set at £150,000 for 2019/20, and will increase to £175,000 for 2020/21. The RNRB is reduced by £1 for every £2 by which the value of the estate exceeds £2 million.
As with the nil rate band, the unused proportion of the RNRB can be transferred to the surviving spouse.
How it works
Jack and Emily have been married for over 50 years. Emily died in 2017 leaving £32,500 to each of her two children. The remainder of her estate, including her share of the family home, was left to her husband Jack.
Jack passed away in July 2019. At the time of his death, Jack’s estate was worth £780,000 and included the family home, valued at £550,000, which was left equally to the couple’s children, James and Kristina.
At the time of her death, Emily had used up £65,000 of her nil rate band. The nil rate band at the time of her death was £325,000. The transfer to Jack was covered by the inter-spouse exemption and was free from inheritance tax. Emily has used up £65,000 of her nil rate band (20%), leaving 80% unused. She has not used her RNRB band as she left her share of her main residence to Jack.
On Jack’s death, the executors can claim the unused portion of Emily’s nil rate band and RBRB. The nil rate bands available to Jack are as follows:
Nil rate bands
Jack’s nil rate band £325,000
Jack’s RNRB £150,000
Unused portion of Emily’s nil rate band (80% of £325,000) £260,000
Unused proportion of Emily’s RNRB (100% of £150,000) £150,000
As Jack’s estate on death is less than the available nil rate bands, no inheritance tax is payable.
For more information on inheritance tax and the full range of services we offer, see www.arthurboyd.co.uk/accountancy/ or contact us directly on 028 9032 9255 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.