Love, Taxes, and Tying the Knot: Navigating the Intersection of Marriage and Inheritance Tax

For some, this involves considering the legal and financial implications of marriage. Beyond the emotional and romantic aspects, individuals may question whether tying the knot is a strategic move to save inheritance tax.

Marriage has long been considered a union founded on love, trust, and commitment. Choosing a life partner based on shared values, emotional connection, and mutual support is a timeless concept that transcends financial considerations. Whilst love is invaluable, couples may also find themselves facing practical questions about shared finances, joint assets, and planning for the future.

One financial consideration that arises in the context of marriage is inheritance tax (IHT). In many jurisdictions, married couples enjoy certain tax benefits, including exemptions and deductions related to inheritance. However, it is crucial to approach this aspect of marriage with a clear understanding of the laws and regulations governing IHT in your specific location as these can vary from country to country.

It is a widespread misconception that cohabiting couples enjoy the same legal rights as their married counterparts. In reality, cohabiting couples possess minimal rights, even if they share children. In the unfortunate event of a partner passing away without a will, the surviving partner inherits nothing.

Living in a deceased partner’s property or jointly owned property does not guarantee security- the surviving partner could face eviction or the forced sale of their home. They may be forced to bring a claim on the estate which could prove difficult if the beneficiaries of the estate are the unmarried couple’s children. Additionally, complications may arise if a person dies while cohabiting with a new partner amid an ongoing, yet unfinished, divorce, potentially leading to disputes with the family.

Having a Will in place does not exempt one from IHT if the deceased’s estate surpasses the IHT threshold. However, for married or civil partnership couples, the spouse exemption allows the transfer of assets upon death without incurring inheritance tax. While standard IHT applies to the estate exceeding £325,000 in value, married couples benefit from an exception that disregards this threshold, eliminating the need to pay IHT for the surviving spouse or civil partner.

As Valentine’s Day approaches and couples contemplate taking their relationship to the next level, the intersection of love and finances becomes more apparent. Whilst the allure of potential tax benefits may be enticing, it is crucial to approach marriage with a holistic perspective.

Should love not be the driving force behind such a significant decision, with legal and financial considerations serving as complementary elements?

To find out more, email Nicole here. 

Inheritance Tax and the Acceptance-in-Lieu Scheme

Inheritance tax

As a general rule assets of a deceased over the value of the nil rate band (currently £325,000) are chargeable at 40% inheritance tax.

The Acceptance-in-Lieu scheme (“AIL”)

Since 1910 the UK government has encouraged those administering estates, responsible for ensuring that the tax is assessed and paid, to consider offering works of art and important heritage objects to the nation in lieu of inheritance tax.

In addition to the advantage of being able to meet a tax liability in kind, the scheme offers a financial sweetener (known as the douceur) to provide an even greater incentive to make use of the scheme.

The criteria

The art or objects must be ‘pre-eminent’: in other words, of particular historic, artistic, scientific or local significance, either individually or collectively, or associated with a building in public ownership. A very wide range of objects is accepted each year as may be seen in the annual reports published by the Arts Council.

The art or objects must be in an acceptable condition.

The process

Offers must be made to the Heritage Team at HMRC. Those offers must be approved by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (or the appropriate Minister in the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales) who is advised by Arts Council England’s AIL Panel. The AIL Panel consists of independent experts who seek specialist advice on the art or objects offered.

Key elements of any offer will be a valuation and justification for that valuation (generally independent opinion from more than one source is helpful); an explanation of why the object is considered pre-eminent; digital images and details of where the object can be inspected; evidence that the offeror has good legal title to the object (and details of its ownership between 1933-1945).

The douceur

In order to attract some of the finest works into national ownership the government offers a financial incentive to those administering estates. The sweetener consists of a 25% “cash-back” calculated against the inheritance tax that would normally have been due.

Example: Mr Gombrich’s estate contains an important Modern British work on paper. At date of death the piece was valued by an independent expert at £100,000. Mr Gombrich’s son is the sole residuary beneficiary and executor and decides to offer the painting in lieu of the inheritance tax liability of £40,000. The AIL Panel confirm the piece to be pre-eminent and agree a value of £100,000. The douceur is calculated as 25% of the inheritance tax due on the painting: 25% x £40,000 = £10,000. Gombrich junior receives £70,000 for the piece, the tax liability is cleared and the nation gains a pre-eminent work for the public to enjoy.

Conclusion

Every case will be different. The scheme offers an opportunity to make a not-insignificant tax saving whilst also having the benefit making the item(s) available for the appreciation of the general public. At the same time do bear in mind that there will be occasions when an item might achieve a better overall result (tax liability included) when sold on the open market (or indeed by a private sale). If you are considering your options I would be very pleased to advise.