Heir today, gone tomorrow

For many people, their most valuable asset is the family home. If you live in London or the South East, where property values are highest, the likelihood your property is worth more than £650,000 increases, meaning inheritance tax could be due on your estate after your death.

The probate cannot be granted until the tax due is paid, which means families can be forced to sell properties in order to meet the tax bill if other assets are not sufficient to cover the cost.

In this month’s Budget, the chancellor introduced a new £1m allowance for couples who want to pass on property wealth. Under current rules, everyone has a nil-rate band of £325,000 which is free from inheritance tax. Money left to your loved ones above this value is taxed at 40 per cent. Married couples and civil partners can share their nil-rate band to give them a total of £650,000 which can be passed on free of inheritance tax.

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The nil-rate band has been frozen since 2009 and this static rate combined with rising property values has increased the number of estates which are subject to IHT. The new exemption for property worth up to £1million is designed to prevent the number of families incurring the tax from doubling over the next five years.

The Finance Bill will create a new additional ‘main residence nil-rate band’; this will apply from April 2017 at £100,000 rising to £175,000 by 2020/21.

•£100,000 in 2017/18

•£125,000 in 2018/19

•£150,000 in 2019/20

•£175,000 in 2020/21

This new allowance can be transferred between spouses in the same way as the standard nil rate band. This means that by April 2020 a couple could leave a property worth £1m free of inheritance tax. The measure is targeted at preserving wealth within families and therefore only applies where the assets are left to a child or grandchild.

If you have a second home or more than one main residence, your personal representatives can nominate which property the exemption applies to. The only stipulation is that the property was your residence at some point – a buy-to-let property would not qualify. If the value of your property is lower than the allowance available, it is not possible to use it to offset the value of other assets.

A number of people find they want to downsize to a more manageable property in later years, or may even need to sell their home to pay for care fees. A provision will be available to ensure these people also benefit from the additional nil-rate band if they downsize or cease to own a home on or after 8 July 2015. The government intends to consult on this and publish a proposal on the mechanics in September this year.

Relief is withdrawn for estates with a total value of more than £2m. The rate of withdrawal is £1 for every £2 over £2m. This means couples with an estate of more than £2.7m or a single person with £2.35m would not benefit.

The standard nil-rate band remains frozen at £325,000 until 2020/21. It is intended that both allowances will increase in line with the consumer price index from then.