Inheritance Tax Planning and the New Main Residence Nil-Rate Band

Effective from 6 April 2017, a new main residence nil-rate band (RNRB) will be available on top of the existing inheritance tax (IHT) threshold. It can potentially save tens of thousands in IHT, but at the same time, compared to the existing IHT threshold it is subject to stricter conditions. Let’s have a look at the key points.

Summary of Existing IHT Rules

First let’s start with the basic rules which are already in place and will continue to apply:

  • IHT is due when passing assets to your children, or generally to anyone other than your spouse, civil partner, a charity or a community amateur sports club.
  • The headline IHT rate is 40%, reduced to 36% if at least 10% of the estate is given to charity.
  • The first £325,000 of your estate is free of IHT. This is called the IHT threshold or nil-rate band. Unused portion can be transferred to your spouse, which effectively makes the IHT threshold £650,000 for couples.
  • Besides the IHT threshold, there are various reliefs applying to different kinds of assets and subject to different conditions, which can further reduce the IHT liability. The Business Relief is a common example.

The New Main Residence Nil-Rate Band

The new RNRB will be available on top of the existing IHT threshold. It will be phased in gradually over the next four tax years, from £100,000 in 2017-18 to £175,000 in 2020-21. From 2021 on it should continue to grow in line with inflation. The full RNRB will be available only for estates worth under £2 million. It will be reduced by £1 for every £2 above the £2 million taper threshold.

Like the existing IHT nil-rate band, the new RNRB will be transferable between spouses or civil partners. Transfers will be possible even when the first partner died before 6 April 2017, even though the RNRB wasn’t available at that time (the unused portion of the RNRB is transferred as percentage rather than amount).

Importantly, while the existing IHT threshold has no restrictions in terms of how many items or which kinds of assets are included or who the beneficiaries are, the new RNRB only applies to one residential property being passed to children or direct descendants.

Who Qualifies As Direct Descendant

The new RNRB can be used only when passing your property (or a part of it) to the following:

  • Your children and their lineal descendants (e.g. your grandchildren). There are no age restrictions – the beneficiary can be under or over 18 at the time when you die.
  • Spouses or civil partners of the above, also including widows/widowers.
  • Your step-children, adopted children or foster children.

On the contrary, your siblings, nephews, nieces and other relatives do not qualify.

What Qualifies as Main Residence?

The RNRB has been designed to reduce the tax burden for families when passing on the family home to the next generation. Therefore, it can only be used for one property where the deceased has lived at some stage. A holiday home may qualify. A buy-to-let property won’t. When the estate includes multiple properties where the deceased has lived, the beneficiaries or personal representatives can choose one (but only one).

If you downsize or cease to own your home prior to your death and lose access to the RNRB as a result, your personal representatives may be able to make a claim for the so called downsizing addition to compensate for the lost RNRB. Conditions apply and the claim must be made within 2 years after the end of month when you die.

What It Means for Inheritance Tax Planning

The new RNRB is a welcome tax saving opportunity, making the total potential allowance £500,000 for individuals or £1 million for couples. When used to its maximum potential, the RNRB can save a couple as much as £140,000 of IHT (2 x £175,000 x 40%, using the 2020-21 RNRB). A good understanding of the rules and careful advance planning are essential for minimising future tax liability.

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