Define: Succession Tax

Succession Tax
Succession Tax
Quick Summary of Succession Tax

The succession tax is a form of taxation that is levied on individuals who receive money or property through inheritance from a deceased person. This tax serves as a means for the government to generate revenue from the intergenerational transfer of wealth. Taxes, in general, are fees imposed by the government on individuals, businesses, transactions, or property to generate funds for public necessities. It is important to note that taxes can be paid in various forms, not limited to monetary payments.

Full Definition Of Succession Tax

Succession tax, commonly referred to in the United Kingdom as inheritance tax (IHT), is a levy on the estate of a deceased person. The estate encompasses all assets, including money, property, and possessions. This overview delves into the legislative framework, historical evolution, exemptions, reliefs, liabilities, and administration of inheritance tax in the UK.

Historical Evolution

The roots of inheritance tax in the UK can be traced back to the Stamp Act of 1694, which imposed a levy on estates to fund the war against France. Over the centuries, various forms of death duties emerged, such as probate duty, legacy duty, and succession duty. These were amalgamated into the estate duty by the Finance Act of 1894. The modern incarnation, inheritance tax, was introduced by the Finance Act of 1986, replacing capital transfer tax, to streamline the taxation process on transfers of wealth upon death.

Legislative Framework

The principal legislation governing inheritance tax is the Inheritance Tax Act 1984, which has been amended numerous times to reflect economic and social changes. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is the authority responsible for the collection and administration of IHT.

Liability to Inheritance Tax

Chargeable Estate

Inheritance tax is charged on the value of a deceased person’s estate above a certain threshold, known as the nil-rate band (NRB). As of the 2023–24 tax year, the NRB is £325,000. Estates exceeding this threshold are taxed at 40%. However, a reduced rate of 36% applies if 10% or more of the net estate is left to charity.

Residence Nil-Rate Band

An additional threshold, the residence nil-rate band (RNRB), was introduced in April 2017. This applies to the deceased’s main residence if passed to direct descendants. For the 2023/24 tax year, the RNRB is £175,000. Combined with the NRB, this can potentially exempt up to £500,000 of an estate’s value from IHT.

Exemptions and Reliefs

Several exemptions and reliefs mitigate the IHT burden, encouraging certain behaviours and supporting familial wealth transfers.

Spouse and Civil Partner Exemption

Transfers between spouses and civil partners are exempt from IHT, ensuring that the surviving partner is not financially burdened. This exemption extends to non-UK domiciled spouses, albeit with a cap currently set at £325,000, unless an election is made to be treated as UK-domiciled for IHT purposes.

Annual Exemption

Each individual can gift up to £3,000 per tax year free of IHT. Any unused part of this allowance can be carried forward to the next tax year, but only for one year.

Small Gifts Exemption

Gifts of up to £250 to any number of individuals per tax year are exempt, provided no other exemption is applied to the same recipient.

Potentially Exempt Transfers (PETs)

Gifts made more than seven years before death are generally exempt from IHT. If the donor dies within seven years, the gifts become chargeable, though taper relief may reduce the tax payable on gifts made more than three years before death.

Business Relief and Agricultural Relief

Business Relief (BR) and Agricultural Relief (AR) offer up to 100% exemption on the transfer of qualifying business assets and agricultural property. These reliefs aim to preserve businesses and farms by alleviating the tax burden upon succession.

Trusts and Inheritance Tax

Trusts are often used in estate planning to manage and protect assets. Different types of trusts are subject to distinct IHT rules.

Bare Trusts

In bare trusts, beneficiaries have an absolute right to the trust assets, which are treated as if directly owned by them for IHT purposes. Gifts into bare trusts are PETs, and the assets form part of the beneficiary’s estate.

Discretionary Trusts

Discretionary trusts, where trustees have control over the distribution of assets, incur a 20% IHT charge on transfers into the trust above the NRB, with additional periodic charges every ten years and exit charges when assets are distributed.

Interest in Possession Trusts

Beneficiaries of interest in possession trusts have a right to the income from the trust assets. Transfers into these trusts can be chargeable lifetime transfers, potentially incurring IHT if above the NRB.

Administration of Inheritance Tax

Valuation of the Estate

An accurate valuation of the deceased’s estate is crucial. This includes all assets, debts, and liabilities. Valuations must be supported by professional appraisals where necessary, especially for real estate and business interests.

Reporting and Payment

IHT must be reported and paid within six months of the end of the month in which the deceased died. HMRC provides form IHT400 for this purpose. Payment can be made from the estate’s assets or through a loan if liquidity is an issue.

Instalment Options

For certain assets, such as land and buildings or business interests, IHT can be paid in instalments over ten years, with interest charged on outstanding amounts.

Avoidance and Evasion

While legal tax avoidance strategies are permissible, such as the use of trusts and gifting, tax evasion is illegal. HMRC has robust measures to detect and penalise evasion, including penalties and interest on unpaid tax. Anti-avoidance legislation, such as the General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR), targets schemes designed to exploit loopholes in tax law.

Recent Developments and Reforms

Inheritance tax remains a contentious issue, with ongoing debates about its fairness and economic impact. Recent discussions have focused on simplifying the tax system, increasing the NRB, and reviewing reliefs to ensure they meet contemporary economic and social objectives.

Impact on Families and Society

inheritance tax has significant implications for wealth distribution and social equity. Proponents argue that it helps redistribute wealth and fund public services, while critics contend that it penalises savings and investment. The balance between these perspectives continues to shape policy debates and reforms.


Inheritance tax in the UK is a complex and evolving aspect of the tax system, designed to balance revenue generation with fairness and economic incentives. Understanding its intricacies, exemptions, and reliefs is crucial for effective estate planning and compliance. As societal values and economic conditions change, inheritance tax will likely continue to adapt, reflecting the ongoing dialogue between taxpayers, policymakers, and legal professionals.

Succession Tax FAQ'S

Succession tax, also known as inheritance tax or estate tax, is a tax imposed on the transfer of assets from a deceased person to their heirs or beneficiaries.

The responsibility for paying succession tax typically falls on the heirs or beneficiaries who receive the assets from the deceased person’s estate.

The value of the assets subject to succession tax is usually determined based on their fair market value at the time of the deceased person’s death.

Exemptions and deductions for succession tax vary depending on the jurisdiction. Some common exemptions may include transfers to a surviving spouse or charitable organisations.

No, succession tax laws vary from country to country. Each jurisdiction has its own rules and rates for succession tax.

While it is not possible to completely avoid succession tax, there are legal strategies that can help minimise the tax burden, such as estate planning, gifting assets during one’s lifetime, or setting up trusts.

The time limits for paying succession tax depend on the jurisdiction. In some cases, the tax must be paid within a certain period after the deceased person’s death, while in others, it may be paid in installments over a specified period.

In certain circumstances, it may be possible to contest or challenge the amount of succession tax owed. This typically involves demonstrating errors in the valuation of assets or disputing the tax liability itself.

Failure to pay succession tax can result in penalties, interest charges, or legal action by the tax authorities. In extreme cases, the assets subject to tax may be seized or sold to satisfy the tax debt.

Yes, consulting with a qualified tax advisor or estate planning attorney can be beneficial in navigating the complexities of succession tax laws and developing strategies to minimise the tax burden on your estate.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 10th June 2024.

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