One of the biggest problems now facing executors is that assets can fall in value as well as increase, which can mean that the value of an estate for Inheritance Tax (IHT) purposes is greater than the market value later on.
Where assets are disposed of at a loss within twelve months of the death of the testator (the legal term for the person who left the will), IHT relief is available. This works as below, but note that the relevant date is twelve months after the death, not after probate is granted: a powerful incentive to make sure that the administration of the estate is progressed with reasonable speed.
If the assets which have lost value are quoted shares, a claim can be made on their sale, but not on a transfer. If the assets consist of land, the time period for a claim is four years from the date of death. The loss claim can only be made by the ‘appropriate person’ (in most cases the executor) and therefore any asset transferred which is then sold at a loss will not qualify for relief. A claim cannot be made unless the loss is at least 5 per cent of the value at the date of death or £1,000, whichever is greater.
There is clearly room for tax planning here, not only regarding the timing of transfers but also whether assets should be sold or transferred and then sold. Which approach is best will depend on the tax situation of the beneficiaries as well as the estate.
Lastly, there is a similar relief which is available for lifetime gifts. Where an asset which has been gifted prior to death has fallen in value and is subject to IHT, a claim can be made for the reduced value to be substituted in the valuation of the estate at the date of death. This relief is only available if the transferred asset is still owned by the person to whom it was gifted or their spouse or civil partner.