How does inheritance tax work?


Published  26 April 2023
   3 min read

Inheritance tax used to be something only the wealthy expected to pay when they died. But soaring house prices have meant that many people who would never have seen themselves as rich may worry that they will leave behind an inheritance tax bill after they die.

If you are responsible for dealing with someone’s estate (this is broadly everything they own such as property, savings and possessions minus any debts), you will need to work out if there is any inheritance tax to pay to HM Revenue and Customs.

When is inheritance tax due?

There is normally no inheritance tax to pay if the person who died:

  • had an estate worth less than £325,000
  • left everything they own to their spouse, civil partner, a charity or a community amateur sports club

If they pass on their home after they've died to their children (including adopted, foster or stepchildren) or grandchildren, they get an additional £175,000 exemption from inheritance tax. This means that they can leave behind money and property worth up to £500,000 before there is any inheritance tax to pay.

If they were married or in a civil partnership and their partner’s estate was worth less than the inheritance tax threshold, they may be entitled to the unused part of the threshold.

How much is inheritance tax?

The standard rate of inheritance tax is 40% but it’s only charged on the part of the estate that is above the threshold.

So if an estate is worth £500,000, there would be no inheritance tax due on the first £325,000. However, there may be inheritance tax that has to be paid on the remaining £175,000. If that's the case, the inheritance tax bill would be £70,000 (£175,000 x 40%).

If the person who died has left 10% or more of their estate to charity, a reduced inheritance tax rate of 36% may apply.

How is inheritance tax paid?

Any inheritance tax due on an estate has to be paid to HMRC. This should be done by the person who is dealing with the deceased’s estate. If they left a will they will probably have named those people in it (known as their executors). If there is no will the estate is typically dealt with by a relative.

Valuing someone’s estate can be tricky but the government website has lots of useful information on how to do this.

Once you’ve estimated the value of the estate you can register online to complete an inheritance tax estate report. This will tell you if you can report everything online or if you need a paper form, if there’s inheritance tax to pay and when to pay it.

You can save and return to the online form once you’ve started the registration process.

Paying an inheritance tax bill

You must pay inheritance tax by the end of the sixth month after the person died. You’ll need to get a payment reference number from HMRC before you can pay your inheritance tax bill. You can pay from your own bank account or a joint account you have with the person who died.

If there is not enough money available to pay the inheritance tax bill from your or the deceased’s bank accounts, check whether the person who died had any life insurance written in trust that could be used to help pay the bill or you may be able to get an executor’s loan from a bank. Alternatively, you can ask banks or building societies to pay some or all of the tax due from the deceased person’s accounts directly to HMRC using the Direct Payment Scheme.

You can claim back the money from the estate of the person who died, or the beneficiaries (the people who inherit from them) once you get a Grant of Representation (also known as probate or letters of administration). This is called confirmation in Scotland.

You can find out more below:

Do you need extra support?

Have you lost someone and it’s impacting you financially? Do you need some guidance on what you need to think about? You can get in touch and we’ll help you find the right assistance based on your needs.