Country houses for sale

Keeping assets in the family

Winter is here with a vengeance and, with it, thoughts of the year end is a good time to make certain one’s financial affairs are in order. Extraordinarily, as much as 60% of the population probably does not have a will. To die intestate is deeply selfish: the consequences for one’s family can be near catastrophic, as they are forced to pick through complex intestacy rules before they can get what should be theirs.

It costs to instruct lawyers to prepare a will, which is one reason for prevarication. DIY wills have long been available and nowadays are sold on the internet. On Radio 4’s Money Box recently, Paul Elmhirst, author of the Which? book, Wills and Probate, said that, just as with home DIY, although some are capable of building a house, others are incapable of erecting a shelf.

The more money at stake, the more complex the will, and the more important it is a solicitor is consulted.

Rises in property values make many more estates liable for inheritance tax (IHT). The Inland Revenue has doubled the amount of IHT collected in the last 10 years and is tightening its grip through probing questionnaires and a hard line on avoidance schemes.

The nil rate band discretionary trust is a way for couples to make the most of tax exemptions, while ensuring that the surviving spouse still has access to the combined assets should they need them. The current maximum tax saving of this method is £110,000.

But, get the wording wrong or mismanage the trust, and the trust could be open to attack by the Revenue. IHT has been described as a voluntary tax because, with foresight and careful tax planning, some or all of it can be legally avoided. Unless you are an expert at legal DIY, that requires a good lawyer.