Wealth protection

Without proper tax planning, could you end up leaving a huge tax liability?

In order to protect family and loved ones, it is essential to have provisions in place after you’re gone. The easiest way to prevent unnecessary tax payments such as inheritance tax is to organise your tax affairs by obtaining professional advice and having a valid Will in place to ensure that your legacy does not involve just leaving a large inheritance tax bill for your loved ones.

Effective inheritance tax planning could save your beneficiaries thousands of pounds, maybe even hundreds of thousands depending on the size of your estate. At its simplest, inheritance tax is the tax payable on your estate when you die if the value of your estate exceeds a certain amount. It’s also sometimes payable on assets you may have given away during your lifetime, including property, possessions, money and investments.

Inheritance tax is currently paid on amounts above
£325,000 (£650,000 for married couples and registered civil partnerships) for the current 2013/14 tax year, at a rate of 40 per cent. If the value of your estate, including your home and certain gifts made in the previous seven years, exceeds the inheritance tax threshold, tax will be due on the balance at 40 per cent.

Without proper planning, many people could end up leaving a substantial tax liability on their death, considerably reducing the value of the estate passing to their chosen beneficiaries.

Your estate includes everything owned in your name, the share of anything owned jointly, gifts from which you keep back some benefit (such as a home given to a son or daughter but in which you still live) and assets held in some trusts from which you receive an income.

Against this total value is set everything that you owed, such as any outstanding mortgages or loans, unpaid bills and costs incurred during your lifetime for which bills have not been received, as well as funeral expenses.

Any amount of money given away outright to an individual is not counted for tax if the person making the gift survives for seven years. These gifts are called ‘potentially exempt transfers’ and are useful for tax planning.

Money put into a ‘bare’ trust (a trust where the beneficiary is entitled to the trust fund at age 18) counts as a potentially exempt transfer, so it is possible to put money into a trust to prevent grandchildren, for example, from having access to it until they are 18.

However, gifts to most other types of trust will be treated as chargeable lifetime transfers. Chargeable lifetime transfers up to the threshold are not subject to tax but amounts over this are taxed at 20 per cent, with a further 20 per cent payable if the person making the gift dies within seven years.

Some cash gifts are exempt from tax regardless of the seven-year rule. Regular gifts from after-tax income, such as a monthly payment to a family member, are also exempt as long as you still have sufficient income to maintain your standard of living.

Any gifts between husbands and wives, or registered civil partners, are exempt from inheritance tax whether they were made while both partners were still alive or left to the survivor on the death of the first. Inheritance tax will be due eventually when the surviving spouse or registered civil partner dies if the value of their estate is more than the combined tax threshold, currently £650,000.

If gifts are made that affect the liability to inheritance tax and the giver dies less than seven years later, a special relief known as ‘taper relief’ may be available. The relief reduces the amount of tax payable on a gift.

In most cases, inheritance tax must be paid within six months from the end of the month in which the death occurs. If not, interest is charged on the unpaid amount. Inheritance tax on some assets, including land and buildings, can be deferred and paid in instalments over ten years. However, if the asset is sold before all the instalments have been paid, the outstanding amount must be paid. The inheritance tax threshold in force at the time of death is used to calculate how much tax should be paid.

Inheritance tax can be a complicated area with a variety of solutions available and, without proper tax planning, many people could end up leaving a huge tax liability on their death, considerably reducing the value of the estate passing to chosen beneficiaries. So without inheritance tax planning, your family could be faced with a large tax liability when you die. To ensure that your family benefits rather than the government, it pays to plan ahead. As with most financial planning, early consideration and planning is essential.

Making a Will

Providing peace of mind that your loved ones
can cope financially without you

A Will is an essential part of your financial planning. Not only does it set out your wishes, but, die without a Will, and your estate will generally be divided according to the rules of intestacy, which may not reflect your wishes.

This can be particularly problematic for unmarried couples, as the surviving partner doesn’t have any automatic rights to inherit, but it can also create problems for married couples and registered civil partners.

Married partners or registered civil partners inherit under the rules of intestacy only if they are actually married or in a registered civil partnership at the time of death. So if you are divorced or if your civil partnership has been legally ended, you can’t inherit under the rules of intestacy. But partners who separated informally can still inherit under the rules of intestacy.

No one likes to think about it but death is the one certainty that we all face. Planning ahead can give you the peace of mind that your loved ones can cope financially without you and, at a difficult time, helps remove the stress that monetary worries can bring.
Planning your finances in advance should help you to ensure that, when you die, everything you own goes where you want it to. Making a Will is the first step in ensuring that your estate is shared out exactly as you want it to be.

If you leave everything to your spouse or registered civil partner there’ll be no inheritance tax to pay, because they are classed as an exempt beneficiary. Or you may decide to use your tax-free allowance to give some of your estate to someone else or to a family trust. Scottish law on inheritance differs from English law.

Good reasons to make a Will
A Will sets out who is to benefit from your property and possessions (your estate) after your death. There are many good reasons to make a Will:

• you can decide how your assets are shared – if you don’t have a Will, the law says who gets what
• if you’re an unmarried couple (whether or not it’s a same- sex relationship), you can make sure your partner is provided for
• if you’re divorced, you can decide whether to leave anything
to your former partner
• you can make sure you don’t pay more inheritance tax
than necessary

Before you write a Will, it’s a good idea to think about what you want included in it.

You should consider:

• how much money and what property and possessions you have
• who you want to benefit from your Will
• who should look after any children under 18 years of age
• who is going to sort out your estate and carry out your wishes after your death (your executor)

Passing on your estate
An executor is the person responsible for passing on your estate. You can appoint an executor by naming them in your Will. The courts can also appoint other people to be responsible for doing this job.

Once you’ve made your Will, it is important to keep it in a safe place and tell your executor, close friend or relative where it is.

It is advisable to review your Will every five years and after any major change in your life, such as getting separated, married or divorced, having a child or moving house. Any change must be by ‘codicil’ (an addition, amendment or supplement to a Will) or by making a new Will.

Long-term care funding

Greater clarity on how much care in ‘old age’
may cost

In his Budget speech delivered in March 2013, the Chancellor, Mr Osborne, said this was a Budget for ‘an aspiration nation’. He explained this meant ‘helping those who want to keep their homes instead of having to sell it to pay for the costs of social care.’ The confirmation of a £72,000 cap on social care costs provides long-term savers with a greater idea of future spending, but doesn’t cover additional costs incurred in a residential care home.

Cost of care
Savers who were hoping that the Budget 2013 announcement around social care would provide greater clarity on how much their ‘old age’ may cost them could be disappointed to find out that they will still have to foot the bill for uncapped ‘hotel costs’ incurred in a care home, such as food and board.

Means-testing limit
Despite an increase in the means-testing limit covering total care costs (social care and ‘hotel costs’) to £118,000, many whose estate is worth more than the limit will have to pay for the bill themselves. This means the majority of home owners will still find themselves in the uncertain position of not knowing how much their old age will cost.

High care home fees
People may be surprised that the social care cap does not cover their total care bill. This will result in many pensioners and elderly people having to prepare for high care home fees. Some may even find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to sell their assets to fund their old age. It is important for those who find themselves near or over the means-testing threshold to prepare for the financial burden that may be placed upon them to avoid undesired consequences.

Will you be left to pick up the pieces?
The future of social care is one of the most important issues facing the country. All too often the NHS and families are left to pick up the pieces when older people fail in their struggle to cope alone. If you are concerned about how this could impact on you or a family member, please contact us to review your requirements.

Income protection insurance

How would you pay the bills if you were sick or injured and couldn’t work?

Protecting your income should be taken very seriously, given the limited government support available. How would you pay the bills if you were sick or injured and couldn’t work? Income protection insurance, formerly known as ‘permanent health insurance’, is a financial safety net designed to help protect you, your family and your lifestyle in the event that you cannot work and cope financially due to an illness or accidental injury preventing you from working. Most of us need to work to pay the bills.

Without a regular income, you may find it a struggle financially, even if you were ill for only a short period, and you could end up using your savings to pay the bills. In the event that you suffered from a serious illness, medical condition or accident, you could even find that you are never able to return to work. Few of us could cope financially if we were off work for more than six to nine months. Income protection insurance provides a tax-free monthly income for as long as required, up to retirement age, should you be unable to work due to long-term sickness or injury.

By law, your employer must pay most employees statutory sick pay for up to 28 weeks. This will almost certainly be a lot less than your full earnings. Few employers pay for longer periods. If you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to return to work, your employer could even stop paying you altogether and terminate your employment. After that, you would probably have to rely on state benefits. Some employers arrange group income protection insurance for their employees, which can pay out an income after the statutory sick period.

Income protection insurance aims to put you back to the position you were in before you were unable to work. It does not allow you to make a profit out of your misfortune. So the maximum amount of income you can replace through insurance is broadly the after-tax earnings you have lost, less an adjustment for state benefits you can claim. This is usually translated into a maximum of 50 per cent to 65 per cent of your before-tax earnings.

If you are self-employed, then no work is also likely to mean no income. However, depending on what you do, you may have income coming in from earlier work, even if you are ill for several months. The self-employed can take out individual policies rather than business ones, but you need to ascertain on what basis the insurer will pay out. A typical basis for payment is your pre-tax share of the gross profit, after deduction of trading expenses, in the 12 months immediately prior to the date of your incapacity. Some policies operate an average over the last three years, as they understand that self-employed people often have a fluctuating income.

The cost of your cover will depend on your gender, occupation, age, state of health and whether or not you smoke.

The ‘occupation class’ is used by insurers to decide whether a policyholder is able to return to work. If a policy will pay out only if a policyholder is unable to work in ‘any occupation’, it might not pay benefits for long – or indeed at all. The most comprehensive definitions are ‘Own Occupation’ or ‘Suited Occupation’. ‘Own Occupation’ means you can make a claim if you are unable to perform your own job; however, being covered under ‘Any Occupation’ means that you have to be unable to perform any job, with equivalent earnings to the job you were doing before not taken into account.

You can also usually choose for your cover to remain the same (level cover) or increase in line with inflation (inflation-linked cover):

Level cover – with this cover, if you made a claim the monthly income would be fixed at the start of your plan and does not change in the future. You should remember that this means, if inflation eventually starts to rise, that the buying power of your monthly income payments may be reduced over time.

Inflation-linked cover – with this cover, if you made a claim the monthly income would go up in line with the Retail Prices Index (RPI).

When you take out cover, you usually have the choice of:

Guaranteed premiums – the premiums remain the same all the way throughout the term of your plan. If you have chosen inflation-linked cover, your premiums and cover will automatically go up each year in line with RPI.

Reviewable premiums – this means the premiums you pay can increase or decrease in the future. The premiums will not typically increase or decrease for the first five years of your plan but they may do so at any time after that. If your premiums do go up, or down, they will not change again for the next 12 months.

How long you have to wait after making a claim will depend on the waiting period. You can usually choose from between 1, 2, 3, 6, 12 or 24 months. The longer the waiting period you choose, the lower the premium for your cover will be, but you’ll have to wait longer after you become unable to work before the payments from the policy are paid to you. Premiums must be paid for the entire term of the plan, including the waiting period.
Depending on your circumstances, it is possible that the payments from the plan may affect any state benefits due to you. This will depend on your individual situation and what state benefits you are claiming or intending to claim. If you are unsure whether any state benefits you are receiving will be affected, you should seek professional advice.

Critical illness cover

Choosing the right cover can help ease your financial pressures

You really need to find the right peace of mind when faced with the difficulty of dealing with a critical illness. Critical illness cover is a long-term insurance policy designed to pay you a tax-free lump sum on the diagnosis of certain specified life-threatening or debilitating (but not necessarily fatal) conditions, such as a heart attack, stroke, certain types/stages of cancer and multiple sclerosis. A more comprehensive policy will cover many more serious conditions, including loss of sight, permanent loss of hearing and a total and permanent disability that stops you from working. Some policies also provide cover against the loss of limbs.

It’s almost impossible to predict certain events that may occur within our lives, so taking out critical illness cover for you and your family, or if you run a business or company, offers protection when you may need it more than anything else. But not all conditions are necessarily covered, which is why you should always obtain professional advice.

If you are single with no dependants, critical illness cover can be used to pay off your mortgage, which means that you would have fewer bills or a lump sum to use if you became very unwell. And if you are part of a couple, it can provide much-needed financial support at a time of emotional stress.

The illnesses covered are specified in the policy along with any exclusions and limitations, which may differ between insurers. Critical illness policies usually only pay out once, so are not a replacement for income. Some policies offer combined life and critical illness cover. These pay out if you are diagnosed with a critical illness, or you die, whichever happens first.

If you already have an existing critical illness policy, you might find that by replacing a policy you would lose some of the benefits if you have developed any illnesses since you took out the first policy. It is important to seek professional advice before considering replacing or switching your policy, as pre-existing conditions may not be covered under a new policy.

Some policies allow you to increase your cover, particularly after lifestyle changes such as marriage, moving home or having children. If you cannot increase the cover under your existing policy, you could consider taking out a new policy just to ‘top up’ your existing cover.

A policy will provide cover only for conditions defined in the policy document. For a condition to be covered, your condition must meet the policy definition exactly. This can mean that some conditions, such as some forms of cancer, won’t be covered if deemed insufficiently severe.

Similarly, some conditions will not be covered if you suffer from them after reaching a certain age, for example, many policies will not cover Alzheimer’s disease if diagnosed after the age of 60.

Very few policies will pay out as soon as you receive diagnosis of any of the conditions listed in the policy and
most pay out only after a ‘survival period’, which is typically 28 days. This means that if you die within 28 days of meeting the definition of the critical illness given in the policy, the cover would not pay out.

How much you pay for critical illness cover will depend on a range of factors including what sort of policy you have chosen, your age, the amount you want the policy to pay out and whether or not you smoke.

Permanent, total disability is usually included in the policy. Some insurers define ‘permanent total disability’ as being unable to work as you normally would as a result of sickness, while others see it as being unable to independently perform three or more ‘Activities of Daily Living’ as a result of sickness or accident.

Activities of daily living include:

• Bathing
• Dressing and undressing
• Eating
• Transferring from bed to chair and back again

The good news is that medical advances mean more people than ever are surviving conditions that might have killed earlier generations. Critical illness cover can provide cash to allow you to pursue a less stressful lifestyle while you recover from illness, or you can use it for any other purpose. Don’t leave it to chance – make sure you’re fully covered.