Inheritance Tax in the News

Inheritance tax makes the news frequently and two recent stories caught our attention – the death of comedian Ken Dodd and an initiative in Finland to abolish what is often perceived as a controversial levy.

Sir Kenneth Arthur Dodd died on 11 March at the age of 90. The comedian enjoyed a long and successful career, starting out as an entertainer in the 1950s. He was known for rapid delivery of jokes and shows that ran on for hours. He was given an OBE for services to show business and charity in 1982 and was knighted in 2017.

Two days before he died, the veteran comedian married his long-term partner, Anne Jones. In an article on the website, Converge, Tait Walker Tax Associate, Chris Hodgson reflected on Dodd’s relationship with the HMRC. He was charged with tax evasion in 1989. It was later revealed he had very little money in his bank account, with most of it stacked in suitcases in the attic. He was later acquitted.

The experience was included in his shows. For some time, he introduced his shows with, “Good evening, my name is Kenneth Arthur Dodd; singer, photographic playboy and failed accountant!”

Chris Hodgson pointed out that Dodd might have had the last laugh. By marrying his partner, he could bring about a tax benefit. When someone dies and leaves their assets to a common-law spouse, inheritance tax is charged if the legacy exceeds the nil rate band of £325,000.

But a legacy left to a spouse, civil partner or in a trust for that person’s benefit qualifies for spouse exemption – therefore, no inheritance tax. This would also allow Dodd’s wife to plan for reducing the potential liability on her estate.

The second story related to a citizen’s initiative in Finland. A petition calling for the abolition of inheritance and gift taxes in the country has gained the necessary 50,000 signatures. This number makes it eligible for Parliamentary consideration.

The petition’s originators claim inheritance tax is “state punishment” on people grieving the death of a loved one. The petition says many people in Finland move their assets overseas to avoid the tax. In other cases, heirs to an estate are forced to sell their own assets so they can pay inheritance tax.

The originators say another problem is that the tax complicates entrepreneurship because passing a business down to the next generation is prolonged.

Finland’s two main government parties, the Centre and the National Coalition, say they don’t support abolition of the tax, but they’d be prepared to reduce it. Finland’s Social Democratic Party opposes the scrapping of inheritance tax, saying only very large inheritances are taxed highly.

The estimated gain from the inheritance and gift taxes for the year’s budget is thought to be about 720 million euros.

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