Executors Briefing - Tax and the Family Home

12 June 2020

In many estates, the deceased’s home is the principal asset whose value often tips the estate over the inheritance tax (IHT) threshold.

The status of the deceased’s house/flat as “family home “attracts little special tax treatment beyond the additional “residence nil rate band” for IHT purposes if it’s left to “direct descendants”. But a house within an estate does illustrate well the main issues of valuation for IHT on death and Capital Gains Tax (CGT) implications when the property is sold by the Executors.

A home does not have a fixed value. Where IHT is chargeable on death, the market value will need to be agreed with HMRC so the liability can be calculated. Executors should not be lazy or penny pinching. A formal valuation should be obtained from a suitably qualified surveyor – so doing will win 75% of the valuation battle. The District Valuer (D.V.) engaged by HMRC is more likely to accept a value returned on the back of a professional valuation, even if they consider it a little on the low side. Nothing is gained by plucking a low figure out of the air and hoping for the best. All you will do is prompt protracted negotiations with the D.V. on value. It’s a myth that “Probate” Value is something less than “Market” Value.

A sale shortly after death will prompt HMRC to argue that the sale price, if higher, should be substituted for the value returned; the price achieved on a sale to third party is real evidence of true market value. It may be possible to successfully argue that the price achieved is the product of a marked recent increase in house prices in the area where the property is situated and that the returned value should stand. The increase in value would then, instead, be charged to Capital Gains Tax (CGT). As CGT is charged at 28% ( and on the net proceeds rather than the gross value) with the benefit  a £12, 300 annual exemption for Executors, there’s a saving if the increase in value is charged to CGT rather than to IHT (at 40%).

Conversely, if the Executors sell the property at less than the value returned for IHT within 4 years of death, then they can claim to substitute the sale price for the returned value and reclaim IHT. No allowance is given for disposal costs (estate agents/solicitors).

IHT attributable to a property can be paid by annual instalments over 10 years with interest (currently 2.6%). When the property is sold, the remaining instalments become immediately due.

Any property value  agreed for IHT purposes will then also be fixed as the “base value” for CGT purposes on subsequent sale by executors, by the person to whom the property was specifically left in the will, or to a residuary beneficiary to whom the property was “appropriated” on account of their residuary share.

Appropriation can result in substantial tax savings. If my father leaves his estate to me and my two sisters equally and his house is to be sold, we and the executors may resolve not simply to sell the house as part of the estate but to appropriate the property to the three of us as part of our entitlement to residue. It will be put into our names – and if the three of us are also the executors (as is likely) then we’ll need to formally transfer the title of property (as executors) to ourselves (as beneficiaries).   

For CGT purposes, our “base value” will similarly be the date of death value (not the value at the date of appropriation). When we sell, not only do we each have a £12,300 annual exemption (as opposed to just one for the executors), but, if we’re lower rate taxpayers, part of the gain might be charged to CGT at 18%. Further, if any one or more of us has been living in the property as our main residence since father’s death, the whole gain may be tax free under Private Residence Relief (PPR). PPR is not available to executors on a sale from the estate- even if, individually, one or more of them is in occupation- there needs to be a formal appropriation and transfer if PPR is to be claimed by such occupier.

In considering whether the deceased’s property should be sold or appropriated to residuary beneficiaries, the impact of ownership of that property needs to be considered if the beneficiary is currently thinking of buying a property – he/she may find themselves liable for the additional 3% surcharge on buying what will be a second property. Though there’s an exemption from the additional 3%  on buying within 3 years  of inheriting a less-than-50% share in a deceased’s property , that still won’t allow the buyer to benefit from any “first time buyer” rates.

A final point on CGT:

On any chargeable disposal of residential property (including a disposal by executors) after 6th April 2020, a CGT return needs to be made and tax paid within 30 days of completion of the sale.

About the author

Jim Sawer is a partner in our private client team. He has a broad private client practice and has advised families in the UK and overseas, including those with commercial and landed interests, for over 30 years.  Clients appreciate his ability to identify the true crux of a matter promptly and his results-orientated approach to resolving private client issues in the family context.


Further Information

If in doubt, and in the interests of peace of mind, please do contact Jim Sawer or the Private Client team.



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