I’ve already written about the direct income tax consequences of using 2015’s pension freedoms to draw down a private pension as a single lump sum. To refresh, anyone opting to withdraw £200,000 as cash from their pension post 55 can expect to pay a minimum of £49,627 in income tax. For sure you avoid the previous 55% rate, but you still end up paying as near 25% as makes no difference in income tax.
However, there are also more subtle tax implications to consider.
The most important relates to one of the freedoms that caught out virtually the entire pensions industry. Not only were pension savings exempted from the penal exit taxes, but pension pots could also be passed on free of inheritance tax at death. If you are unfortunate enough to die before the age of 75, but crucially after the pension freedoms are introduced next April, your entire pension fund can be passed on to your loved ones, or possibly even your spouse and children, entirely free of tax. It doesn’t even need to be kept as a pension. It will be a lump sum completely free of tax to be spent at the recipient’s absolute discretion. Nice!
Even should you achieve the average life expectancy of 78.9 for a man or 82.7 for a woman, your pension pot can still be passed on intact. Any income drawn from the pot by the, hopefully suitably grateful, recipients would be subject to taxation at the recipient’s marginal rate. However, it is relatively simple to organise your affairs to keep any drawn income within tax-efficient limits.
Many advisors and higher net worth individuals have been quick to appreciate the subtler estate planning implications of the proposed changes. In a nutshell, from next April, it looks like it will be possible to pass on a pension pot significantly in excess of the £1,250,000 lifetime limit with no inheritance tax payable and only a relatively small tax penalty on any sum exceeding that limit. Effectively very large estates can be passed on from generation to generation, free of IHT, via accumulated pensions. If the recipients are prudent in drawing an income from this legacy, which they can do at any age, the sum will be largely kept intact for future generations. Richard Evans wrote an excellent piece on the possibilities of intergenerational pensions that effectively allow you to ignore the £1.25 million lifetime limit.
All this is very exciting if pensions and estate planning float your boat. However, there are two important caveats. The first is that the rules keep changing. The second is that the freedoms could be reversed after May’s General Election. My best guess though is that whoever wins will instead take the easy and sensible option of restricting tax relief on pensions contributions to the basic rate.
However, taking the freedoms at face value there are further implications. If leaving a legacy is important to you, you should think long and hard about whether to drawdown a pension as cash. I mentioned the income tax implications in my opening paragraph. However, as soon as money leaves your pension it also loses an important exemption from inheritance tax.
Consider the same £200,000 as used in the example above , which you might be earmarking for property investment. After deducting the minimum of £49,627 of income tax, you are left with £150,373. If you were to die with that sum still forming part of your estate (i.e. having invested it in the aforementioned property), it would attract a further 40% inheritance tax charge. This, not unreasonably, assumes that your home and other assets already exhaust your £325,000 personal allowance. This would leave just over £90,000 to be passed on upon your death, less than half the £200,000 that could have been inherited tax free had you left the pension as it was.
Getting back to the proposed changes, of course your first priority should be that you have enough money to live comfortably in retirement. Indeed SKI-ing (or spending the kids’ inheritance) is precisely what many intend to do. However, if you do have sufficient resources for your own needs, and it is important to you to leave a legacy, a crucial part of that planning might be the new IHT exemptions for private pensions.
Take care out there