Unpaid Inheritance Tax in the UK in 2023: What Happens Next?

unpaid inheritance tax

If you have unpaid inheritance tax in the UK, you might be wondering what the consequences you might encounter. Inheritance tax represents a tax on the estate (property, money, and possessions) of someone who’s died. It is one of the most common and important tax that the UK residents has to pay for.

This post dives into the intricacies of unpaid inheritance tax, guiding you through eight critical considerations to help you navigate the inheritance tax in the UK.

If you want to invest as an expat or high-net-worth individual, which is what I specialize in, you can email me (advice@adamfayed.com) or use WhatsApp (+44-7393-450-837).

This article isn’t formal tax or legal advice, and the facts might have changed since we wrote it.

Understanding Inheritance Tax and Its Implications

Inheritance tax, often abbreviated as IHT, is a levy on the estate of a person who has died. The “estate” includes all possessions, property, and money that the deceased owned at the time of their death. Dealing with unpaid inheritance tax can be challenging, so understanding the basics of IHT is crucial.

Who is liable for Inheritance Tax?

The person responsible for handling the estate, also known as the executor, is generally liable for paying the inheritance tax. The executor is usually a close family member or an attorney who carries out the wishes stated in the deceased’s will. If there’s no will, the law decides who should administer the estate and thus pay any unpaid inheritance tax.

How much is the Inheritance Tax?

Inheritance tax in the UK is usually charged at 40% of the estate’s value above the threshold of £325,000. However, this rate may be reduced to 36% if 10% or more of the net estate is left to charity. This figure excludes any reliefs or exemptions that might apply. If unpaid inheritance tax remains after these considerations, it could accrue interest over time, increasing the total debt.

When should it be paid?

Typically, any unpaid IHT should be paid within six months of the end of the month in which the deceased passed away. After this period, HMRC may start charging interest on the unpaid IHT, and it’s important to be proactive in managing this.

Understanding these aspects of inheritance tax is the first step to managing unpaid inheritance tax effectively. The more knowledge you have about the tax, its implications, and how it’s managed, the better equipped you will be to handle any issues with unpaid inheritance tax.

unpaid inheritance tax

When the specter of unpaid inheritance tax looms, time is of the essence. The earlier you take action, the better.

Consequences of Unpaid Inheritance Tax

One of the most daunting aspects of handling an estate after a loved one’s death is addressing unpaid inheritance tax. When an estate is unable to cover its inheritance tax liabilities, serious consequences arise. Let’s discuss these consequences in detail, focusing on potential penalties, interest, and legal implications.

Potential Penalties and Interest

Fixed Penalties

If you find yourself facing unpaid inheritance tax, you should brace yourself for penalties. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) does not take unpaid inheritance tax lightly. 

For instance, if you fail to pay the tax within six months after the end of the month in which the death occurred, HMRC may impose a fixed penalty. 

These penalties are not discretionary; they automatically apply if you pay the inheritance tax late. Paying the inheritance tax on time, or as soon as possible if you’ve missed the deadline, helps avoid these penalties.

Percentage-based Penalties

Along with fixed penalties, HMRC may charge percentage-based penalties on unpaid inheritance tax. This means that the longer you leave the tax unpaid, the more you may end up owing. 

As such, the cost of your unpaid inheritance tax could inflate quite significantly due to these additional charges. The percentage-based penalties can provide a strong incentive to resolve the unpaid inheritance tax as quickly as possible.

Legal Implications

Unpaid inheritance tax carries weighty legal implications that you must consider. Let’s understand these further.

Liability of Executors

If you are an executor of an estate, you need to pay keen attention to unpaid inheritance tax, as you carry personal liability for it. Executors have a legal responsibility to settle any unpaid inheritance tax from the estate’s assets. 

If HMRC deems that you have been negligent or untruthful in your role, they can hold you personally responsible for the unpaid inheritance tax. This can be a serious matter. 

If the estate cannot pay its inheritance tax due to insufficient funds, as an executor, you must notify HMRC immediately. 

In cases where executors distribute assets from the estate without settling unpaid inheritance tax, HMRC can pursue them personally for the outstanding amount.

Immediate Steps to Take If You Cannot Pay Inheritance Tax

When the specter of unpaid inheritance tax looms, time is of the essence. The earlier you take action, the better. There are two primary steps you need to follow immediately.

Informing HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)

The first step to take when confronted with unpaid inheritance tax is to promptly inform HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) about your situation. HMRC is the UK’s official body overseeing the collection of taxes, and it is in your best interest to maintain open communication with them.

Informing HMRC about your unpaid inheritance tax doesn’t merely mean admitting an issue exists. It involves detailing your circumstances, providing insights into why you can’t pay the inheritance tax, and showcasing your willingness to cooperate and rectify the situation. 

It’s worth noting that HMRC has a history of working with taxpayers to find resolutions when they face financial difficulties, but this only becomes a possibility when you take the first step of informing them about your unpaid inheritance tax situation.

Exploring available options

Once you have informed HMRC about your unpaid inheritance tax, it’s time to explore your available options. This could involve a variety of avenues, depending on your circumstances, and could include arranging a payment plan, applying for a loan, or selling assets from the estate.

Arranging a payment plan

One of the primary options you have when dealing with unpaid inheritance tax is to arrange a payment plan with HMRC. 

Payment plans, also known as ‘installment options’, can help you manage the unpaid inheritance tax by spreading the amount due over a longer period.

This doesn’t eliminate the tax owed, but it can provide much-needed breathing space and make the tax liability more manageable. 

When arranging a payment plan, you’ll need to demonstrate to HMRC that you are willing and able to meet the regular payment commitments.

Applying for a loan

Another option for handling unpaid IHT is applying for a loan. This could be a viable solution if your financial predicament is temporary or if you anticipate funds that could pay off the loan in the future.

Several financial institutions provide loans specifically designed to pay off unpaid inheritance tax. However, like any financial decision, this should not be taken lightly. 

Be sure to consider the loan terms, the interest rate, and your ability to repay the loan before proceeding down this path.

Selling assets from the estate

If a payment plan or loan isn’t viable, you may consider selling assets from the estate to cover the unpaid inheritance tax. 

Assets such as property, vehicles, jewellery, stocks, and other valuable items can be sold to raise funds.

However, it’s essential to consider the implications of selling assets. This could potentially reduce the estate’s value that was meant to be inherited by the beneficiaries. 

Thus, it’s crucial to carefully consider which assets to sell and consult with all parties involved when considering this option for unpaid inheritance tax.

The Role of Executors in Managing Unpaid Inheritance Tax

When dealing with unpaid inheritance tax, the role of executors becomes significant. Executors are individuals named in the will who are responsible for handling the deceased person’s estate. They have specific responsibilities that they need to fulfill diligently, especially when it comes to unpaid inheritance tax.

Legal responsibilities of executors

Executors must carry out several tasks according to UK law. From arranging probate, gathering assets, and paying off debts, to distributing the remaining estate to beneficiaries – these all fall under an executor’s duties. 

However, one of the most crucial responsibilities involves settling the inheritance tax. If the estate owes inheritance tax, executors must ensure it gets paid. They need to calculate the amount accurately and pay it to HMRC from the estate’s funds. 

If the inheritance tax remains unpaid, executors may face legal consequences. Thus, managing unpaid inheritance tax becomes a paramount concern for executors.

How executors can manage unpaid IHT

Executors have various options to manage unpaid inheritance tax. Firstly, they should immediately inform HMRC about the unpaid inheritance tax. 

HMRC often shows understanding towards genuine difficulties and may offer options like instalment plans. These arrangements can help manage the unpaid inheritance tax over an extended period, easing the immediate financial burden.

unpaid inheritance tax

It’s crucial to remember that selling assets to pay for unpaid IHT will impact the remaining estate and, consequently, the beneficiaries.

Assets and Inheritance Tax: What You Need to Know

The estate’s assets play a crucial role when you’re dealing with unpaid inheritance tax. These assets, which can range from cash and real estate to investments and personal belongings, form the bulk of the estate.

Understanding how assets factor into IHT

When calculating inheritance tax, the total value of the estate’s assets forms the base. This valuation includes every owned or partially owned property, cash in the bank, investments, businesses, and even payouts from life insurance policies. If there’s unpaid inheritance tax, these assets might come under consideration to cover the due amount.

Selling assets to cover unpaid IHT

Selling assets is a common strategy executors use when faced with unpaid inheritance tax.

What assets can be sold?

Assets that can be sold include real estate, shares, and valuable belongings like jewellery, artwork, or vehicles, among others. Executors must handle the sale of assets responsibly, aiming to get a fair market price and not cause unnecessary losses to the estate.

Impact on the remaining estate

It’s crucial to remember that selling assets to pay for unpaid IHT will impact the remaining estate and, consequently, the beneficiaries. It reduces the overall value of the estate, leaving less for the beneficiaries. Therefore, when dealing with unpaid IHT, executors should consider all options and implications carefully, ensuring they make the best decisions for the estate and its beneficiaries.

Utilizing Exemptions and Reliefs to Reduce IHT

When you are wrestling with unpaid inheritance tax, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of the exemptions and reliefs that can help reduce your IHT liability.

Commonly available IHT exemptions

Inheritance tax, like most tax systems, has built-in exemptions that can potentially decrease the unpaid inheritance tax. Two prominent exemptions include the spousal and charity exemptions.

If the deceased leaves everything above the threshold to their spouse or civil partner, there will be no inheritance tax due. 

Additionally, any gifts made to charities, museums, universities, or community amateur sports clubs are exempt. It’s important to evaluate these exemptions as they could significantly lessen the burden of unpaid inheritance tax.

Using reliefs to minimize IHT liability

Beyond exemptions, several reliefs can further reduce unpaid IHT. Notably, Business Relief allows certain business assets or shares to be passed on for free or with reduced IHT. 

For instance, if the deceased owned a business, part or all of it might not count towards the taxable value of the estate.

Another relief comes in the form of Agricultural Relief. If the deceased owned a farm or woodland, these might be partially or entirely exempt from IHT. Using these reliefs effectively can help you minimize the unpaid inheritance tax and alleviate some of the financial stress.

Payment Plans and Negotiations with HMRC

Facing unpaid inheritance tax can be challenging, but establishing a payment plan with HMRC can offer a manageable way to handle this obligation.

How to set up a payment plan for IHT

Requirements for a payment plan

When considering a payment plan for your unpaid inheritance tax, you should first understand the requirements. HMRC will need evidence that you’ve explored all other options to pay. This includes using available funds, selling assets, and exploring loan options.

Long-term implications of payment plans

While a payment plan can alleviate immediate pressure, you need to consider its long-term implications. A payment plan extends your repayment period, meaning interest will accrue on the unpaid inheritance tax. It’s essential to factor this into your financial planning to avoid unexpected costs in the future.

Effective communication with HMRC

Throughout your negotiations, maintaining effective communication with HMRC is essential. Keep them informed about your situation, and be proactive in seeking advice or requesting assistance. This openness can facilitate a more supportive and cooperative approach to handling your unpaid inheritance tax.

Seeking Professional Help for Unpaid Inheritance Tax

When unpaid IHT becomes a problem, it’s crucial to seek the right advice to manage the situation effectively.

When to Consider Professional Advice?

Should unpaid inheritance tax become a persistent issue, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice. While HMRC provides some assistance, handling unpaid inheritance tax involves complex regulations and procedures. 

An estate with substantial unpaid IHT or a large number of assets can also complicate matters. In such cases, professional advice is particularly beneficial.

In addition, if negotiations with HMRC about unpaid inheritance tax are not progressing, or you’re unsure of the legal implications and your responsibilities, professional help can be invaluable. 

Similarly, if you’re considering selling assets to cover unpaid inheritance tax but are unsure about potential impacts, a professional can provide the much-needed guidance.

Finding a Financial Advisor or Solicitor

When dealing with unpaid IHT it’s essential to find a professional who specializes in inheritance tax matters. 

Look for financial advisors or solicitors with experience in estate planning and inheritance tax. They understand the ins and outs of the system, providing the best advice on managing unpaid inheritance tax.

Financial advisors can offer strategies to reduce unpaid inheritance tax liability, while solicitors can help in legal negotiations with HMRC. 

However, make sure you choose an advisor or solicitor who meets your specific needs. Take into account their experience, qualifications, fees, and, most importantly, their approach to dealing with unpaid inheritance tax.

unpaid inheritance tax

If negotiations with HMRC about unpaid inheritance tax are not progressing, or you’re unsure of the legal implications and your responsibilities, professional help can be invaluable.


Unpaid inheritance tax can be a complex issue, but understanding your obligations and the options available to you can significantly ease the burden. 

Throughout this post, we’ve highlighted the importance of knowing the implications of unpaid inheritance tax, the role of executors, the impact of selling assets, the use of exemptions and reliefs, and the potential benefits of negotiating a payment plan with HMRC.

However, when unpaid inheritance tax becomes overwhelming, or the estate’s situation is complicated, seeking professional help is a wise step. 

A financial advisor or solicitor can provide tailored advice, helping you navigate the unpaid inheritance tax issue effectively.

It’s always important to remember that each situation is unique, and what works for one estate might not work for another. So, take the time to understand your position fully, consider all your options and make the most informed decisions when dealing with unpaid inheritance tax.

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Adam is an internationally recognised author on financial matters, with over 693.5 million answer views on Quora.com, a widely sold book on Amazon, and a contributor on Forbes.

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