Inheritance Tax: Strategies and Exemptions

4 mins read
by Angel One
Inheritance tax varies globally; it's levied on a deceased's estate. India doesn't impose this tax, but income and capital gains taxes apply to inherited assets.

What is Inheritance Tax?

Inheritance tax, often known as an estate tax or death duty, is a levy on the estate (the total value of money and property) of a deceased person before distribution to their heirs. The concept of inheritance tax varies globally, with some countries imposing it to prevent the perpetuation of wealth across generations, while others do not have such a tax. It’s important to understand the nuances of this tax, how it applies, and the methods by which one can manage its impact.

Global Overview of Inheritance Tax

United States: The U.S. imposes an estate tax on the deceased’s estate, which is federal, and some states also levy an additional estate or inheritance tax. The tax rate is progressive, and there are considerable exemptions that reduce its impact on many estates.

United Kingdom: In the UK, inheritance tax is payable if the deceased’s estate exceeds a certain threshold. The rate is also progressive, with reliefs and exemptions available, particularly for estates passing to spouses or civil partners.

India: As of my last update in 2023, India does not levy an inheritance tax. However, there was a time when India did have this tax, known as “estate duty,” but it was abolished in 1985.

The Mechanics of Inheritance Tax

Inheritance taxes are calculated based on the value of the deceased’s estate. This can include cash, real estate, investments, and other assets owned at the time of death. The taxable amount is determined after deducting debts, funeral expenses, and sometimes specific bequests. Rates can vary significantly depending on the relationship between the inheritor and the deceased, with spouses often taxed less heavily.

Inheritance Tax Strategies and Exemptions

Marital Transfers: In many jurisdictions, assets passed to a surviving spouse are exempt from inheritance tax, or the tax is deferred until the death of the second spouse.

Lifetime Gifts: Some people choose to reduce their taxable estate through lifetime gifting. While this can be an effective strategy, many countries have rules to counteract such avoidance, such as taxing gifts made within a certain period before death.

Trusts: Placing assets in certain types of trusts can sometimes shield them from inheritance taxes, although the rules are complex and vary by jurisdiction.

Charitable Donations: Leaving part of the estate to charity can reduce the size of the taxable estate and, consequently, the inheritance tax due.

Taxation on Inherited Assets in India

While there is no inheritance tax in India, other taxes can apply when inherited assets generate income or are sold, 

Income Tax: If the inherited property produces income (e.g., rental income), the income is taxable to the heir under the Income Tax Act of 1961.

Capital Gains Tax: When inherited property is sold, capital gains tax may apply. The calculation of gains considers the cost to the original owner and the holding period, which can affect whether the gains are classified as long-term or short-term.

Will of Succession: This traditional method involves a legal document specifying the distribution of the deceased’s assets.

Inheritance by Nomination: Certain assets allow the deceased to nominate a beneficiary, who then becomes the lawful owner upon the deceased’s death.

Joint Ownership: Assets owned jointly will typically pass automatically to the surviving owner(s) without the need for probate.

Read More About How to File Income Tax Returns Online?


Understanding inheritance tax and planning for it is crucial for estate planning. While countries like India currently do not impose an inheritance tax, managing potential income and capital gains tax liabilities on inherited assets is vital. Proper planning ensures that the financial benefits of inherited wealth are maximized and that the transition of assets across generations is smooth and efficient.

Disclaimer: This blog has been written exclusively for educational purposes. The securities mentioned are only examples and not recommendations. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet and is subject to changes. Please consult an expert before making related decisions.