Information from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) signals that there will be a number of significant changes in the pension death benefit rules from April 2011.

The main changes after April 2011, concern three aspects:

1) what pension benefits can be passed on at death

2) what the tax charges may be

3) what the implications are for Inheritance Tax liability

The last major revisions to the HMRC Pension Death Benefit rules were made in April 2006.

For deaths after 5th April 2011, pension lump sum benefits will be allowed at any age. If these benefits are paid to dependants from ‘crystallised rights’ (relevant existing pensions being paid to the individual, which can be an aggregate of several pensions) a tax charge of 55% will be made – an increase from the present 35%. A tax exemption may be allowed if this lump sum death benefit is made to a charity.

From 6th April 2011, the risk of Inheritance Tax charges on pension rights is lessened. Previously any changes to pension rights by an individual, prior to death, such as deferring taking retirement benefits (depriving an estate by an ’omission to act’) or reducing pension income, could be perceived by HMRC as an attempt to benefit others after their death.

Where HMRC perceives that an individual had deferred taking their retirement benefits or had reduced their pension income for retirement planning reasons, HMRC will not pursue a claim, particularly if the benefit is paid to a widow(er), civil partner or financial dependant.

On death, if before age 75, after 5th April 2011, any lump sum benefit will still be tax free if paid from ‘uncrystallised rights’ – funds held in respect of the member under a money purchase arrangement that have not as yet been used to provide that member with a benefit under the scheme and so have not crystallised.

Lump sum death benefits paid to charities from ‘crystallised rights’ will not be subject to the 55% tax charge. After 5th April 2011 the option to pay non-annuitised pension benefits tax free to charities, has been extended to include deaths before age 75, subject to a number of criteria, including that the deceased member or dependant has nominated a recipient charity. It will be no longer possible for a scheme administrator to nominate a recipient charity.

If you want to find out more about pension death benefits, contact one of the team who will be happy to help.

Source: www.hmrc.gov.uk