Inheritance tax (IHT) is payable at 40% on the net value of the assets you own when you die, plus (to a certain extent) on the value of the gifts you made in the seven years before you die. The first £325,000 of assets is currently exempt from IHT in all cases.
There are also exemptions from IHT for business assets, such as shares held in unquoted companies. However, you cannot escape IHT by holding all your investments and spare cash inside your personal company. The business of the company must be more than passive holding of investments, and the Taxman normally regards letting property as an investment, but this is a grey area.
Even where your company has an active trade, it doesn’t follow that the full value of its shares will qualify for the IHT exemption. The Taxman wants to look inside the company and check that each asset it holds, including cash, is used for the purpose of the trading business.
This can cause difficulties for companies which hold more cash than is needed for everyday working capital. If your company is in this position, to get the IHT exemption you need to form some plans for use of the funds within the business and document those plans.
The IHT exemption applies where the shares of the trading company are held by individuals, or where a holding company holds the shares, and shares in that holding company are held by individuals. However, where the holding vehicle is a general partnership or an LLP, instead of a company, the IHT exemption does not apply.