Family businesses form the backbone of many economies, providing employment, fostering innovation, and contributing significantly to local communities. In the UK, these enterprises face unique challenges, one of which is inheritance tax (IHT). Inheritance tax, levied on the estate of a deceased person, can have profound implications for family-run businesses, affecting their continuity, financial stability, and long-term success. Understanding the impact of this tax and exploring potential mitigation strategies is crucial for the sustainability of these vital enterprises.

The Impact of Inheritance Tax on Family Businesses

Understanding Inheritance Tax

Inheritance tax in the UK is currently set at 40% on estates valued above the £325,000 threshold. While certain reliefs and exemptions exist, such as the Business Property Relief (BPR), which can reduce the taxable value of business assets, the financial burden of IHT can still be significant. For family businesses, where assets often include property, equipment, and intellectual property, the valuation can quickly exceed the threshold, triggering a substantial tax liability.

Impact on Family Businesses

  1. Financial Strain and Liquidity Issues
    One of the most immediate impacts of inheritance tax on family businesses is the financial strain it imposes. Given that business assets are often illiquid, the requirement to pay a large tax bill can lead to significant liquidity issues. This scenario might force the sale of essential business assets or even the business itself to meet tax obligations, disrupting operations and potentially leading to job losses and diminished market presence.
  2. Succession Planning Challenges
    Succession planning is a critical aspect of maintaining the continuity of family businesses. Inheritance tax can complicate this process by creating additional financial hurdles. The need to pay a hefty tax bill can divert funds away from necessary investments in the business, such as technology upgrades, market expansion, or talent acquisition. Furthermore, the potential for intra-family disputes increases when the business must be divided or sold to satisfy tax liabilities.
  3. Risk to Long-term Stability
    The long-term stability of family businesses is at risk when significant portions of their value are eroded by inheritance tax. These businesses often operate on tight margins, and the added financial burden can stifle growth and innovation. In some cases, the necessity to prioritise immediate tax payments over strategic investments can hinder the business’s ability to compete and adapt in a rapidly changing market.

Mitigation Strategies

  1. Effective Estate Planning
    Proactive estate planning is essential for mitigating the impact of inheritance tax. This process involves evaluating the business’s assets, understanding potential tax liabilities, and implementing strategies to minimise the tax burden. Effective estate planning might include utilising available reliefs, such as the Business Property Relief, and structuring the ownership of assets to take advantage of tax exemptions.
  2. Lifetime Giving
    Another strategy to reduce the inheritance tax burden is through lifetime giving. By gifting shares or assets to family members during the business owner’s lifetime, the value of the estate can be reduced, potentially lowering the tax liability. However, it is crucial to consider the seven-year rule, where gifts may be subject to tax if the giver passes away within seven years of the gift.
  3. Trusts and Family Investment Companies
    Establishing trusts or family investment companies can also be an effective way to manage inheritance tax liabilities. Trusts allow for the controlled transfer of assets, providing a means to protect business interests while reducing the taxable estate. Family investment companies, where family members hold shares, can facilitate the gradual transfer of business ownership in a tax-efficient manner.
  4. Professional Advice
    Navigating the complexities of inheritance tax requires expert advice. Engaging with tax advisors, estate planners, and legal professionals can ensure that family businesses are well-prepared to handle tax liabilities. These professionals can provide tailored strategies that align with the specific needs and goals of the business, helping to safeguard its future.


Inheritance tax poses a significant challenge to family businesses in the UK, with the potential to disrupt operations, complicate succession planning, and threaten long-term stability. However, with proactive estate planning, strategic use of tax reliefs, and professional guidance, the impact of IHT can be mitigated. By taking these steps, family businesses can continue to thrive, preserving their legacy and contributions to the economy for future generations. If you are in need to assistance, make sure you contact us today and our team of friendly professionals will be able to help.