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Do you know where you are domiciled? Are you sure? 

For British expatriates, understanding domicile is an important element of estate planning. It is domicile, not residence, that determines your liability for UK inheritance tax.

Domicile is a complex and incredibly adhesive UK common law concept. The basic rule is that a person is domiciled in the country in which they have their permanent home – regarded as your ‘homeland’. You can remain UK-domiciled even after living abroad for many years.
There are three types of domicile under English law:

  • Domicile of origin – where a child takes their father’s (or single/unmarried mother’s) domicile (not necessarily their country of birth).
  • Domicile of dependence – applies to women married before 1974 (whose domicile will mirror their husband’s) as well as minors and other legal dependents.
  • Domicile of choice – acquired by moving permanently to another country.
    While changing domicile is possible, this needs to be a carefully considered process as there are no set rules – much depends on your particular circumstances and intentions. If challenged by HM Revenue and Customs, the onus is on you – or, rather, your heirs – to prove you were non-UK domicile at the date of death.

Changing domicile

To acquire a domicile of choice you must be physically present and tax resident in your new country, intend to live there permanently, and not foresee any reason to return to the UK. You need to sever as many ties as possible with the UK, as HMRC will look for any indication that you see Britain as your homeland and may return one day. Stating in your will that you wish to be buried in the UK, for example, could work against you.
Even if you adopt a domicile of choice outside the UK, it can take up to four years to shed a UK domicile for inheritance tax purposes. HMRC may treat you as UK-domiciled if you:

  • were UK resident for 15 of the last 20 tax years
  • return to Britain for more than a year (if the UK is your domicile of origin and place of birth)
  • move to a third country – until you can demonstrate you have established a new domicile of choice.

The effect of domicile on inheritance taxes

Anyone who is deemed UK-domiciled is liable to 40% inheritance tax on their worldwide assets. There is an individual tax-free allowance of £325,000, transferable to your spouse/civil partner, plus a £150,000 ‘family home allowance’ (increasing to £175,000 in April 2020).
As well as UK tax, you could be liable to Spanish succession tax. However, in most cases the UK would give credit for the tax paid overseas to avoid double taxation on the same asset.
Non-UK domiciles are only liable to UK inheritance tax on assets situated in the UK.

The best approach

Domicile is a complex area, particularly for inheritance tax purposes. If you are looking to claim change of domicile, or there is a significant amount of UK inheritance tax at stake, take specialist, personalised advice.
Whether or not you have UK domicile status, there are tax planning arrangements available to reduce your liabilities to inheritance and other taxes. Blevins Franks are experts in this area and will help you establish your domicile status, how inheritance tax interacts with Spanish succession tax, and what steps you can take to minimise unnecessary taxes for your heirs.
Tax rates, scope and reliefs may change. Any statements concerning taxation are based upon our understanding of current taxation laws and practices, which are subject to change. Tax information has been summarised; individuals should seek personalised advice.

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