Inheritance tax is cruel and unfair – but the French have it worse

family generations sharing a meal
family generations sharing a meal

Is there anything more undignified than a costly legal battle over a relative’s inheritance?

Nothing screams greed and entitlement more than an attempt to refute someone’s last will and testament after they’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.

Many of you will have been delighted to read this week about the sisters who unsuccessfully challenged their grandfather’s will and were left with a £220,000 legal bill.

Frederick Ward had chosen to leave the five women just £50 each from his £500,000 estate, claiming that they did not visit him often enough in his final years. That was, of course, his right and it’s a victory for common sense that the court claim was dismissed.

Britain’s inheritance system is by no means perfect, but we should be grateful we are not obliged to dish out our estate in a way that the state sees fit. In France and Italy for instance, children are entitled to a share of your estate – whether you like it or not.

French children are guaranteed between half and three-quarters of the estate, and in Italy you are also unable to freely dispose of all of your assets in your will or via lifetime gifts.

Under Islamic law, you only have a say over one-third of your total estate – the rest has to be divided according to Shariah law, which can include a son receiving twice as much as a daughter.

But there’s another reason why it is smart to give away your money before you die in Britain. And that’s inheritance tax.

Official figures published this week revealed that the Treasury raked in £85m more in inheritance tax in April this year than the same month in 2023.

This is why I applaud Anne Robinson, who this week revealed that – at the relatively young age of 79 – she had given away her multi-million pound fortune to ensure that not a single penny went to the taxman.

Many Telegraph readers will agree that her family will spend it more wisely than any government.

Yet it provides another reminder of why inheritance tax is so cruel and unfair. It’s a tax that hits the family of those who have died without the chance or the foresight to get their estate in order.

Telegraph Money is continuing to campaign for inheritance tax to be abolished and the Tories would be wise to include radical reform in their General Election manifesto.

Perhaps the only positive thing to come from the threat of inheritance tax is that it forces people to think about how they wish to distribute their estate before the taxman gets his hands on it.

When you give away money in your lifetime you get the benefit of seeing loved ones enjoy it, and you can explain your decisions to your family without fearing that your will will one day trigger some sort of family war.

Expensive legal battles over wills are a shameful waste of money, but it’s perhaps a small price to pay in defence of choosing how our hard-earned money is spent.