In my family, there are a lot of birthdays at the end of the year and before you know it Christmas is upon us. With only limited space for physical gifts like clothes or toys, sometimes cash gifts or contributions to the children’s savings plans are more than welcome! But how much can you give your children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces? As we will see, whilst the rules on official gifts and inheritance allowances are very clear, there seems to be much more flexibility on smaller gifts for special occasions.
Gifts from a UK resident to a French resident – UK tax applies
If you receive gifts from a UK resident, such gifts are generally subject to UK tax rules. However, if the recipient has lived in France for at least six of the ten tax years preceding the year in which the gift is received, French tax rules will apply. Inheritances are covered by the Double Tax Treaty between France and the UK but gifts are not. Inheritances are not taxable even if the recipient has been living in France for more than six years. If a double tax situation were to arise then the tax paid in the UK would be deducted from any tax payable in France. French tax is also payable if a UK resident gifts an asset that is situated in France.
A gift is defined as anything that has a value, such as money, property, possessions. If a person were to sell their house to a child, for less than its market value, then the difference in value would count as a gift.
Gifts to exempt beneficiaries are not subject to Inheritance Tax. These include:
- Between husband, wife or civil partner, provided that they reside permanently in the UK
- Registered UK charities (a list is available on the gov.uk website)
- Some national organisations, such as universities, museums and the National Trust
HMRC also allows an annual exemption of £3,000 worth of gifts to people other than exempt beneficiaries each tax year (6 April to 5 April), without them being added to the value of the estate. Any unused annual exemptions may be carried forward to the next year, but only for one year.
Each tax year, a UK tax resident may also give:
- Cash gifts for weddings or civil ceremonies of up to £1,000 per person (£2,500 for a grandchild or great-grandchild, £5,000 for a child)
- Normal gifts out of their income, for example Christmas or birthday presents, provided that they are able to maintain their standard of living after making the gift
- Payments to help with another person’s living costs, such as an elderly relative or a child under 18
- Gifts to charities and political parties
These exemptions may be cumulated, so a grandchild/nephew/niece could receive a gift for their wedding and their birthday in the same tax year. However, if the wedding or civil partnership is cancelled, the gift for this event will no longer be exempt from Inheritance Tax.
There is an unlimited amount of small gifts allowance of up to £250 per person during the tax year provided that the person making the gift hasn’t used up another exemption on the same person (such as the £3,000 annual exemption limit).
In the UK, Inheritance Tax is payable (at 40%) on gifts made in the 3 years before the donor’s death. Any gifts given between 3 to 7 years before death are taxed on a sliding scale known as ‘taper relief’. Gifts given more than 7 years before death are not counted towards the value of the estate. Inheritance tax will apply if the gift is more than £325,000 in the 7 years before the donor’s death.
Gifts from a French resident to another French resident or to a UK resident – French gift tax rules apply
In France, the Inheritance Tax allowances are not as generous as in the UK. The tax relief on gifts is the same as for inheritance tax and depends on the relationship between the donor and beneficiary. A parent may only give their child up to €100,000 tax free, a grandparent only €31,865 to a grandchild, brothers and sisters may receive €15,932, nephews and nieces € 7,967 and great-grandchildren €5,310.
There is no inheritance tax between married couples or those in a civil partnership, however, for gifts made during a person’s lifetime the maximum amount allowed is €80,724.
Gifts made to disabled persons, subject to certain conditions, have an additional exemption of €159,325 per person irrespective of the relationship between the donor and the disabled person. This exemption is in addition to the normal exemptions above.
These exemptions for gift tax (or ‘droits de donation’) may be used several times over during one’s lifetime, provided that there is a 15-year gap between each gift.
As in the UK, financial support given to a child/ex-spouse/dependent relative on a monthly/annual basis is not considered as a gift in French law, but rather as a family duty. Such support, or ‘pension alimentaire’ as it is called in French, is tax deductible for the donor but must be declared as income by the recipient.
A gift (called ‘don’ in French) may be a physical object, a house or property or intangible gifts like shares or intellectual property rights. If the gift is a house or property, a notary will be required, and he/she will make sure that the proper gift tax declarations are filed. The transfer of property must take place immediately and once given is irrevocable.
Cash gifts, (‘don manuel’ in French) – made by hand, cheque or bank transfer – are subject to different rules. A cash gift of €31,865, may be given to a child, grandchild, great-grandchild or, if there are none such, to nephews, nieces, or if the nephews and nieces have died to their children or representatives. The donor must, however, be less than 80 years old and the beneficiary must be over 18 years old on the day the gift is made. This exemption is also subject to the 15-year rule and is in addition to the Inheritance Tax allowances mentioned above.
The cash gift allowance and the normal gift allowances may be cumulated as long as they do not exceed the legal maximum amounts. So for example, provided that in all cases the donor is not yet 80 years old and the beneficiary is over 18; a mother or a father can give their child a total amount of €131,865; a grandparent can give an adult grandchild a total amount of €63 730 (€31,865 + €31,865); a great-grandparent can give an adult great-grandchild a total amount of €37,175 (€31,865 + €5,310) and an aunt or an uncle can give a nephew or niece a sum of €39,832 (€31,865 + €7,967).
Such cash gifts must be declared to the tax office the month after they are made. Cash gifts (above these exemptions) are taxable if they are discovered by the tax authorities during a routine enquiry by letter or during an official tax inspection. When the beneficiary declares the gift to the tax office of his/her own accord, they must pay the relevant amount of tax. If the value of the gift is over €15,000 it may be declared and any tax paid in the month after the donor’s death.
The French have another type of gift called ‘Présent d’usage’ which is a gift for normal ordinary life events like weddings, birthdays, graduations, baptisms etc. Such gifts are not considered taxable gifts provided that they are given on or around a special event/occasion and that they are not disproportionate given the level of income and assets of the donor.
There is no law which defines the exact amount of these gifts so each is considered on a case-by-case basis.
The Cour de Cassation ruled that a gift of €20,000 from a husband to his wife was a ‘present d’usage’ as it was given for her birthday and by way of a loan taken out by the husband. The monthly payments on the loan were less than 20% of his net income.
Such gifts are not subject to French gift tax and are not included in the donor’s estate.
So now that you are aware of the rules in both countries you may give or receive gifts knowing exactly what needs to be declared. However, the use of gift tax allowances as a tax planning strategy is something which should only be considered after taking proper advice from a qualified independent financial adviser specialised in cross-border matters.