Inheritance tax (IHT) contains many obscure areas. One of these is the exemption for items accepted as national heritage property, the main condition being that they are made available to the public to be viewed. This normally conjures up images of stately homes and art galleries, but in fact items owned by individuals can also qualify.
The lucky owners of such precious items do not however need to be ready to welcome strangers into their homes at the drop of a hat, or to lend their items to museums. There is a register on the HMRC website which can be searched for items, and often an appointment to view can be made in a suitable location. As most people are unaware of the register, the condition is therefore much less onerous than it sounds, although I now know there is a Shakespeare second folio available for viewing in London. I may make a note for the future.
The system has existed for years, a boon for scholars which also stops items being forcibly sold, potentially abroad, to meet IHT liabilities. Numerous coronavirus lockdowns have however caused a problem. As restrictions were introduced these items ceased to be available to the public, potentially endangering the IHT exemption.
Admittedly, this would have led to a huge windfall in IHT in these pressing times, but it would have been a disaster in most ways for our historic national treasures. Thankfully HMRC saw sense and there is a temporary easement in the access requirements, in recognition of the lockdown and social distancing rules. This has now been extended to July 2021.
Let us hope this is an accurate estimate of when things can get back to normal, and that more people will take advantage of the right to view these items when restrictions are finally lifted.