MONEY | Living for ways to avoid the taxes that death can trigger

Is a death tax likely in the near future? Picture: Shutterstock.
Is a death tax likely in the near future? Picture: Shutterstock.

One of the most memorable things about the Queensland state election campaign has been Clive Palmer's full-sized advertisements warning "a death tax could be Labor's plan".

Apparently the advertisements did frighten a lot of people, so let's look at whether a death tax is likely in the near future.

Let's get real. Going to an election with a policy of bringing in death duties would be highly risky for any party. But there are situations already occurring in which a tax on death can occur.

If you cast your mind back to the 2019 Federal election, Labor went to the voters with a proposal to abolish the refund of franking credits for everybody except age pensioners.

At the time I wrote that this had the potential to be a tax on widows, because of the difference between the pension assets test cut-off points for a couple and a single.

If a couple had assets of $700,000 and were receiving a pension of $13,700 a year between them, the survivor would lose their pension on their partner's death, because the cut-off point for a single pensioner is just $583,000.

Yes, under that proposal, the survivor would have lost the entire age pension, and their franking credits, as well as their life partner. But the proposal sank like a stone at the polls.

There are two other areas where death can create a tax situation. The first is superannuation - remember that the taxable portion of your superannuation currently suffers a death tax of 17 per cent if left to a non-dependent.

This may not be relevant to a couple, because a partner is automatically classed as a dependent under superannuation rules, but it has huge implications for a single person.

In the normal course of events, by the time people pass away their children have long ceased to be dependents, so any superannuation they inherit is subject to this tax.

Of course, it is easy to avoid, as long as you have at least one trustworthy person you are close to.

The person with the superannuation just needs to execute an Enduring Power of Attorney with instructions for the attorney to withdraw their superannuation tax-free and deposit it in the member's bank account if death becomes imminent.

The other existing tax often associated with death is capital gains tax. In most cases death does not trigger CGT, it transfers the liability to the beneficiaries of the estate, who will be liable for CGT when they dispose of the asset.

Let's suppose your parents owned a bundle of CSL shares which they bought 10 years ago for just $10 each, and which are now worth over $300 each.

If they died tomorrow and left those shares to you, you would be able to receive them free of CGT. But the moment you disposed of them, your CGT would be calculated from the original cost that the deceased paid for them, and you would be liable for CGT on any increase in value over that $10.

So there are definitely situations where death can trigger a taxable event. Notice though, that all the examples above relate to Commonwealth legislation, which has nothing to do with what any state government may decide to do.

But bringing in a death tax would not be easy.

In the late 1970s Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen abolished death duties in Queensland, and this action was quickly followed by all the other states, as it would be impractical to have death duties in some states and not in others.

And there is one more issue - you can't have death duties without imposing gift duty as well. Otherwise, people close to death would simply give their assets away to avoid a tax on the estate.

Our tax system is continually under review, but I reckon that death duties will stay in the too hard basket for many years to come.

Noel answers your money question

Question:

I have heard that if you get a tax deduction for super contributions you can't also get a co-contribution in the same year. I wonder if this is actually true, or whether the intention is to warn people you cannot receive both benefits for the same contribution?

I ask because I plan to claim a tax deduction for a $3,000 contribution, and hope also to get a co-contribution for a $1000 non-concessional contribution.

Answer:

What you have heard is incorrect. Anybody who is eligible to contribute to superannuation may make a concessional contribution and claim a tax deduction for it. Also, anybody who qualifies under the income guidelines can make a non-concessional contribution and be eligible for the co-contribution. Just a bear in mind that concessional contributions lose 15% in entry tax - you may be better off making non-concessional contributions if you have a very low income. Just do the sums.

Question:

Could you explain the relationship between the Reserve Bank cash rate and our savings interest rates? The cash rate has remained the same since March but every month since, our interest rates on savings accounts have been reduced. The more I save the less interest I seem to attract.

Answer:

The cash rate is the interest rate which banks pay to borrow funds in the money market on an overnight basis. Therefore, while it is an indicator of what market rates may be, it has no direct link to what banks are charging on loans or paying on interest-bearing accounts. All you can do a shop around, and look for the best deal. There are many websites that can help you with that but keep in mind that many of the "best deals" are honeymoon rates and subject to much fine print.

Question:

My wife and I are aged pensioners and are about to receive an inheritance that will put us above the $869,500 aged pension threshold. This means we will lose our pension concession card benefits.

We can apply for a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, but have been told this could take months to be processed. You once wrote that if the aged pension was cancelled, the government automatically provided a 'health card' as an interim measure to being issued a CSHC. Is this correct?

Answer:

Services Australia General Manager Hank Jongen says you will be advised if you're no longer entitled to the Pensioner Concession Card when you report your inheritance to Centrelink.

They don't issue a replacement health care card automatically. You will be sent an invitation to apply for the CSHC to your inbox in your Centrelink online account. Services Australia processes millions of payment and concession card claims every year, and work hard to ensure they're processed quickly.

An inheritance is not treated as income for the CSHC. However, if you have invested the inheritance and get income from these investments, you may need to include this in your application. Once a CSHC claim is processed, they will backdate your eligibility for the card to the date the claim was lodged.

You will not be eligible for subsidised Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medicine at the concessional rate until you receive your card. Once you have lodged your claim and it's being processed, you can ask your pharmacist for an official PBS refund receipt so you can ask for reimbursement after your card arrives. If you choose a more expensive brand of medicine, you may need to pay more and this may not be fully refunded. Your pharmacist can tell you which brands cost more. You can apply for reimbursement by completing the Patient claim for refund PBS form.

  • Noel Whittaker is the author of Making Money Made Simple and numerous other books on personal finance. noel@noelwhittaker.com.au