Not long ago, financial advisers referred to inheritance tax as a voluntary tax, because it was paid only by those who were too stupid or too lazy to take avoiding action.

The label was never entirely accurate: the tax net always caught some people who were neither lazy nor stupid. In the last few years, however, a combination of rising house prices and tax avoidance legislation has turned IHT from a tax levied largely on the well-off into a growing burden on the middle classes.

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