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Professor Stephen Hawking’s estate: Acceptance in Lieu in action

Professor Stephen Hawking’s estate offers historical archives in lieu of inheritance tax


The estate of the late Professor Stephen Hawking has reached an agreement with the University Library in Cambridge and the Science Museum Group for Hawking’s archives and the contents of his office  (including not only scientific papers but letters from Bill and Hilary Clinton) to be preserved for posterity.  This was achieved using the “Acceptance in Lieu” scheme whereby these items were given to the relevant institutions in lieu of inheritance tax.

The Acceptance in Lieu scheme is not restricted to solely “artistic” objects.  The scheme guidelines make clear that objects “of pre-eminent importance on the grounds of their national, scientific, historic or artistic interest” can be eligible to be offered in lieu of inheritance tax.  In this instance, it is clear that Professor Hawking’s papers have not only scientific but also historic significance given his high profile as perhaps the most famous British scientist of his generation.

Although the estate of Professor Hawking is a particularly prominent example of the Acceptance in Lieu scheme in action, the scheme is not just reserved for estates of those individuals in the public eye.  Any estate with items that could be considered “pre-eminent” in some cultural way could benefit from the scheme.  The Arts Council of England will consider a number of factors, including: are the items pre-eminent in a British context specifically? Are there equivalent or better items already preserved for the public (e.g. you may have an unremarkable work by a remarkable artist)? How do you value something that has no direct comparison?

If you would like to learn more about the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, the first episode of  The Fine Art of Probate podcast from Collyer Bristow explores the topic in some detail with James Cook, Partner in our Private Wealth team, and Charles Cochrane of Cochrane Adams Fine Art.




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Jonathon Goldstone