It has always been the role of the law to define what is meant by "fair".  However, anyone scanning the news or social commentary will be unsurprised to hear that this topic is not without controversy.

There are many influences on the law; political intention, practical application, and societal context all jostle for position alongside fairness, but the balancing act of their sum outcome is another task again.

But how we define "fair", and at which point we consider the "real life" context of people’s lived experiences, is less clear-cut.

In my area of practice - trust and estate law - I was startled by new figures from HMRC which revealed that the UK Government’s decision to freeze the inheritance tax threshold at £325,000 until April 2028 could impact almost four times as many families than initially expected. This threshold has not changed since 2009 and has not kept pace with rising property values. Within HMRC’s own forecasts it has been suggested that some 49,400 estates - rather than previous estimates of around 13,400 - will now face being subject to inheritance tax in the seven years to 2028.

The Government’s decision - announced in November last year by then Chancellor Jeremy Hunt - was linked with the UK Government’s intent to reduce its budget deficit. However, the significant rise in families falling within the threshold is largely because of sustained high inflation rates raising the values of their estates.

But there is another significant factor at play here. HMRC has also published figures this summer which reveal that, as a result of higher death rates during the pandemic, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of estates facing inheritance tax payments - to the tune of a record £5.76bn in 2020-21, up £800m year-on-year. From a legal perspective, there is a question here around fairness: to individuals facing substantial inheritance tax bills and to the UK Government, too, trying to balance its books. Where does the best balance lie?

As legal professionals know, any change to laws within the UK, including Scotland, is a long-term undertaking and needs careful consideration, especially when there are higher-than-normal levels of economic and societal flux. Ultimately, it is the role of policymakers, and the voters who elect them, to decide. But wise legal counsel will be crucial.

In the meantime - and within existing rules - there are reliefs and exemptions available to mitigate exposure to inheritance tax, for those who wish to do so. But there is a more immediate challenge too; raising awareness of the potential inheritance tax burden. A recent survey has revealed that more than half of UK adults with an investment portfolio are not expecting their estate to be affected by inheritance tax, despite their desire to pass on their wealth to loved ones when they die. Given these findings, we are almost certain to witness a rise in demand for the services of experts in estate law.

Caroline Pringle is a director at Anderson Strathern and a specialist in trust and estate law