During a lecture on Family Relationships and the Law yesterday, Gresham College Law Professor Ruth Deech challenged the political and legal establishment with two questions:
- Why does the law treat siblings less favourably than married or civil partners?
- Why doesn't the law expect adults to care for their parents and grandparents?
1. Siblings vs. Sexual Partners
Professor Deech comments: "The extraordinary thing about our tax system is the way in which it privileges sexual relationships of any variety above all others." To prove her point, she cites the case of two elderly sisters who live together their entire lives. Their property and other assets are worth about £590,000 each. When one sister dies, the survivor, if she wishes to remain in the property, will have to pay inheritance tax (IHT) at 40% on the excess of the exemption limit - currently £315,000 - which comes to about £108,000. If the survivor doesn't have enough cash at hand, she will have to sell the property to pay the tax, rendering her homeless. Spouses and civil partners in the same situation, however, would not have to pay IHT since they qualify as exempt beneficiaries. Professor Deech concludes: "The sensible reform would be to grant deferral of IHT to any two family members who are co-dependent."
"English law only attaches support obligations to parents of young children and to those in a sexual relationship," comments Professor Deech. There is no equivalent obligation to care for parents and grandparents.
She adds: "It is especially odd that a cohabitant who lives with a man and is kept by him has a claim under the Inheritance Act 1975, while a deserving carer daughter does not because she is not, as the act requires, being maintained by him."
"Thus does English law continue to prefer the idle sexual partner over the deserving family member."
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