The chief worry for family members who set up home together in adulthood is inheritance tax because, outside of marriage, the government will only allow the deferral of inheritance tax until the second death, for civil partners. And it will not allow family members to be civil partners because it says civil partnerships are intended for "intimate couples". The result of this discrimination against those whose bond arises from blood ties is that, in many cases, the joint home has to be sold on bereavement to raise the tax on the deceased's share. This is especially likely to happen when the home was bought decades ago since the value of property prices has increased so dramatically over the years. Here is a selection of siblings' stories from the many examples we have come across.
Norah and Eileen lived together in their jointly owned home, sharing everything, for 43 years. They always knew one of their deaths would land the survivor with a huge inheritance tax bill because their Hampstead flat had increased so much in value since they bought it in 1973. They applied for a civil partnership (without success, of course) in 2015 and a year later Norah died from cancer, leaving Eileen, now 80, trying to raise the inheritance tax bill on her late sister's share of the home, which she is desperate not to have to sell because it is so full of precious memories. "Everything my sister and I shared feels as though it's being smashed up. I find it quite unbearable" she says. Norah and Eileen were featured in an article in the Sunday Times which you can find (behind The Times paywall) here
Mary is 86 and has lived with her sister, Beatrice, 90, since Mary was born. 86 years! They doubt whether any marriage has lasted as long. The sisters' father had a fatal accident when Mary was 17 and the sisters lived with their mother all her life, looking after her until she died at the age of 100. Both sisters have been anxious for some years about having to pay inheritance tax when the first dies, which will take the money they have saved jointly for the care of the survivor in old age. They worry that the sister who is left will be faced with having to sell the jointly owned home. Mary thinks it unfair that civil partners who have lived together for a much shorter period can avoid inheritance tax and that the government should recognise the anomaly.
Stella and her sister, Sandra, have lived together for 40 years. Stella makes the point that, on the death of the first sibling, not only will the joint home have to be sold to pay inheritance tax, but moving house involves stamp duty, estate agents’ bills, solicitors’ and removals fees. All this, she says, at a time when the pension of the deceased stops so that the family income is halved and the survivor has to cope with all this when bereaved. Both sisters say they find the prospect “very frightening”.
Clare has lived with her sister in their jointly owned home since 1995. Neither is married. Their finances are entwined and she says her life is just as bound up with her sister's as the lives of civil partners or married couples are. The blood bond that ties them, she says, is unconditional. She and her sister feel that their situation is very precarious because they have no legal status and they worry about inheritance tax for the survivor when one dies.
Kay and her brother lived together for 30 years and looked after each other all their lives. They also looked after their mother in her final years. Kay nursed her brother through his final illness and he died, comforted by the belief that their joint savings would pay for her care in old age. In the event, Kay found that value of their home had hugely increased in the decades of their ownership and Kay was left with a crippling inheritance tax bill on her brother's share.
Lesley and her sister bought a flat in London together in 1985 and have lived there ever since. The mortgage, service charges and maintenance charges have left them with little in the way of savings, so should one sister die, the other would inevitably be forced to sell the home to pay the inheritance tax. They have both worked all their lives (one as a PA and the other as a nurse) and seems unfair to them that the prospect of a peaceful and well deserved retirement is marred by worry about the future. They are grateful to those, like Lord Lexden, who are fighting for their cause and trying to make their voices heard.
Hilarie is 59 and has lived with her sister, 66, for 20 years in in the home they jointly own. In 2006 Hilarie adopted a six year old boy. They brought him up together and, now 19, he still lives with them. They want a change in the law which would give their family a stronger legal status, both for the sake of their lives now and also to provide security for the survivor when one of them dies. The family's story was aired on BBC Radio 4's The Westminster Hour on Sunday 28 October 2018.
Anthony has lived with his sister since 1984, after both their parents, with whom his sister had previously lived, died. Neither brother nor sister ever married. Anthony's particular concern is what happens to his sister if he pre-deceases her because she has very little pension and will inherit none of his. He says that this, coupled with the inheritance tax bill on the first death, would make life very difficult for his sister.
When Denise and her sister were in their thirties, one became a widow and the other a divorcee with a young son. They bought a property together in 1983 and brought the child up together, working long hours to make ends meet. Slowly they climbed the property ladder and on retirement moved into the much loved bungalow where they now live. However they are constantly fearful about when one dies as the one left will have to move because of inheritance tax on the deceased sister's share. They are surrounded by friends, love the garden they have worked on for years and will be devastated to have to move
Virginia and Catherine (who established this site) are in their sixties and have lived together almost all their adult lives. They jointly own their home, have a joint bank account and share all the bills. Virginia stepped in when Catherine faced single motherhood and brought up Catherine's daughter with her from birth to adulthood. They have always felt their set-up needed to be in a legal framework. The denial of the inheritance tax deferral causes much anxiety as they know it will mean selling the home - with all its loved associations - on bereavement.
Elaine and Vivien are 72 year old identical twin sisters who have lived together (and with their parents until they died in 2008 and 2009) since they were born. They are especially worried about inheritance tax because it may result in their having to sell their house when the first of them dies. They say they wholly support Lord Lexden’s words in the House of Lords: “The central issue is this: why should all those whom the government presume are in a sexual relationship, whether heterosexual or same sex, enjoy legal recognition, and only those who live together in committed, secure, platonic relationships be
The Burden sisters, Joyce and Sybil, lived together all their lives and looked after a succession of elderly relatives in their Wiltshire home. After a long legal battle, in which they argued that they should be treated as civil partners for inheritance tax purposes so that the bereaved survivor could keep the house after the first death, they lost at the European Court of Human Rights in 2008. The argument of the judgment was circular: the sisters were not entitled to be treated as civil partners because they had not made a binding commitment to each other as civil partners do – and they were not able to make a binding commitment to each other because they were sisters!