It’s hard not to feel sorry for the two elderly sisters who have just lost their European court case in their attempts to benefit from the same inheritance tax rules that married couples and those in civil partnerships enjoy.
These two sisters, one 90, the other 82, have lived together in their family home all their lives. The house, which cost £7000 to buy is now worth £850,000, meaning that when one of them dies, the other will have to pay around £250,000 in inheritance tax.
Paying such a high tax bill will probably force the surviving sister to sell the house, which is no joke for such an elderly person who has lived in the same home for over 80 years.
As harsh as it may seem, that the European Court of Human Rights has decided that these sisters are not protected from inheritance tax in the same way as a married couple, I believe that this was the correct judgement.
If the European Court had found in favour of the sisters, then the way would be open for many other claims from people in various circumstances – those living with their elderly parents for example.
It is not right to be lenient with one set of circumstances – however sympathetic we are about the situation with these sisters – without passing on that leniency to everyone. It is not right to change the inheritance legislation over the plight that these sisters find themselves.
However it is about time that a government got to grips with inheritance tax. Rising property prices now drag most home owners into its clutches. Inheritance tax was designed to affect only the better off, not everybody owning an average sized home.
By bringing inheritance tax back into line with its initial intentions, perhaps those elderly sisters would not have been so badly affected by it in the first place.