Trusts & Estates

UK Sisters: Treat Us Like Lesbians


In a case that should strike a chord with other alternative families, two British sisters in their 80s have become unlikely activists for reform of the United Kingdom’s inheritance and tax laws.

Joyce and Sybil Burden, who have lived together all their lives, are afraid that the survivor will be forced out of their home by estate tax when the first of the two sisters dies, reports the London Times. Were the sisters a lesbian couple in a civil union the estate tax would not apply to the surviving partner. So the same exemption should cover them, the sisters contend.

They are appealing the issue before a 17-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, following a 4-3 ruling against them last December by what the newspaper describes as an “ordinary chamber.”

Legal experts express doubt that the sisters will prevail, saying that a ruling in their favor would require a major overhaul of the U.K.’s tax system. However, one suggests that the surviving sister might be able to negotiate an estate tax payment plan that would allow her to remain in their home.

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