Be Careful Where You Die

By Global Tax Weekly

Common sense you surely needn’t look for in the European inheritance tax labyrinth, demonstrated this week by the latest twist in the French/Swiss farrago. I’m not even going to try to opine on the combatants’ positions. It’s obvious to everyone (me, that is) that inheritance tax ought to be abolished. It’s immoral to tax money that has already been taxed; and it’s doubly immoral to get in the way of inter-generational transfers. The relationship between parents and children is fraught enough already without government stepping between them. Of course it cuts in all sorts of unexpected directions: Joe hopes that his Dad’s first wife, Isobel, dies before his Dad does (bad); but he hopes that his Dad outlives her (good); but his step-sister Madeleine is conflicted because she stands to get more through her mother’s will than directly from her Dad if he doesn’t die first. It can make for quite funny meetings if people are laid back (better than being laid out); but often they aren’t. And there is an awful lot of pretending. “How are you Joe?” That’s to say, are you going to peg out any time soon? Then there’s the question of where to die. It shouldn’t matter, but it does, because it has to do with where you’re domiciled. Joe has a house in Greece, where Isobel lives, so it’s best for him not to die in the UK, because he never got round to transferring the deeds into her name, and anyway the Land Registry is so incompetent that they still haven’t been issued twenty years after the purchase. Madeleine is married to a German nobleman, but they are separated and she lives in Cyprus and has cancer. There is a real danger that she might die before Joe in which case her marriage settlement (a large slice of Silesia) will accrue to him and it will be more important than ever that no-one tries to get probate in the UK. That’s one good thing about foreign languages anyway: the tax authorities can’t understand each other. The OECD hasn’t thought of that yet. Better try to keep Google away from them, then.

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