By Gudrun Schultz

UNITED KINGDOM, September 13, 2006 ( – Elderly sisters who have lived together all their lives are challenging the inheritance tax exemption that was granted last year to same-sex couples in civil unions, the Telegraph reported today, saying they should also be able to claim the exemption.

Lawyers for Joyce Burden, 88, and her sister Sybil, 81 argued yesterday before the European Court of Human Rights, claiming the right of tax-free property inheritance for the sisters if one of them should die.

The Burden’s inherited their home from their parents, whom they cared for, along with two aunts, until their deaths. Now they fear losing their home to property tax when one dies.

Under British law, spouses and members of a civil partnership do not have to pay inheritance tax upon the death of a spouse. Siblings, however, are not allowed to register as a civil partnership. The sisters say that is unfair, since they have lived together all their lives.

“I don’t have the status of a lesbian,” Joyce Burden said. “This is an insult to single people who have looked after elderly parents. I don’t call that justice.”

Legal experts told the Telegraph it was unlikely the EU Court would find in favour of the sisters, however.

“The trouble with exempting cohabiting siblings from inheritance tax is where to draw the line,” said Richard Hogwood, from Speechly Bircham. “How long do they have to cohabit for? What about step-siblings, or half siblings?”

“And why not other caring relationships such as an elderly mother and daughter? An exemption only for spouses and civil partners at least has that element of certainty.”
  An attempt to extend the exemption to close relatives who had lived together as adults for at least 12 years was overturned by the House of Commons when the Civil Partnership Bill was in debate.