Friday 28 October 2016

Love and marriage: the good tax guide

Cash flow

John Cradden

Published 21/06/2015 | 02:30

The pressure to get married today may not be as strong as it was, but marriage is a legal contract that bestows some key financial advantages.
The pressure to get married today may not be as strong as it was, but marriage is a legal contract that bestows some key financial advantages.

Last month's historic vote in favour of marriage equality for same-sex couples shows that, contrary to some popular perceptions, marriage is an institution that today's generation fully respect.

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The pressure to get married today may not be as strong as it was, but marriage is a legal contract that bestows some key financial advantages.

So, while love may be all you need to stay together, should you also be thinking of making your union official for legal and financial reasons?

The 2010 civil partnership act that gave same-sex couples most of the same benefits of marriage also included new rights for co-habiting couples.

The main one is that it offers a co-habiting partner the right to ask the courts for financial redress from the other if a relationship breaks down, or from the estate of a partner who dies unexpectedly.

As it stands, if one co-habiting partner is left the estate of his or her deceased partner, they would have to pay 33pc tax on the inheritance with a tax-free threshold available of only €15,075. There are no tax liabilities on any inheritances between a married couple or civil partners.

However, there is a "huge lack of awareness" of these facts and others, according to family law solicitor Marion Campbell. She spoke of a couple she knows where the female partner has three houses and significant pension assets, while her partner had nothing like the same means. But she was completely ignorant of what would happen if that relationship broke down, she said.

"Not a clue. She thought that because she wasn't married to him that there wouldn't be a potential claim on assets in the event of a breakdown of that relationship."

To qualify for any court financial redress, co-habiting couples have to be living together for at least five years, or just two years if they have children together.

To date, Ms Campbell is aware of only two cases where former co-habiting couples have come before the courts, and in both those cases, "significant assets" were at stake.

There are useful income tax advantages to being married, according to Marie Flynn, tax director at PwC Private Business Services.

"In particular, where one of the spouses has high income and the other has income of less than €34,000, there is an option for up to €9,000 of the surplus standard-rate threshold to be transferred to the other spouse - a saving of just under €2,000 per annum," she said.

"The lower income spouse can receive up to approximately €25,000 at the lower rate of 20pc. The combined tax credit for a married couple is €3,300 versus a single person's credit of €1,650. Thus, where only one spouse is working, there is an additional saving for married couples of €1,650."

She adds that for capital gains tax purposes, it is possible for married couples to transfer assets between themselves without triggering a capital gain or loss.

Like marriage pre-nuptial agreements, there are in existence 'co-habitant agreements' but, like pre-nups, these agreements are not legally enforceable nor have they been fully tested by the courts yet, said Ms Campbell.

So the possible irony for some commitment-phobes is that eschewing the marriage package in favour of drawing up a co-habitant agreement may end up putting unwanted pressure on a relationship?

"I would completely accept that, because if they don't want to get married, and if they want to protect the asset bases they've built up, that means you have to sit down with the other person and say I want a co-habitant agreement drawn up and I want my affairs protected," said Ms Campbell.

"That can really test a relationship because I have to go to my solicitor, and he'll have to go to his solicitor - you can't have one solicitor doing the work.

"You'll also have to give full disclosure of your assets, your finances as against your means have to be exchanged, and there might one or other party that might not want to give full disclosure of their means, as the other person mightn't be aware of it."

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