“After the reform of the Flemish inheritance tax, I can no longer afford generosity to a good cause,” writes journalist Nathalie Le Blanc. She is suing the new situation for those who, like her, have no legal heirs.
I am a little more free than many of you and in a very specific area. My legacy. Belgian inheritance law, which was last amended by the federal government in 2018, stipulates that anyone who has children must always pass on at least half of their estate to them. I have no children, nor a partner, brothers or sisters. Zero legal heirs, therefore, and that is why I am completely free to choose to whom I leave my small assets.
I am a little more free than many of you and in a very specific area. My legacy. Belgian inheritance law, which was last amended by the federal government in 2018, stipulates that anyone who has children must always pass on at least half of their estate to them. I have no children, nor a partner, brothers or sisters. Zero legal heirs, therefore, and that is why I am completely free to choose to whom I leave my small assets. So far the good news. Because the heir in my will is 100% family to me, but a ‘different person’ according to Flemish law. We don’t have a blood connection, even though I consider him my brother. Therefore, when I come, he has to pay about 55% inheritance tax. Admit it, that is an unjustly high percentage, and after advice from a notary, I opted for an oh-so-Belgian back gate, a duo legate. My heir will then only receive half of my estate, but that is still a full 5% more than without a duo legacy, and at the same time I can leave something close to a good cause that is close to my heart. As a dead-brained citizen, that detour gnaws at my conscience, but it was common, said the notary, and a win-win situation. So I said yes. Last week the reform of the inheritance tax, a Flemish competence, got the green light. The duo legacy will be abolished and to compensate for this, charities will pay 0% inheritance tax from July 2021. Rightly so, in my view, because if a government devises or tolerates loopholes in its legislation, it means that the original legislation rattles. So you would think that they would tackle those rattles fundamentally. That, if they do away with the loophole, they’ll open the front door ajar to make estate tax fairer. But they have not. The Flemish government proudly announces that there will be a friends’ inheritance in which ‘another person’ only has to pay 3% inheritance tax on the first 15,000 euros. “A saving of up to 3,300 euros net,” he says proudly. But 15,000 euros, that’s a piece of cake for those who have to leave an apartment, say. My parking space was more expensive. That’s not a door open, it’s not even a cat flap, it is a symbol of the filthy kind, so the duo legacy will disappear from my will, and if I want my heir to keep 45% of what I leave him for himself, then I can no longer afford generosity to a good cause Too bad but unfortunately Not equal Having no heirs at all may be exceptional, but being childless is not Statbel, the Belgian Statistical Office, has no official figures, but calculated that approximately 23% of men are between 50 and 59 and 17% of women of that age do not have children, that is slightly more than 324,149 people Between 60 and 69, 17% of Belgians are childless, about 500,929 people, and between 40 and 49 there are another 326,555, although that event ueel still give birth to children of course. With these reforms, many of those childless Belgians still remain in the legacy. To me it feels like the Flemish state does not give me the same rights as my neighbors, colleagues and friends, simply because I did not reproduce. So discrimination. People with a LAT relationship, who now make up about 9% of sustainable relationships in Belgium, also have to cough up 55% inheritance tax. We are not talking about freaky peripheral phenomena here, but about hundreds of thousands of average Flemish people. I wrote a book a few years ago about the rising number of people living alone in our society and many of the sociologists and demographers I spoke to at the time sighed that policymakers are often 10 to 15 years behind reality. The family may still be the cornerstone of society, but if you look around them, you will see a rainbow of family forms. Single-parent families, newly composed ones, LAT-ers and single residents, the reality has not been mom / dad / two children for a few decades now. VUB professor Michel Maus and his colleague Marc Delanotte from Ugent also thought this, and so they wrote a reform plan for the inheritance tax in 2018. In it, they suggested a BFF rate. From Best Friend Forever, indeed. In addition, anyone who has no heirs could designate one to three people who are important to them and who can inherit at the same rate as children or partner. That seems like an excellent idea, and only so honestly. Everyone right before the law, you know. But the Flemish government did not consider that idea excellent enough to implement. I asked Minister Matthias Diependaele what the philosophy is behind the changes in inheritance tax. “I also follow that the tariffs for the sidelines are still high,” was his reply. “We have already lowered those rates during the previous legislature from 65% to 55%. Compare our rates, for example, with Brussels or Wallonia, where they amount to 80%.” Obviously, the 10% drop is pleasant, but that whataboutism doesn’t make sense. I am not Walloon or Brussels, I am Flemish. By the way, in Portugal and Sweden they don’t levy any inheritance tax at all and in Italy you only pay when you inherit a million euros. “If it depends on me, the rates can drop further,” he also wrote. Good to know, but my question is why he doesn’t do that now, for example with such a BFF arrangement. “Making the rates the same for everyone is neither feasible nor desirable from a budgetary point of view,” I read in the ministerial email. “We have a budgetary reality that is what it is. If we reform, we will always have to do it in a budget-neutral way.” So I, my heir and the many other Flemish people without family heirs have bad luck. The hole in the budget means that the state cannot afford fair inheritance tax for everyone. Sadly, I don’t have the stomach, the budget, or the fiscal literacy to, like many of my more affluent countrymen, carry out donations and other maneuvers that keep them to a minimum or even just avoid the estate tax. Bad luck indeed. Close relationship But it is not purely about budgets, as I read in the closing letter of Minister Diependael’s email. “Also allow me to frame why I think it is socially responsible to let children inherit at lower rates. This, in addition to the very close relationship that parents have with children, also fits in with a broader story of rights and obligations. It is sometimes forgotten that children also have a maintenance obligation towards their parents, for example. This relationship is different from that with a best friend, and so there is no discrimination here. In other words, children deserve it more than ‘others’. Allow me to thoroughly disagree. No, friends, godchildren and neighbors have no maintenance obligation. On a tax and legal level, the legislator only looks at family ties and not affection ties, says Michel Maus when I call him up. “Inheritance tax is one of the oldest legislations we have, and in Western Europe the family is historically central, in order to build up a wealth within that family. Also the idea of the family as a cornerstone of society, which from a Catholic angle is coming, still alive, I think. But here, too, law is not adapted to reality. ” As a childless Fleming, I often get the question who will take care of me, later when I am old. One implies that every parent is cared for by his children and that everyone without children is lonely and alone. Anyone who looks around sees that that image is incorrect. One in three Flemish households is single resident, and these people care and are taken care of. For and by their children and family, of course, but just as often for and by non-blood relatives. On my previous street, Maurice was my favorite neighbor. Always cheerful, always ready to have a chat. He was 93. His obituary did not mention any family, because he didn’t have one, but the name of the neighbor and good friend who had looked after him every day for the last ten years of his life. She was in his will, she said a few weeks after his funeral, bewildered, but the legacy was tiny. Not only because Maurice did not own much besides his house, but mainly because the state took a very large chunk out of his already meager legacy. And that is fundamentally unjust. That, dear Minister Diependaele, is indeed discrimination. That your children are entitled to your estate, I do not dispute that, but that whoever has no children also has the right to the people who matter to them, the people they cared for and who were there for them too, to leave a justly taxed inheritance seems only logical in our current society. The irony is that the people who take care of each other without a family obligation are ultimately rewarded a lot less for it. They know that and they do it anyway. Because not everything is about money. Not even inheritance perils, as many notaries will tell you. These are often about care and love. Things that are not the exclusive privilege of those who have children.
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