Elderly UK sisters appeal for couple tax right

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LONDON, Sep 12 (Reuters) Two elderly British sisters who have lived together all of their lives launched a last legal appeal today to try to win the same tax rights as married and gay couples.

Joyce and Sybil Burden -- born in 1918 and 1925 -- have spent decades fighting British rules which mean that when one of them dies, the other will face a large inheritance tax bill and may be forced to sell their home in Wiltshire, southern England.

The sisters took their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg -- prompted by the introduction of new British rights for gay and lesbian couples -- but lost by a majority of four to three in a judgment last December. They are now appealing that ruling.

Under the 2004 UK Civil Partnership Act, gay and lesbian couples won the same rights as married heterosexual couples to be able to pass property tax free between partners. But the rights do not cover cohabiting family members.

''They believe they should have the same rights because they feel that they've demonstrated a relationship that is as committed as any marriage -- maybe more so -- and as committed as those that are in civil partnerships,'' the sisters' solicitor Elizabeth Gedys told BBC radio.

''Their hope is that they will get an exemption so that on the first of them to die, no inheritance tax will be paid, thus making a significant saving and giving the second some security,'' she said.

A spokesman for the European Court said the appeal would be heard on Wednesday, but no ruling would be given for several months.

REUTERS CS SSC1341

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