Comment: we need to talk about taxes, death and dementia

PUBLISHED: 20:00 23 May 2017

Property means planning for the future, but sometimes an investment or an inheritance has to become insurance

Property means planning for the future, but sometimes an investment or an inheritance has to become insurance


We can’t let talk of U-turns derail an important topic. Facing an aging population with a plump property market, we have to get used to the concept of using homes as collateral to cover care costs

There’s a time and a place for politics. With the terrible events unfolding in Manchester and election campaigning suspended at the time of writing, here and now is not for discussing manifestos or manoeuvres. But there is one story I think we can’t afford to lose from the headlines: the so-called ‘dementia tax’.

It may surprise recent readers of this column, but there was actually a part of the Tory manifesto I agreed with. If you have property then it should be used to offset the cost of your care before any inheritance is passed on to your children. Not having to sell off the property until after you pass away and protecting the last £100,000 is pretty generous considering the scale of the problem facing social care providers.

It’s a shame that May bowed to pressure and added the idea of a cap on total costs paid, but we can’t let the conversation get sidetracked by political point scoring. Healthcare, along with education, is another place where politics doesn’t belong.

Death and taxes come to us all, but whilst we can happily argue about the latter all day, the former topic has remained taboo and society is under huge strain because of it.

Whilst my grandparents’ generation understood the importance of squirreling away a good nest egg for their dotage, there was no concept of planning for an old age that might render them in need of full time care before their death. They paid their taxes and owned their homes, but they failed to plan for this eventuality and the state simply can’t support them without recouping the costs.

Yes the care for cancer would be free, but dementia isn’t cancer. A disease that comes for your brain, rather than your body, comes with a particularly knotty set of problems when it comes to care arrangements. Dementia deals in terms of luck, not parity, so covering the cost of care can only play by these rules.

If your postcode means your parents’ property is worth more now than when they bought it then you’re lucky if you inherit, but dementia is the unluckiest of diseases.

We all know the particularly cruel nature of dementia. Even those whose lives haven’t been touched directly by this pernicious disease can shudder in sympathy at the idea of losing your faculties or watching a loved one deteriorate to the point where they can’t remember you.

But it’s the practicalities that will grind you down. The endless round trip journeys, the arranging for at home care, the agonising over the right moment (and there almost never is one) to transition into residential care. There’s an emotional toll here too, but it’s the financial side will keep you awake at night.

May’s proposal would see those without property to fall back on provided for should the worst happen. For the middle classes who hoped to inherit a house, if dementia comes knocking you just have to give it up.

Private homes are expensive, but if you can afford them I guarantee you’d pay for them over the alternative. Most of them require proof that you can pay for as long as the patient is likely to live. A handful might have assisted places where, should you no longer be able to pay, you might be able to continue to house your loved one.

We can still ban talk of politics at the dinner table, but we do need to talk about old age, dementia and death. We need to ask each other what our wishes would be if cherished independence becomes untenable and if we were no longer able to express them for ourselves. We need to accept that inheriting property won’t be a given if the worst comes to pass.

This is why I’m heartened when I hear there’s such a large downsizer market moving in north London. They might be moving because they have to free up funds for their own children or grandchildren to get on the ladder, but it means we’re being forced into having to think realistically about the future. Living closer to family members and amenities, finding a property that can be adapted for particular needs: all this will save both heartbreak and financial strain.

Forget drugs, kids, it’s time to talk to your parents about the D-word.

Related articles

Property search

e.g. Oxford or NW3
Powered by Zoopla

Other Hampstead and Highgate property news

Column: Simon Gerrard on choosing the right area to live in

Good fences make good neighbours goes the saying, but fellow residents can have an impact on the enjoyment of your home. North London estate agent Simon Gerrard shares his tips for finding the perfect location.

Seven tips for creating a wellbeing boosting garden

Matt Keightley, the designer behind the Feel Good Garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, reveals how to make your own outdoor space more soothing. By Hannah Stephenson

Nine ways gardeners can be more waterwise this summer

Want to save your plants and save water? Go easy with the sprinkler and embrace these expert suggestions instead, says Hannah Stephenson

For sale: New show homes open at Highgate development

Two new show apartments have opened at a luxury development in Highgate.

Elegant cottage formerly home to renowned poet, A.E Housman, now for sale in Highgate Village

A cottage in Highgate Village where the renowned poet A.E Housman once lived is now available to buy.

Comment: A War of the Roses? The challenges of dealing with property and divorce

Trevor Abrahmsohn, MD at north London agents Glentree, writes about his encounters with divorcing couples selling the marital home

Home of the week: Handsome 5 bedroom property in Hampstead perfect for a family

On the market for the first time in many years is this attractive, substantial detached double fronted family house located in a prime location.

Fancy owning a Picasso? It’s not impossible says Belsize Village gallery owner

Emma Rice talks to Andrea Sylvester about art and how we could all potentially own a Picasso or a Chagall, if that’s what we love

Callender Howorth interior designers transform Grade II-listed home in Hampstead

Mark Howorth, the founder of luxury interior design firm Callender Howorth, tells us how he brought elegant Indian influences to a period property on NW3’s Heath Drive

Primrose Hill artist Michal Cole on transforming her paintings into woven masterpieces

“It’s actually bringing these paintings back into what they used to be in the Renaissance times – as tapestries.”

Home improvements: How to make a rustic hanging rail

Fancy getting stuck into a creative project? Try your hand at woodworking and hang your coats on this minimalist marvel.

Home of the Week: Handsome four-bedroom Victorian terrace in Dartmouth Park

An attractive four-storey Victorian family home on the upper slopes of peaceful Dartmouth Park

Most Read