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

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

Property means planning for the future, but sometimes an investment or an inheritance has to become insurance - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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.

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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.