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26 October 2018 | Comment | Article by Abigail Flanagan

Marrying a friend simply to save Inheritance Tax

One of the advantages of marriage (purely from an inheritance tax perspective) is that any gifts to a spouse are exempt from Inheritance Tax.

A recent article relating to marriage and inheritance tax details that two Irish men, Matt Murphy and Michael O’Sullivan, who are best of friends for over 30 years, have decided to get married. These two friends, who are both heterosexual, have decided to marry in order to save inheritance tax.

Same sex marriage was legalised in Ireland following a referendum in May 2015. In this particular instance, the marriage was one of convenience, though there is genuine platonic love and affection between the two best friends.

In this article, which discussed a judgment in the family law matter of the case in the matter of X(A Child), Sir James Mumby outlined that sexual relations are not required for a marriage to be valid. In this particular matter the applicants remained married but one of them is, as the other has always known, gay. Sir Mumby said that the platonic relationship did not affect the validity of marriage in the eyes of the law.

In reference to the Marriage Act 1949, Sir Mumby said:

“there can be no question of the marriage being a sham. In short the marriage was a marriage. The fact that it is platonic, and without a sexual component, is, as a matter of long established law, neither here nor there and in truth no concern of the judges of the state……a sexual relation is not necessary for there to be a valid marriage.”

The marriage of the two friends may give rise to a suspicion that the marriage might be a ‘sham’, or that the marriage is otherwise invalid; however, on the facts, it is a legitimate marriage. A ‘sham’ marriage, in the context of immigration, has a very specific meaning, focusing on the lack of a genuine relationship between the parties and the marriage being for the purpose of circumventing immigration controls.

There is no equivalent definition in the context of seeking the tax advantages of marriage. This could, potentially, have far reaching implications for people in situations such as Mr Murphy and Mr O’Sullivan who go to great lengths in order to reduce their inheritance tax liability.

If you would like more information on estate planning, please contact a member of our Wills and Estates team.

Author bio

Abigail Flanagan


Abigail Flanagan joined the dispute resolution team in 2005 and became a Partner in May 2022. Abbie specialises in professional negligence claims (mainly against solicitors, accountancy practitioners and other finance professionals), general commercial litigation matters (including warranty, contractual and director/shareholder disputes) and insolvency matters.

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