Widowed woman loses status as daughter-in-law in taxman’s eyes

Pilar Arriols being asked to return 7,300-euro break on inheritance levy

Pilar Arriols holds up a family photo. / álvaro garcía

Pilar Arriols married Juan Fort in 1977. And, of course, that meant that Juan’s mother, María Palomo, became Pilar’s mother-in-law. Right? No, not as far as the Madrid taxman is concerned.

The regional tax authorities argue that Pilar is not legally María’s daughter-in-law, and therefore is not eligible for the tax break corresponding to kinship on the inheritance she was left, given that Juan died before his mother. Madrid is demanding that Pilar return 7,300 euros she deducted, on top of the 15,000 she originally paid in inheritance tax.

“This whole business has my stomach in knots,” Pilar told EL PAÍS. María had no other direct family apart from Juan, and the relationship between the two women was always close, as was María’s with her adopted granddaughter. During the final stage of her life, María was cared for by Pilar during a terminal illness, from which she died aged 94. Juan passed away three months earlier, also because of untreatable cancer. “She didn’t have anyone else and I looked after her,” says Pilar. “How can it be that the tax office says she has ceased to be my mother-in-law?”

María left a third of her 272,900-euro estate to Pilar, and the rest to her 24-year-old granddaughter. When declaring the inheritance, Pilar deducted 7,933 (rounded up to 8,000 under Madrid legislation) in tax for her condition of daughter-in-law, in accordance with Spanish law. But the Madrid authorities did not agree and presented an appeal against Pilar’s declaration. “Kinship is only maintained if at the time of the tax return the link that binds them survives,” said the authorities.

“If the marital connection disappears — be it through death or divorce — any parental relationship with either also disappears.” But this interpretation of the law, which in force in most Spanish regions, is questionable. Teresa Mata, a professor of Tax Law at the University of León who has written on the subject, says that behind the decision is a “clear interest” in collecting taxes.

She didn’t have anyone else and I looked after her; how can she not be my mother-in-law?"

“If the contributor does not appeal, the administration benefits and the person affected ends up paying more than they should under a just application of tax legislation,” she says.

José María Luzón Cuesta, a former deputy prosecutor at the Supreme Court, agrees. In an article from the judicial publication La Ley, Luzón defends the unbreakable nature of kinship by marriage. Debate is rife in the judiciary and court rulings in the last 10 years have fallen on both sides of the fence. Mata points out that one of the main reasons for the disparity in interpretation is the lack of national legislation over whether kinship by marriage ends with the union, or under what conditions.

Aragon last year modified its regional inheritance legislation to clarify that “family relationships through marriage are not lost by the death of the person that provides the link, unless there is a subsequent marriage.”

Lawyer Jorge Pecourt believes that under the civil code it can be interpreted that the death of an in-law means the end of the family connection, as it is the act of marriage that creates it. “However, from a social viewpoint and in the application of tax it would seem sensible that the family benefits are applied even if, technically, the link has been dissolved.”

For Pilar, who has taken the case to the Ombudsman’s Office, the legal debate is not the issue. “I believe in paying taxes and I pay them in good faith. But what has happened to me is different; it is an injustice.”

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