There is a very common tax-planning method called an estate freeze. The tactic is endorsed by the Canada Revenue Agency — as “garden-variety tax planning,”
The following is an example of an estate freeze.
Ms. Successful has built a company, now worth $30 million. She expects it will grow significantly in value by the time of her death, but if she gives the company to her children at that time, they’ll have a huge tax bill. One-half of capital gains are taxable when capital properties are willed to the next-in-line andmore than 25 per cent of accrued capital gains would be owed on the death of a taxpayer in the top income bracket.
So, Ms. Successful freezes the estate. First, she exchanges her $30 million in common shares for $30 million in preferred shares with a fixed redemption amount of $30 million, meaning the value of the preferred shares cannot exceed $30 million. The preferred shares are granted sole voting and control rights.
In exchanging the common shares for preferred shares, the Ms. Successful secures $30 million but denies herself the gains produced as the company grows. Ms. Successful’s children then purchase common shares — initially with zero value — in which that growth is captured. The children “buy” shares for $0, and worth nothing so no tax is triggered.
Ms. Successful continues to control the company and lives off the $30 million, while the company grows to $200 million and the common shares owned by the children increase in value. Without the freeze, that capital transfer would include a $50 million tax bill, but because of the freeze, no common shares are transferred whenshe dies and that’s a tax savings of $45 million. The successors will pay capital gains tax but not until they dispose of their shares, which could be many years later.
Estate freezes are a very valuable tool to assist in legitimate succession planning. Freezes are not reserved for the rich but used by the average business owner.
Estate freezes facilitate the transition of businesses between generations or key employees in an orderly and tax-neutral way.
The mechanics of the estate freeze vary widely, but they usually involve an owner who has enough value in their business to retire on and wants to sell it or bequeath it — either to family, employees, management or others with a connection to the business — allowing them to buy in at a nominal price.
An estate freeze doesnot reduce tax but merely defers it and is a solution to the liquidity issue arising if the shares were sold or transferred and money was owed to Canadian Revenue Agency with all the cash locked up in the shares. These risks result in most businesses not surviving a transition in ownership.
An estate freeze allows one to open the door to new people, who can then get in on that ground floor without having to spend money they do not have.
Remember that most small businesses have access to an exemption of $867,000 for capital gains tax on shares. The societal criticism of estate freezes is it allows high-net-worth families to avoid significant amounts of tax on inter-generational transfers of capital.
Estate freezes can be further embellished by Ms. Successful no longer taking a salary after the freeze. Any payment she receives from the company can be used to redeem or buy back her $30 Million in preferred shares. If she lives long enough, all of her preferred shares will have been redeemed by the company further reducing if not eliminating any tax on her estate’s interest in the company.