Succession planning is a field of law that deals with wills, probate and estate planning after a person dies. This field of law is largely governed by the Succession Law Reform Act in Ontario but there are a number of other factors that should be considered. One very important consideration is tax, specifically capital gains tax. This is a tax on the increase in value of a capital asset, such as a cottage, while it was owned. When a person is left property in a will, and they are not the deceased’s spouse, capital gains must be paid. The rate on inclusion for tax purposes has changed over the years, but it is safe to say that this tax bill can be large. This is especially true for the family cottage.
There is a common scenario in this type of case. A family cottage was purchased for a few thousand dollars decades ago. Over the years the price has ballooned to hundreds of thousands of dollars or maybe more. This appreciation in value attracts a large tax bill which could force the beneficiaries to sell the family cottage in order to pay it off. This defeats the purposes of passing on the family cottage to the next generation. However, it does not have to be this way. With proper succession planning the testator (person making the will) can arrange their affairs in a way that significantly lowers the tax liabilities that the property will attract.
As an example, there are two simple techniques for lowering capital gains obligations that the beneficiaries will owe on the cottage. The first is to gift the cottage to them now. This will attract an immediate capital gains tax which will be lower than the future tax (assuming rates stay the same and property values continue to increase). The second is to take out insurance through a life insurance policy that will cover the expected tax liabilities when the estate is settled.
These are just two examples of the ways that tax implications can effect succession planning. A blog post cannot fully address all the issues surrounding the interplay between tax law and succession planning. Every situation is different and there may be better solutions for you. The lawyers at Dale Streiman Law LLP can help customize a succession plan perfectly tailored to your needs.
By: Fred Streiman and Stephen Duffy