My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant and a partner with a National Accounting Firm in Toronto. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are written solely in my personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which I am affiliated. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humor/sarcasm. You've been warned.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cottage Trusts

Last week Katy Basi wrote a blog post on the various estate planning challenges in passing on your cottage to your family. Today, in part 2 of her series, Katy discusses the use of cottage trusts to facilitate the transfer of your cottage. I thank Katy for her excellent series.

Cottage Trusts

By Katy Basi

 

This blog is a follow-up to my previous blog on the topic of inheriting a cottage, cabin or chalet. There are three main reasons that I have come across for a cottage in Ontario to be owned by a trust:

1) Minimization of estate administration tax, aka probate tax. Ownership of a cottage by a trust was a popular strategy in Ontario in first half of the 1990’s as a way to avoid having to pay probate tax on the value of the cottage. (In the first half of the 1990’s the Ontario government increased the rate of probate tax from its then fairly negligible rate to its current level (1.5% of the fair market value of an estate over $50,000)). A number of cottage owners were convinced to transfer the cottage to a trust in order to avoid probate tax on the value of the cottage upon their death. Many of these trusts are now reaching their 21 year anniversary. Without professional planning, a cottage trust will be required to pay tax on any accrued capital gain on the cottage due to the “21 year deemed disposition rule”. Given the increase in Ontario cottage prices over the last 21 years, very significant tax bills could result. There is often planning that can be undertaken to avoid this capital gain, usually involving a transfer of the cottage to one or more beneficiaries of the trust, but this planning must be undertaken a number of months before the 21st anniversary. If this is your situation, do not delay in getting professional advice!

2) Protection from having to share the value of the cottage upon separation or divorce. As noted in my previous cottage blog, a cottage often qualifies as a matrimonial home for family law purposes, in which case the value of the cottage is shareable upon a separation or divorce (as part of a process called “equalization”). If the cottage is instead owned by a discretionary trust, with a number of beneficiaries, and no guaranteed right of the beneficiaries to any of the income or capital of the trust, the argument can be made that none of the beneficiaries actually own the cottage or have any right to the cottage that can be valued, so that no equalization payment should be made. I advise my clients that a family court may “look through” any trust, including a cottage trust, and allocate a value to a discretionary trust interest. However, if three siblings would otherwise co-own a cottage, each having a one-third interest subject to potential equalization, this situation may be ameliorated by having a discretionary family trust own the cottage with the three siblings as trustees, and the siblings and all of their children as potential beneficiaries. If each sibling has two children, there will be 9 beneficiaries. The value of a 1/9 interest in the trust will be far less than the value of a 1/3 direct ownership interest, and there is a chance that a sibling’s interest will be valued at nil due to the discretionary nature of the trust.

3) “Wait and see” trust. When a cottage owner wants to give their children the option of inheriting the cottage, but is unsure as to whether the children will be able to deal with the practical issues of cottage ownership, and the even greater challenges of cottage co-ownership, a “wait and see” trust may be a good option. The cottage owner leaves the cottage to a cottage trust in his or her Will. The cottage trust is structured to last for the length of time that the parent thinks will be required for the children to figure out a workable long term plan for the cottage. If there are sufficient funds in the estate, the parent may leave a “cottage maintenance fund” as part of the cottage trust in order to reduce the financial burden on the children of maintaining the cottage for the duration of the trust. Upon the termination of the cottage trust, the children figure out if they will co-own the cottage, whether one child will buy out the other children’s interests, or whether the cottage will be sold to a third party.

Transferring a cottage to a trust during the lifetime of the owner can trigger capital gains tax, unless the trust qualifies as an alter ego trust or a joint partner trust. In addition, the trust itself is a separate taxpayer which pays tax at the highest marginal rate, resulting in higher tax bills, under certain circumstances, compared to ownership by the previous owner. Cottage trusts are often created in the Will of the cottage owner as a method of assisting the beneficiaries to keep the cottage in the family, given that any accrued capital gain on the cottage is taxable upon the death of the owner in any event (especially where the owner does not leave the cottage to his or her spouse). Cottage trusts are not appropriate for all situations, but they can be a lifesaver under the right circumstances.

Katy Basi is a barrister and solicitor with her own practice, focusing on wills, trusts, estate planning, estate administration and income tax law. Katy practiced income tax law for many years with a large Toronto law firm, and therefore considers the income tax and probate tax implications of her clients' decisions. Please feel free to contact her directly at (905) 237-9299, or by email at katy@katybasi.com. More articles by Katy can be found at her website, katybasi.com.

The above blog post is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice or an opinion of any kind. Readers are advised to seek specific legal advice regarding any specific legal issues.

The blogs posted on The Blunt Bean Counter provide information of a general nature. These posts should not be considered specific advice; as each reader's personal financial situation is unique and fact specific. Please contact a professional advisor prior to implementing or acting upon any of the information contained in one of the blogs.

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