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 BDO. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Gifting and Leaving Money to Your Grandchild

Many grandparents ask me about the tax and practical ramifications of gifting or bequeathing money or assets to their grandchildren. Some wish to make gifts while they are alive, others choose to make gifts upon their passing, and still others give both while alive and after passing.

I wrote the first draft of this blog post prior to COVID -19, but it is more relevant than ever, given many people have been laid off, lost their jobs or been set back financially, and many grandparents want to help them until they regain their financial footing. Today I will discuss some of the tax and other planning considerations for grandparents wishing to make these gifts or transfers.

Please note for brevity, I will use “grandparent” in lieu of “grandparent/grandparents” and “child” in lieu of “child/children” where applicable.

Tax Considerations


In Canada, unlike the United States, there is currently no gift tax. (Here’s hoping this remains the case.) While there may not be a gift tax, a grandparent may need to take specific steps for effective tax planning. Remember, you should never make a gift that puts your own retirement finances at risk.

Deemed Disposition

The deemed disposition rules are one of the tax issues that apply to gifts. A grandparent will be subject to a deemed disposition tax where they gift or transfer an asset (other than cash) that has appreciated in value to a grandchild, as the CRA will tax the capital gain.

For example, Grandma Johnson is very tech savvy and purchased 100 Shopify shares at $250, which are now worth $1,200 or so a share. She decides to gift the shares to her grandson Tom. Grandma Johnson will have a deemed disposition, resulting in a capital gain of $95,000 ($1,200-250 x 100 shares). 

In English, this means she will have to report a capital gain on her personal tax return of $95,000, even though she gifted the shares and did not sell them. If she is a high-rate taxpayer, she will owe approximately $25,000 in tax on shares she did not receive any money for. Thus, she potentially has a cash flow issue.

The folly of gifting a principal residence

Occasionally a grandparent thinks they will save money on tax and probate by transferring or gifting their principal residence (PR), or a part of it, to their grandchildren.

In truth, a grandparent generally should not gift a principal residence, as any gain on disposition of the PR will be tax-free as long as they continue to own and live in the PR (in addition, typically, a grandparent will need most if not all the value of their home to fund their retirement). While the deemed disposition of their PR in most cases will be tax-free, the grandparent will lose their principal residence exemption going forward on the portion of their PR that they transferred to the grandchild. Not only that - the grandchild will be taxable on any future growth of their share of the PR, assuming the grandparent continues to live in the home and the grandchild does not move into the house.  

Appreciated assets left in a will 

If a grandparent leaves appreciated assets in their will to a grandchild, the grandparent will again have a deemed disposition (this time triggered by their death as opposed to a gift) that must be reported on their terminal tax return (January 1 to date of death).

Takeaway #1 - You will generally want to gift cash. If you wish to gift assets with appreciated values, ensure you have enough excess cash to pay the income tax on the deemed disposition and you do not put your own retirement lifestyle at risk. You should also speak to your financial advisor or accountant before undertaking any substantial gift.

Takeaway #2 - Never transfer your home without first obtaining professional tax advice.

Attribution

Where a gift of money or assets is made during a grandparent’s lifetime to a minor child (under 18 years old), the grandparent will be subject to attribution on the gift, as well as the tax on the deemed disposition (on appreciated assets other than cash) discussed above.

This means that the grandparent reports the income – dividends or interest, for example – and pays the tax at the grandparent’s marginal rate, not at the grandchild’s tax rate. For example, if you gift marketable securities that pay a dividend of $500 a year, you pay tax on the $500 dividend.

In summary, capital gains realized by a minor child are not subject to attribution, but income such as interest and dividends is subject to attribution. There is no attribution if your grandchild is 18 and over. 

Attribution on assets left in a will 

Where a grandparent passes away and assets are bequeathed to a grandchild, there is no future attribution of income.

Takeaway #3 – If you intend to gift marketable securities to your minor grandchild, it may make sense to gift non-dividend paying stocks to avoid the attribution rules on dividends. This is not a rule, but an option to consider.

Attribution – RESPs, TFSAs and RRSPs


For children 18 years old and over, there is no attribution if you contribute to their Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP), Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) and Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). A minor child (under 18) cannot have a TFSA, so attribution is a moot point. However, assuming they have contribution room, a minor can have an RRSP and there is attribution on gifts for RRSP contributions. There is no attribution on RESP contributions on behalf of a minor.

See the detailed discussion in Part 2 of this post (in two weeks) for traps and tax considerations before making these contributions.

Avoiding attribution – Prescribed rate loans


A grandparent can avoid the attribution rules by making a prescribed interest rate loan (the current rate is 1%) to a family trust. Prescribed rate loans are not subject to the Tax on Split Income (TOSI) rules.

Note, when I say trust above, I mean a properly set-up legal trust, not an informal “in-trust” account in the grandparent’s name. Informal in-trust accounts are not legal trusts and can cause unintended income tax and family issues and should be avoided.

Family Law


Grandparents (and parents) should always obtain family law advice for significant gifts. The laws are different for each province. In general, most gifts or inheritances are excluded property when the funds are not co-mingled or used for a matrimonial home; however, always first check with your family lawyer.

Grandparents often lend or gift grandchildren money to assist them in buying a house. There are various trips and traps when the loan is not legally documented and the interest on the loan not paid.

Takeaway #4 – Each province has its own Family Law Act and you should obtain family law advice for any significant gift or loan of cash made to a grandchild. Doing so will hopefully avoid your grandchild losing part of the value of that gift upon a marital break-up because the gift or loan was not property set up or the grandchild did not understand how to keep the property excluded.

That's all for Part 1 of this key topic that I get asked about a lot. In Part 2, we'll cover gifting by grandparents using a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP), Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA), or Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP). We will also briefly discuss estate planning considerations for grandparents.

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Is the Financial World out of Sync?

I hope everyone had a good summer. At times our great weather almost made me forget we are living in a COVID-19 world.

And then I looked at the daily health reports, the economy and the markets - and remembered that we are truly living in a time of pandemic. From a financial perspective, wherever you turn the signs are there: yet the stock and real estate markets seem to be vastly out of sync with the stark economic reality of the pandemic world. Let’s explore that disconnect. 

Bay Street and real estate vs. main street


At the beginning of the pandemic, I like most of you personally felt the financial stress and dislocation caused by COVID.

But I also felt my clients’ concerns and worries, which were extremely distressing over the first couple months. Together we worked to solve the financial challenges related to their businesses (which were often temporarily shuttered), and to understand the government programs – which were released at what seemed like a daily clip and often revamped later on. During this initial period, the stock market fell 35% or so, as one might have expected, and the housing market ground to a halt.

However, after the initial drop off the cliff, the stock markets started a steady climb back to their January 1, 2020 levels, and the housing market heated up. I am aware of two cases in the Toronto area where not only was the sale price of houses substantially over the listing price, but there were so many buyers that the seller had the buyers write letters explaining why they want the property.

This return to form in the financial and housing markets continues — even as wide swathes of the Canadian population struggle. Millions of people are receiving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Small business owners can’t restart their business or are working just to break even or keep the lights on for better days. Employees across the country have been temporarily laid off or have lost their jobs.

Let us review the possible reasons for the financial and housing markets’ strength in a weakened economy.


Stock markets


Over the years, the stock market has taught us that we usually cannot predict its direction. As a result, it is generally best to hold your portfolio and even buy when everyone is running for the exits.

Yet COVID investing seemed different. While some of us were smart enough or bold enough to buy at the pandemic’s deepest lows in March (not me), most people needed all their discipline not to liquidate their equity holdings in some part. I am in no way a market historian, but this pandemic crash looked scarier. The world’s economy came to a standstill and the economic destruction seemed like it would take years to overcome.

So why did the markets turn on a dime and go bullish? Why have they showed no sign of flagging? Why do they continue to defy the larger economic trends? The reasons are varied, but based on articles I have read by financial experts and the numerous discussions I and my client's have been in with investment managers, these are the top ones I have read or heard:
  1. “Don’t fight the Fed.” It’s an American phrase referencing the Federal Reserve, but the point is valid in Canada too. The Bank of Canada (like the Fed) has provided an unprecedented liquidity injection to keep the market afloat.
  2. Markets reflect a long-term view. They have discounted our current economic and social issues for an expected brighter future.
  3. The markets have built in a vaccine discovery in the next 6-12 months.
  4. Interest rates are so low that you must be in equities or you will have a negative absolute return after inflation in GICs and T-bills. This reason is put forth by investment managers in every conversation I have been involved in.
  5. The travel, entertainment and retail industries do not have a significant impact on many stock market indexes.
  6. Technology and healthcare have flourished in many cases during COVID, and these sectors make up a significant portion of the U.S. indexes that many Canadians invest in. (On the Canadian exchanges, Shopify has also helped carry the Canadian market rebound.) The stock market recovery reflects the success of technology and healthcare - not the health of the larger economy.
  7. The larger companies have hoards of cash to keep them afloat and take advantage of companies with lesser balance sheets.
  8. Some people have flipped from being scared of being in the market to having a fear of missing out on the rebound.
While the market has soared, some experts warn that the market is in a bubble of historic proportions. So, keep in mind, these are unusual times, and the market can turn around and surprise us to the downside just as easy as it can continue to climb.

In retrospect, maybe I should have seen the stock market bounce-back coming, but I clearly misunderstood. Based on the 8 reasons discussed above, clearly the stock market can be strong while the world’s economy is essentially shut down. But I have asserted only that I am blunt, not that I’m smart.


Housing market


One would have thought that many people would hesitate to purchase real estate during COVID-19 due to the uncertainty of their jobs and the economy. However, the housing market in Ontario and many parts of Canada has seemed impervious to the pandemic, which I would not have envisioned in late March.

The experts seem to agree on the below reasons for a strong housing market. I’d also like to say a big thank you to my colleague George Dube – a veteran real estate investor and accountant – for his insight.
  1. Large shortages in the supply of homes and a relative abundance of buyers led to competition and bidding wars. On the supply side, many people just hunkered down and did not want to risk selling into a pandemic market.
  2. Those who were fortunate to keep their jobs had fewer places to spend and decided in many cases to renovate and fix their current homes rather than purchase a new home, reducing supply.
  3. Many people decided to purchase cottages rather than move to new city homes. If I can’t travel for vacation, people said, I want to have access to a cottage property. This is especially true while we still don’t know when COVID will recede and when we will see an effective vaccine. People staying in their homes reduced the inventory of homes for sale.
  4. Interest rates are so low, so the cost of carrying a mortgage for the foreseeable future is extremely low and unlikely to change based on government economic policy.
  5. The lack of activity in March and much of April led to a catch-up period releasing pent-up demand.
  6. People concluded working from home is going to be the new normal in some fashion. They realized the money they had saved to eventually buy a home in the city could be redeployed to purchase a home in the suburbs or in a more rural area. This led to a spike in many areas outside big cities. While this moderate exodus would theoretically soften prices in urban areas, the fact is that the fundamentals in those markets are strong enough to keep prices high. It should be noted that this exodus from the cities has reportedly caused some softening in the personal condominium market, as many of the people looking outside the large cities would have been condominium purchasers.
All this being said, it is worth differentiating between housing and other real estate subsectors. For example, the retail and larger commercial office building markets are seeing the “expected” drop in demand given COVID, due to the loss of foot traffic and employees being told to work from home. On the other hand, in the industrial sector, the massive growth in online ordering has increased the need for space to accommodate logistics and warehousing.

So, is the financial world out of sync? I personally feel the answer is still at least a lukewarm yes, if you like me feel there is or should be some kind of direct correlation between the economy and the stock and real estate markets. But as I have noted above, the correlations can sometimes run parallel and may not intersect, so that may be a misguided view. We shall see in another year or two whether the stock and real estate markets got ahead of themselves, or whether this was just the first phase of even stronger markets. Interesting times either way.

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.