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Strategies and Tips

Keeping the cottage in the family

The cottage is a source of joy for many families, and is often viewed as 'common property' within generations. Like many people, you are perhaps considering leaving the cottage to your heirs so it can be enjoyed by generations to come. Whether you are in this situation, or considering purchasing a cottage for the first time, there are certain financial implications you may want to consider. They might influence how you intend to pass on the cottage to your heirs be it through a will, a sale or perhaps through a trust. And they may also influence how you structure the purchase of a new property today.

When transferring any property, you should first consider the cost impact of the transaction. If you have owned a property for several years its value has likely increased, creating what could potentially be a significant capital gain assuming the transfer takes place after October 17, 2000. If this is the case, 50% of the appreciated value of a cottage is considered taxable income in the year it is sold or transferred. A major downside of a capital gains tax is that in most cases it is not deferrable - the amount owing must be paid immediately. (Note, the sale or transfer of a principal residence is excepted.)

Elizabeth has decided to give the cottage to her only son. When she purchased the cottage, the property had a value of $50,000. Over time, it has appreciated in value to $150,000. Of the $100,000 in appreciated value, $50,000 ($100,000 x 50%) will be considered taxable income in the year of the transfer. Clearly this could have a significant effect on her tax situation and could impact her Old Age Security benefit.1

While the prospects for an easy transfer of the cottage to a family member might seem grim, with proper care and planning you can keep the property within your family for the next generation without creating a significant tax burden.

Transfer the cottage today

While this would appear to be the simplest solution, the above example shows one of the major pitfalls - the immediate capital gains tax. If you transfer the cottage into your child's name today, you will immediately trigger capital gains resulting in an additional tax burden for yourself. Even if you sell the cottage at a 'bargain' price the government will consider the property to have been sold at fair market value, so you will not be reducing the capital gains tax payable by you. Your children however, will be required to report the "bargain" purchase price as their cost base, creating a larger capital gain for them when they pass away or choose to sell the cottage some time in the future. It is important to be sure of your decision before transferring the cottage as you are not only giving up ownership but also control over its use.

Leave the cottage to your children in your will

This strategy should involve planning by both you and your children, and should be done with the assistance of a will specialist (i.e., a lawyer). If there are multiple heirs, you may want to formulate guidelines for usage and maintenance costs associated with the cottage and set them out in writing. Remember, upon your death your estate will be liable for the capital gains tax on the disposition of the cottage and therefore if any of the children do not want the cottage, their share of the estate will still be responsible for a proportional amount of the tax on the capital gains. If you know now that a child(ren) is not interested in owning the cottage, you might consider stipulating some other form of compensation for them. An insurance policy could be purchased to help offset the tax, and if the children purchase the policy, the premiums could be divided among those who will be sharing the cottage after you pass on.

Sell the Cottage to your Child and Hold a Demand Mortgage

While there is no way to defer taxes forever, by selling the cottage to your children and taking back a demand mortgage with deferred payments, you are permitted to spread the tax payable on the capital gains over five years. At the time of your passing, you can forgive the mortgage in your will and the cottage will be left to your child with no debt or taxes payable.

Trust Options

  1. Inter Vivos Trust (Living Trust)

    A trust created and taking effect during your lifetime is called an inter vivos trust. By moving the cottage asset into a trust now you will be deemed to have disposed of the asset at fair market value and you will be required to pay the tax as the transfer is subject to capital gains. Since the capital gains tax will be paid in the year of transfer, the children will not face a capital gains tax bill when you pass away. To potentially avoid this large tax liability, you may want to consider setting up the trust immediately upon purchase of the cottage or at a time when property values are low. You are able to hold the property, in trust, for 21 years without triggering any capital gains in the trust. You may want to consult with a tax specialist to consider additional strategies for deferring the capital gains.

    Bill has owned a cottage for eight years and is now doing some early estate planning. Having paid $50,000 for the cottage, the value steadily appreciated to $75,000 last year. A sudden shock in the real estate market has knocked the value of the cottage down to $60,000. After speaking with his tax specialist, Bill seizes this opportunity to roll the cottage into a trust, paying capital gains tax on the $10,000 ($60,000 - $50,000) of appreciated value, and avoiding any further capital gains in the trust for 21 years.
  2. Testamentary Trust

    This trust takes effect upon your death, and while there are few capital gains advantages (your estate is liable for all capital gains upon your passing), it gives you the ability to define issues like the sharing of the asset. As an example, you can stipulate who has the cottage at what point in the year, or create a first right of refusal option in case of any disputes over a sale of the cottage down the road.

These are just a few of the options available to you, and they are designed primarily to show you that with proper planning you can pass on the cottage without passing on a significant tax burden as well.