In both our August 2015 and March 2016 blog posts, we discussed the importance of frequently reviewing your estate planning documents, as personal and financial circumstances can constantly change. Failing to make necessary revisions to your estate planning documents may result in unintended consequences that do not accurately reflect your wishes, intentions and goals.
When family wealth is at stake, parents may wish to encourage their children to enter into a domestic contract with their partners. The purpose may include to protect significant gifts and inheritances, a home owned at date of marriage, or a family business. With divorce rates at an all time high and the largest anticipated wealth transfer in Canada's history of approximately $750 billion to millennials over the next several decades, these issues are a growing concern for many families.
One of the increasing challenges facing parents and other family members today is achieving success in their estate planning - passing on their wealth well. But how should we define "success". From a professional viewpoint, much of estate planning focuses on ensuring a tax and cost-efficient transition of wealth to future generations and primarily focuses on financial aspects. But in doing so, have we lost sight of the forest for the trees? What is the overarching purpose of passing on wealth? Is it just about the money?
In estate planning, a parent typically wishes to provide for their children and each child's family. However, this desire to benefit the child's family often has a caveat: the child's spouse should not receive any part of the inheritance in the event of separation or divorce.
In April 2017, the CBC reported that over 1,300 people in Canada have died with medical assistance since the Criminal Code was amended in 2016 to legalize medical assistance in dying ("MAID"). While this statistic points to the importance of MAID for many Canadians, the new legislation has not settled the ongoing debate concerning the right to die. Recent litigation on various fronts has highlighted continuing controversies, including questions about the role of medical professionals in MAID, limitations on who will have access to medically assisted dying, and ambiguity in the criteria for access.
On January 1, 2017, most of the provisions of the All Families Are Equal Act (Parentage and Related Registrations Statute Law Amendments), 2016 (S.O. 2016, c. 23) came into effect in Ontario. The intention of the Act is to establish new rules of parentage in Ontario to deal with the modern reality of assisted reproduction and surrogacy when it comes to who is, and who is not, a parent of a child and allow for non-biological parentage structures without the necessity of Court intervention. This involved updating and revising a number of statutes to make related amendments, such as to the Vital Statistics Act (Ontario) to reflect the new rules as they affect birth registrations.
A current trend in the increasingly expensive Canadian housing market is parents helping children or grandchildren and their spouses with a down payment or mortgage on a first home. In Ontario, about 35% of people buying homes now receive assistance from their relatives with a down payment and approximately 38% have a down payment of 20% or more. To see statistics for down payment assistance across the country, please refer to this link. Although such financial assistance is helpful for a child or a young couple looking to get into the housing market, this generous gesture can lead to unexpected and undesired consequences and even disputes, including upon a child's marital breakdown. Without having done the proper planning or evidencing their intention, parents may even see a child lose their gift to a former spouse.
Putting estate planning documents in place can be a daunting task, but it does not end there. Estate planning is an organic process that requires ongoing attention and revision. Circumstances in your life will continue to change and your main objective is to ensure that your wishes and intentions are properly reflected in your plan and documents, both upon incapacity or death. What meets your financial and personal needs now may not do so in the future, so it is important to continue to review your documents, in particular when your circumstances change.
Most taxpayers know that when you sell an asset which has increased in value, the federal Income Tax Act provides that you will generally be liable for capital gains tax on the net increase in value, unless there is an applicable exemption. One exemption from capital gains tax is for a principal residence. In October of 2016, the federal government introduced draft legislation to amend the rules to restrict the application of the principal residence exemption. The amendments are aimed at stopping non-residents of Canada and real estate developers from unreasonably claiming the exemption. However, the amendments can also affect anyone who currently has or may wish to have a trust which holds a residence for a beneficiary, whether or not they are tax resident in Canada.
There are many things that we think about and plan for when we move--furniture, movers, schools, utilities... I could go on and on. There are even more things that we plan for when we move to another jurisdiction-language, taxes, visas, driving laws... and so it goes. But one thing you might never think about if you move to another jurisdiction is the impact of the matrimonial regime of your new home on your estate plan. Matrimonial laws can have a major impact on your estate plan, and not knowing what those effects might be can make the difference between your estate plan working the way it was meant to and not.