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.
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.
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.
The Ontario Family Law Act (FLA) determines the division of property between spouses on marriage breakdown. But what happens when a spouse is a beneficiary of a discretionary trust?
Updating your estate plan on separation and divorce in a timely manner is critical in order to avoid unintended results, possible later disputes, and even litigation. The following highlights some of the most common concerns, as well as precautions to take.
Discretionary trusts are common estate planning tools used for a variety of reasons such as tax minimization and general wealth protection, including protection on matrimonial breakdown and from creditors. These trusts are often used in an estate freeze where shares in privately-held corporations are "frozen" to defer capital gains liability which might otherwise arise on a shareholder's death in favour of the next generation where the "growth" shares are held by a trust. Margaret O'Sullivan's recent paper "When Trust Law Meets Family Law" provides a review of discretionary trusts and their recent treatment by matrimonial courts in several jurisdictions. My post highlights some of the observations and concerns raised in Margaret's paper.
Canadians are increasingly mobile within Canada. Employees are transferred and move with their families to another province, couples decide to retire in a province with a more moderate climate, or seniors decide to move to be closer to their children and grandchildren. But in changing jobs, lifestyle and family connections, our legal "lives" are also changed. It is surprising how significantly the basic laws that govern property rights on marriage breakdown and death differ if we survey each province's and territory's regime. This fact is not well-known among most Canadians, and can lead to unexpected results.
A common consideration when completing or updating your estate planning is often how best to protect assets in the event of marital breakdown--whether your own marriage, including a second marriage, or an intended beneficiary's (e.g., a child or grandchild). The need to protect certain assets may be even more pressing when the property is a home or cottage that has been in a family for generations, carrying strong emotional ties and significant memories. Protecting this property can be complicated, however, if it qualifies as a matrimonial home under Ontario's Family Law Act.
Marriage contracts can certainly be sensible and valuable planning tools for protecting certain property down the road in the event of a separation or divorce.