DAVID WILKENFELD, CPA, CA, canadian tax CONSULTANT

Posts Tagged ‘Discretionary Trust’

What’s Your Tax Issue? Residence in a Trust

In Canadian Income Tax, Personal Tax, Principal Residence on January 7, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Our House is a very very very fine house

                  –Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

The Tax Issue

I am a member (beneficiary) of a family trust that was set up years ago by my Dad. The trust currently owns two houses. I live in one, and my sister, who is also a member of the trust, is married and lives in the other. We were told that we will have taxes to pay we sell our homes. Can this be true? Please help, as no one seems to know the answer.

The Answer

The principal residence rules that apply to personal trusts are surprisingly restrictive and can be a trap for the unwary.

A trust is treated as a person for tax purposes. As such, it does have access to the principal residence exemption on the sale of a home. But here’s the kicker: if a trust designates a home as a principal residence for a given year, then every beneficiary of that trust who lived in or used the home owned by the trust is deemed to have made the designation. And remember, a person can only designate one property as her principal residence. This applies to a trust as well. This means that if the trust sells the home you are living in and claims it as a principal residence, then when the trust sells your sister’s home, the trust is precluded from making the designation on the second home. Her home becomes ineligible for the exemption for those years even though it may be the only home she’s lived in. This might come as a shock, and it seems unfair, but that is the way the law works.

So, let’s look at an example. Say the trust owned your home since 2000 and it is sold in 2012 at a gain of $500,000. Furthermore, let’s assume the trust owned your sister’s home since 1996, and sells in 2012 at a gain of $400,000. If the trust claims the full principal residence exemption on your home, then it will be precluded from claiming the exemption for the years 2000 – 2012 on your sister’s home. In fact, for the 16 years the trust owned your sister’s home, only 4 will qualify, so only 4/16 of the gain will be exempt. (Actually, the formula generously adds 1 year to numerator, so technically 5/16, or $125,000 of the total gain will be exempt).

Also, if a trust claims the principal residence exemption on home, then all beneficiaries of that trust who may have used the home are deemed to have used their own principal residence exemptions on that property. So, for example, if a summer cottage is owned by a trust and is used by all the family members, some of whom own their own homes, they could lose their exemptions if the trust claims the cottage as a principal residence.

Taxpayers thinking about placing personal homes in a family trust should always seek professional tax advise.

The Corporate Beneficiary

In Canadian Income Tax, Estates and trusts on October 25, 2010 at 3:46 pm

The family trust is alive these days and thriving more than ever. More and more taxpayers are beginning to appreciate the tax saving possibilities of income-splitting. The trustee has the absolute power to allocate income or capital of the trust to any beneficiary of his choice with no restrictions.

In a simple structure, a trust is created, with children as beneficiaries. The trust owns shares of an operating company (“Opco”) which pays annual dividends to the trust. The dividends are then distributed to the beneficiaries and taxed at their graduating marginal rates.

One spin on the family trust is to add a corporation to the list of trust beneficiaries. This option provides even more flexibility and advantages to the common family trust.

In an income splitting situation, it may not be desirable to pay dividends to the trust over a certain amount – that is the amount that would yield the lowest rates of tax when distributed to beneficiaries. For example, a Quebec taxpayer with no other income may earn up to $12,500 in dividends before paying any tax. The trustee may not wish to distribute more than this amount to the beneficiaries annually. If Opco has high income, its directors may find such a limitation restraining.

Adding a holding company (“Holdco”) to the list of beneficiaries wipes out this limitation. Opco could pay a large dividend to the trust. The trustee would allocate a portion of the dividend to the individual beneficiaries, and the excess would be assigned to Holdco.

A dividend paid by one corporation to a connected company is non-taxable. However, since Holdco does not own any shares directly in Opco, care would have to be exercised to ensure that the two companies were technically connected for tax purposes. Generally, this could be accomplished if the trust controlled Opco, or Opco and Holdco were controlled by persons who do not deal at arm’s length with each other.

Where Opco generates high levels of cash, the ability to pay dividends in this manner provides certain advantages. First, it allows protection from creditors in that cash may easily be moved out through dividends and away from potential claims.

Where individual beneficiaries have not claimed their capital gains exemption, this structure provides an easy means of having the company qualify as a small business corporation by paying excess “non business” cash out as a dividend.

Sometimes, the implementation of a family trust involves an estate freeze. In such a case, corporate attribution rules may apply to assign deemed dividends to the value of preferred shares issued to a parent as part of the freeze. One exception to this rule is to ensure Opco remains a small business corporation throughout the year. The ability to pay unlimited dividends to the trust on an ongoing basis would allow Opco to retain its small business corporation status so the exception applies.

Finally, if the trust is wound up, it may be possible to distribute the Opco shares to Holdco free of tax, thereby eliminating the need to give up eventual ownership of the shares to children.

Before implementing any such complex structure, care should be taken to ensure that all legal requirements are met, and that the tax advantages are worth the added costs.