What’s Your Tax Issue? Gift or Sale to Kids

The Tax Issue:

I am a partner in a Canadian co-ownership of real estate rental property and my siblings and my mother are also part owners. I would like to make a gift of my share to my children. Can this be done tax-free? Could I sell the property to them for a dollar?

The Answer:

In Canada, we don’t have a gift tax. However, when a gift is made between family members there is a deemed disposition at fair market value. So any gain that has accrued on your share of the co-ownership will be realized and you will be taxed. I’m not sure of your particular situation, but you might want to check your 1994 income tax return (if you can find it). That’s the year that the $100,000 general capital gains exemption was repealed. A special election was available to make one final use of the exemption and “bump up” the cost base of capital assets. If  you made the election on your real  estate venture, that could shelter part of the tax on a future disposition.

Special rules would also apply to your kids if you make this gift to them. Their cost amount for depreciation purposes could be reduced by the amount of your proceeds that results in the non-taxable portion of a capital  gain.

One of my pet peeves is when people make the mistake of thinking that a sale for a dollar is the same as a gift. It isn’t. A sale at an amount less than fair market value is not a gift, and different, much harsher rules apply. Your proceeds will still be equal to fair market value, but the cost base to the purchasers will be equal to exactly what they pay, i.e. one dollar. Then, when they decide to sell, they would be paying tax again on the full amount of proceeds. This “double tax” is the penalty for making a sale to a related person at an amount less than fair market value.

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