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Written by: Rick Gendemann, CPA, CA
Traditionally, individuals have used a Will to distribute assets they own at the time of their death. However, a number of issues can arise when assets pass under a Will in British Columbia. The three most common issues encountered are:
In planning to avoid these potential problems, many estate planners have been using Will substitutes in order to transfer family assets. One very popular type of structure used has been an inter vivos trust, which is a trust created during a person’s lifetime. It has always been possible to use an inter vivos trust as a Will substitute. However, the gifting of assets to a non-spousal trust that names other persons as beneficiaries usually results in a disposition of those assets at fair market value for income tax purposes. This can result in the payment of significant income tax at the time of the transfer.
In order to provide specific relief from the potential capital gains arising on the transfer of assets to an inter vivos trust, tax legislation was amended to introduce the concepts of an alter ego trust and a joint partner trust.
A gift of assets to an alter ego or a joint partner trust will qualify for a tax-deferred rollover treatment, thereby avoiding the triggering of tax on accrued gains. However, in order for this tax-deferred rollover treatment to apply, these trusts must meet certain criteria as follows:
Like a traditional spousal trust, the alter ego and the joint partner trusts contemplate contingent beneficiaries who will receive the income and capital of the trust after the death of the individual or the surviving spouse (as the case may be). The assets in the trust then effectively bypass probate, provided that the trust qualified as a true inter vivos trust. It is important to obtain clear legal advice with respect to the drafting of the alter ego or joint spousal trust documents. In some provinces, an inter vivos trust can become subject to Wills variation legislation as a result of powers held by the deceased just before death.
It is important to understand that the use of an alter ego trust or joint partner trust does not avoid the deemed disposition of assets on death. The deemed disposition occurs at the same time as it would have occurred if the trust had not been established. For income tax purposes, the deemed dispositions will be realized and reported on the final income tax returns of the original settlor in the case of an alter ego trust; and the last surviving spouse in the case of a joint partner trust.
Generally, inter vivos trusts are subject to the 21-year deemed disposition rules, causing potential gains to be realized for tax purposes every 21 years. However, for alter ego and joint partner trusts, the starting date for this 21-year deemed disposition rule is delayed and only commences from the date of death of the settlor or surviving spouse. As a result, these trusts will not need to deal with deemed dispositions during the lifetime of the individual or the spouse.
The alter ego and joint partner trusts have become significant estate planning tools for individuals wishing to avoid probate fees and potential Wills variation actions. The use of these trusts provides planning opportunities for effective tax structuring for estates. Further opportunities are also available to effectively utilize an alter ego trust as a substitute for an enduring power of attorney – that is, where your attorney can make financial and legal decisions for you if you are mentally incapable due to accident or illness.
Here’s a summary of planning opportunities available for an alter ego or joint partner trust structure:
Probate fee relief
Alternative Wills planning
Alternative power of attorney planning
Significant planning opportunities may be available to you when structuring your estate planning using alter ego and joint partner trusts. These trusts could allow you to more effectively manage your affairs, in addition to providing cash flow savings to your estate where probate fees can be avoided. Use of these trusts may also allow you to plan your estate distribution with a greater degree of certainty that is not subject to intervention by the courts under Wills variation legislation.
Given the potential income tax and legal complexities regarding these trust deeds, we recommend you seek professional advice before you consider establishing an alter ego or joint partner trust.
Rick Gendemann, CPA, CA, focuses mainly on Estate Planning and Business Succession services for Canadian owner-managed businesses in a wide range of Industries. Rick can be reached at (604) 557-5760 or email@example.com.
The above content is believed to be accurate as of the date of posting. Tax laws are complex and are subject to frequent changes. Professional advice should be sought before implementing any tax planning. Manning Elliott LLP cannot accept any liability for the tax consequences that may result from acting based on the information contained therein.