Thanks to a recent change in BC’s estate laws, business owners can now reduce the amount of probate fees payable by their estate by utilizing a second will. Probate usually becomes necessary because third parties, such as financial institutions, or the Land Title Office, want assurance that the executor has the authority to deal with a particular asset. Probate fees are payable to the government based on the value of the estate assets. The articles of most private companies allow for the transfer of a deceased shareholder’s shares to the estate without probate. However, if probate is required because other assets were owned solely by the deceased (such as a vehicle, bank account or real estate), the company shares must be listed in the probate application and will be subject to probate fees. If the company shares are dealt with in a separate will, probate fees for the shares are avoided. To benefit from a second will, you must appoint a different executor under each will. If you think you would benefit from dual wills, we can help.
A Simple Solution to Avoid Probate?
“Probate” is a court application to confirm the validity of a Will. It is an increasingly complex process, and requires payment of a probate tax. For many couples, probate can be avoided on the first spouse’s death by joint ownership. Not surprisingly, after the first spouse dies, the family may assume that joint ownership with the children is appropriate to avoid probate. This may or may not be the case.
Subject to certain requirements, private companies can sell shares to friends and family and “accredited investors” without issuing a prospectus or hiring a registered securities dealer. These exemptions have been amended to require that companies take “reasonable steps” to confirm that investors meet the requirements of the exemption. Companies may no longer simply rely on the representations of the investor. In addition, accredited investors must sign a new Risk Acknowledgment Form.
Changes May Affect You
This past March, British Columbia implemented major changes to its wills and estates laws. The new Wills Estates and Succession Act (“WESA”) consolidates four older acts, and modernizes the law regarding Wills and the administration of estates for BC residents. These changes may seem, on first blush, to be of little interest. But they are substantial, and we are sending this newsletter to our clients to let you know that we are concerned that some of you may need to update your Wills……
Widower Wants A Will without Woe
A peninsula resident for 25 years, Michael Flanagan never sought a lawyer’s counsel until his nephew, Bob (a home-buyer in Raising the Bar issue 4), suggested he update his Will.
Will review overdue
With arthritic joints and hair gone white, Michael felt that his health was starting to fail. He wanted help to revise the Will not updated since before his wife, Shannon, died.
Estate planning means different things to different people, but most people agree that some of the goals of estate planning include:
- Simplifying the administration of an estate
- Minimizing probate fees
- Ensuring that property passes to the intended person
One of the most common strategies used to achieve these goals is to own property with another person in a joint tenancy.
Joint tenancy or tenancy in common
Property owned by more than one person must be owned in one of two ways: joint tenancy or tenancy in common. In practical terms, the chief distinction between joint tenancy and tenancy in common is the right of survivorship. Only joint tenants can enjoy right of survivorship.
If you own property with another person as tenants in common, on your death your interest in the property becomes part of your estate to be passed on according to your will. If you own property with another person as joint tenants, on your death your interest in the property normally passes to remaining joint tenant(s) by right of survivorship, and does not form part of your estate.
In British Columbia, the law presumes that an asset (other than land) held in two or more names is owned as a joint tenancy, unless there is an indication that the owners own it in shares. So, for example, household goods, vehicles, bank accounts and investments owned by two or more persons will be presumed to be owned by them as joint tenants, unless their respective shares of the assets are specified or there is a statement that the asset is held by the owners as tenants in common.
However, in the case of land the common law presumption of joint tenancy has been altered by statute, so that land owned by two or more persons is presumed to be owned by them as tenants in common unless the title expressly states that they are joint tenants.
Right of Survivorship
Because of the right of survivorship, a joint tenancy can meet the estate planning goals of simplifying the administration of an estate, minimizing probate fees and ensuring that property passes to the intended person. It is a strategy used by the majority of married couples, who own their major assets, such as their home, as joint tenants.
The right of survivorship ensures that when the first spouse dies, these assets pass to the surviving spouse without being subject to the delays and expense of an application for probate (with a little extra planning, it is often possible to avoid probate altogether on the death of the first spouse). The right of survivorship also ensures that ownership of the assets will not be affected by claims under the Wills Variation Act, if there is a will, or by the rules for intestate distribution under the Estate Administration Act, if there is no will.
Beware of the Consequences
While joint tenancy is most common between spouses, it is becoming increasingly common between parents and children. The purpose is the same – to simplify administration of the parents’ estates and to minimize probate fees. Often the joint tenancy is created after the death of one of the parents. However, this can result in some unintended and undesirable consequences. Consider the example of a parent who has transferred her assets into a joint tenancy with one of her adult children:
Loss of control
The parent cannot later cancel the transfer if she changes her mind. As well, in the case of land, she will not be able to sell or mortgage the land unless the child also signs.
The transfer is a disposition for income tax purposes. The 50% interest in the property transferred to the child is deemed to have been sold at its fair market value and, unless the asset is the parent’s principal residence, a portion of any capital gains will be added to the parent’s income. This could result in the parent having to pay tax even though she received no payment from the child.
In addition, one half of any future capital gains will accrue to the child. If the property is the parent’s principal residence and the child lives elsewhere, the principal residence exemption will be lost for the child’s share of any future increase in value of the home.
Property transfer tax
In the case of land, property transfer tax will be payable at the time of transfer, although there may be an exemption available if the property is the principal residence of either the parent or the child.
Exposure to creditors
The child’s interest in the property will be subject to claims by the child’s creditors. If the child is married and the property is used for a family purpose, it could be subject to claims by the child’s spouse if there is a breakdown of the child’s marriage.
The child may pass away before the parent, negating the purpose of the joint tenancy. If other children were also on title with the parent as joint tenants, on the death of the parent the asset would pass only to the surviving children, and the family of the deceased child would receive nothing.
Another unintended result can occur if spouses in a second marriage own property together as joint tenants, and each have children from previous relationships. On the death of the first spouse, the property will pass by right of survivorship to the surviving spouse. The spouses may have had wills that provided that the property would ultimately pass to the children of both spouses, on the death of the last of them. However, the surviving spouse can change his or her will so that the property goes only to that spouse’s children, and the children of the deceased spouse would receive nothing.
The law presumes that a joint tenant who contributed nothing toward the property holds his or her interest in trust for the contributing owner. An exception is the presumption of advancement (meaning a gift in advance of a person’s death). According to case law, the presumption of advancement applies to transfers of property from one spouse to both spouses, or from a parent to a minor child.
However, in 2007 the Supreme Court of Canada stated (in the Pecore and Madsen decisions) that the presumption of advancement does not apply to transfers between parents and adult children. An adult child who receives an asset by right of survivorship from a deceased parent can no longer rely on the presumption that the deceased wanted the child to take the asset at death. Additional evidence is required to prove that the transfer into joint tenancy was intended to be a gift and that the surviving child was intended to receive the asset on the death of the parent.
The Pecore and Madsen decisions also raised the possibility that the right of survivorship itself could be gifted from one person to another. This presents several unanswered questions, however, such as the tax implications of such a gift. As well, it is not clear whether the gift of the right of survivorship applies to real estate.
Put it in Writing
To avoid the possibility of a dispute with other family members, and to clarify the tax consequences, it is now imperative to put the parent’s intention into writing. If the transfer to joint tenancy would not result in capital gains tax, or the parent is prepared to pay the tax, the parent could sign a deed of gift to confirm that beneficial ownership in the property is transferred to the parent and child as joint tenants with right of survivorship. On the parent’s death, it would be difficult for other beneficiaries to argue that the child holds the property in trust for the parent’s estate.
Alternatively, the parent could require the child to sign a declaration of trust confirming that the child does not have beneficial ownership in the property, but simply holds his or her interest in trust for the parent. In addition to reducing the possibility of a dispute between the child and the other beneficiaries of the parent’s estate, the declaration provides the parent with a greater amount of control over the property, and may prevent the deemed disposition of the property for income tax purposes (because beneficial ownership of the property remains with the parent).
However, Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) has suggested that the existence of a declaration of trust will not, in and by itself, be conclusive evidence that beneficial ownership of the property has not changed. It would depend on all of the circumstances.
CRA’s position is that if legal title to an asset is transferred from a parent to the parent and a child, but beneficial ownership remains with the parent (as confirmed by the declaration of trust and other circumstances), a disposition for income tax purposes has not occurred. Having said that, CRA pointed out that in such a situation a true joint tenancy with the child would not exist and, in its opinion, the goal of reducing probate fees would not be achieved because the property would not pass to the child by right of survivorship.
Joint tenancy can be an effective part of an estate plan, but must be used with caution. If you have questions about creating a joint tenancy or other estate planning strategies, call us first for professional advice.
For a discussion of other strategies to avoid probate and probate fees, click here.
Bob & Mary Buy Their First House
Bob and Mary had been married six years when Bob’s 35th birthday proved to be a milestone in their life together. Their daughter was two years old and both were progressing as software engineers. (They’d met at a conference in Hong Kong where Bob had been working.) Now they were about to buy their ﬁrst house. Some anxiety about the home purchase did arise, but Beacon Law Centre’s Kelvin Scheuer helped to deal with that.
Steve McKenzie, Retired Retailer
Now an elderly widower, Steve McKenzie once owned and managed a popular downtown department store in a small city on the mainland. This father of three has accomplished much for his family. After his wife of 52 years passed on, he bought a house on the south island with his youngest daughter, Julie, and he husband Ian.
The Supreme Court of Canada recently issued another ruling on the issue of common-law relationships. In Nova Scotia v. Walsh, the Supreme Court of Canada was asked to consider whether provisions in the Nova Scotia Matrimonial Property Act, which make a distinction between formal marriages and common-law relationships, should be ruled unconstitutional because they contravene the right to equality under the Charter of Rights.
We have very similar legislation in B.C., which makes distinctions between married partners and common-law partners when it comes to division of assets. For example:
- Only married spouses are entitled to the presumption of an equal division of family assets on the breakdown of the marriage.
- Common law partners can only claim an interest in the other spouse’s property by claiming a constructive trust, in which the partner’s entitlement is based on his or her contribution to the property.
- A common law partner must apply for spousal support within one year after the end of the relationship. This deadline does not apply to married spouses.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the provisions in the Nova Scotia family law legislation were valid. The court said that the decision to marry is a personal choice that, if undertaken, includes an agreement to undertake the obligations that the family law legislation imposes on married couples. The court noted that many couples have chosen to avoid marriage and the legal consequences that flow from it, and that to ignore the differences between the obligations that married couples have agreed to undertake and that common-law couples have not agreed to undertake is to make presumptions that simply do not exist.
This case confirms that common-law relationships are not the same as being married. There are many differences between the two. In British Columbia, provincial legislation contains many different definitions as to when common-law spouses may gain some of the rights and obligations of married spouses.
If you have questions about your own situation, please call us.
In 2000, new estate planning laws increased the ability for British Columbians to plan for a potential future disability through injury or illness. Using a new type of agreement, called a Representation Agreement, you could make legally valid instructions for another adult to manage not only your financial, property and legal matters, but also your health care and medical matters. Traditional enduring powers of attorney (useful only for property, financial and legal matters) were scheduled to be phased out.
While the opportunity to make legal plans for future health care and medical needs was widely embraced and long overdue, the legal and financial community were concerned about the proposed cancellation of enduring powers of attorney. The new laws imposed significant restrictions on the financial powers that could be granted under a Representation Agreement. There was concern about the recognition of Representation Agreements outside B.C. Representation Agreements would be more costly to make.
In light of these concerns, the BC government commissioned a review of the effectiveness of Representation Agreements in relation to financial, property and legal matters. This spring the BC government published an information bulletin indicating that it accepts the recommendations and will revise the laws. As a result:
- Enduring powers of attorney will not be phased out, but will be the main planning tool to appoint someone to manage your financial, property and legal matters
- Representation Agreements will remain as the only planning tool to appoint someone to manage your health and medical needs
- Existing Representation Agreements that authorize a representative to manage financial, property and legal matters will remain valid
Powers of attorney are instruments that allow you to appoint another adult, called the attorney, to act on your behalf in relation to financial, property and legal matters. Powers of attorney can be very specific (for example, limiting the attorney’s authority to make bank deposits and bill payments only), or very broad (empowering the attorney to manage all financial, property and legal matters). Enduring powers of attorney are effective both before and after any loss of mental capacity and are by far the most common form of power of attorney made today. An enduring power of attorney is a simple, effective and inexpensive tool that should be considered in all estate plans.
If you have questions about your Power of Attorney or Representation Agreement, please contact us.