What is a marriage-like relationship?

Over the last number of decades, families and relationships have become increasingly more complicated, often making estate matters more complex and litigious. For example, when a person claims to be the spouse of a deceased, and the family, or other beneficiaries, either do not recognize them as a spouse or were not aware of a relationship at all, frequently litigation will be the result. Litigation will often take the form of a wills variation claim by the person alleging to be a spouse.

Under s.60 of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA), children and spouses of the deceased can bring a claim for variation if proper maintenance and adequate provision was not made for them in the will of a deceased. The first hurdle for these parties is to establish themselves as a “spouse”, entitling them to make such a claim. Under WESA, and the former Wills Variation Act, a spouse is defined as someone who was married to the deceased or had been living with the deceased in a “marriage-like relationship” and lived in that relationship for at least 2 years. How the law determines what is “marriage-like” therefore becomes quite important.

On November 30, 2015 the BC Court of Appeal released their decision in Weber v. Leclerc[i]. The Court considered the factors that define a “marriage-like” relationship to determine a spouse under the Family Law Act. This Act uses the same definition as WESA and so the discussion is relevant to circumstances that fall under either Act.

The Court came to the conclusion that, despite separate finances and the female partner’s disavowal of any intention to be a spouse, the couple lived and acted as if they were in a marriage. Even though the couple kept their finances separate and money loaned to one spouse was always repaid, the Court found that keeping finances separate was not in itself indicative of something other than a spousal relationship. The Court then considered arguments regarding the intentions of the parties but ultimately found that the quality of the relationship was much more indicative of a spousal relationship than the statements made by the parties regarding their subjective intentions. The couple cohabitated for a number of years, were in a romantic relationship and the intention, though not to marry, appeared to be to remain together for an indefinite amount of time. Socially, they acted as a couple and raised their children in a family unit with family photographs displayed in the home. All these factors led the Court to conclude that the parties were in a marriage-like relationship, regardless of the alleged intentions otherwise.

The importance of this decision is how the Court of Appeal evaluates a relationship when questioning whether one is a spouse or not. The Court reaffirms decisions from the late 90s and early 2000s that started shifting away from a traditional understanding of marriage. Factors that used to be highly indicative of marriage-like relationships, like joint finances, may no longer play such a pronounced role. Relationships have changed and a formulaic approach is no longer practicable. Moving forward, the Courts will continue to rely upon the individual facts of each case as families continue to become more and more unique.

Mark Weintraub with assistance from Elina Hartshorne, Articled Student

[i] Weber v. Leclerc, 2015 BCCA 492.

What does an entrepreneur need to know about making a charitable donation?

Gifts of Private Companies and Real Estate

Entrepreneurs create much wealth in Canada with their businesses and real estate holdings. These dedicated owners are often also very committed to charitable giving.  They seek to pass on their community, not diminished, but better than it was passed on to them.

However, it is challenging to make gifts from their wealth.  Company shares and real estate holdings are often illiquid.

Yet, with careful planning, significant gifts can be made now.  There are also new gifting opportunities coming in 2017.

Consider an example of Daniel and Helen – two successful siblings.  Daniel grew a family business; and Helen assembled a real estate portfolio.   Daniel wishes to create an ongoing endowment to fight poverty issues.  Helen wishes to help a youth community centre.

Daniel’s current gift

Daniel has a challenge.  Complex rules apply to gifts of private company shares.

The default tax rule prohibits a charity from issuing Daniel a tax receipt (to reduce his taxes) unless the charity sells the gifted shares within five years of the donation.

Fortunately, there is an “exempted gift” rule.  The five year sale period is avoided if the shares are gifted to an “arm’s length” public charity such as Daniel‘s community foundation.

The foundation can hold the gift in perpetuity and produce an annual income.  Daniel can advise about distribution of the income to his preferred charities.

However, without further planning, the foundation would have valuable shares but no easy way to produce an income for the annual gifting.

Instead of giving his current shares, Daniel could reorganize to create and donate new preferred shares with a fixed value.  These shares could then be repurchased from the foundation by the company in yearly installments to create a cash flow.

Each repurchase would usually be taxed as a dividend, but the foundation can receive it tax free.  Each repurchase may also allow Daniel’s company to claim a refund of some pre-paid taxes (amounts that may have been collected from past company earnings). The refund may be up to 1/3rd of the repurchase amount.

This gift plan is just one of the options available to Daniel.  In the right circumstances, it reduces taxes now and creates an ongoing annual refund.  It gives the foundation a secure gift and cash flow for the annual income.  Most importantly, Daniel will fulfill his wish to make his community better.

Daniel’s future gift

In the future, Daniel’s long-term plan may be to pass his business on to the next generation, but it might also be sold.  After 2017, in a sale situation, new tax rules may give Daniel extra savings by eliminating the tax on the capital gain in his shares – somewhat like the current rules for gifts of publicly-listed shares.  However, the proposed rules are more restricted.  Still, if Daniel thinks he might sell and also continue his philanthropy, then it is important that he be aware of this option now – as he prepares his company for that possibility.

Helen’s current gift

Helen has learned that the youth centre is searching for a new permanent location.  One of the properties that Helen has held in her portfolio for many years is well-suited to their needs. However, Helen cannot afford yet to gift the full value of the property.

Helen can arrange a “bargain sale.”  The youth centre society will pay up to 80% of the appraised value.  Helen will receive a tax receipt for the difference between the amount paid and the appraised value. The sale proceeds and the tax savings from the receipt will more than offset any taxes triggered by the sale.

Helen’s future gift

The new rules in 2017 may also benefit Helen.  The capital gains taxes that would be triggered by a sale of real estate may be reduced to the extent that Helen gifts proceeds of the sale to a charity within 30 days of the sale.  Again, the proposed rules have complexities, but Helen may want to keep them in mind for future planning.

Entrepreneurs are a driving force in our community.  With careful planning, they can share their success and pass along our community even greater than it was passed on to us.

The 21 Year Deemed Disposition Rule

If you set up a trust as part of your estate plan, one date you don’t want to forget is the 21st anniversary of the trust. This is because in most cases, a trust is deemed to dispose of its assets for fair market value on the 21st anniversary of the creation of the trust, and every 21 years thereafter (there are some modifications to the rule for certain trusts such as spousal trusts, alter-ego trusts and joint partner trusts). If the 21st anniversary of the trust passes without proper planning, the trust may have a significant tax liability with respect to assets that have increased in value in the 21 year period. There are ways to reduce the impact of this deeming rule, but the appropriate strategy will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • Nature of trust property. The impact of the deemed disposition rule will depend on the nature of the property held in the trust. Not all assets are subject to the deemed disposition rule, and some assets (for example, shares of a private company) may require more complex planning.
  • Value of Assets. If the assets subject to the deemed disposition rule have little value, or have not significantly increased in value since they were purchased, the tax consequences of the deemed disposition will be minimal.
  • Beneficiaries of the Trust. In some cases, it may be possible to avoid the deemed disposition by distributing trust assets to beneficiaries prior to the 21st anniversary. Subject to some exceptions, this can be done on a tax-deferred basis if the beneficiaries are resident in Canada. In cases where it’s not appropriate to distribute assets to beneficiaries (due to their age, health, or other reasons), or if all beneficiaries are living outside of Canada, planning around the deemed disposition rule may be more challenging.
  • Purpose of the Trust. If the trust was created for a purpose that is no longer relevant, it may make sense to avoid the deemed disposition rule by distributing the trust property and terminating the trust prior to the 21st anniversary. In other cases, a distribution of trust property or termination of the trust may be inconsistent with estate planning objectives.
  • Terms of the Trust. Some trust deeds may not be flexible enough to accommodate the required planning. In these situations, it may be necessary to consider amending or varying the terms of the trust in addition to any planning that is done in connection with the deemed disposition rule. There are various ways to effect a variation depending on the circumstances, some of which require a court application. Any tax consequences of the variation itself must also be considered.

It’s important to begin planning well in advance of the trust’s 21st anniversary as it may take time to implement the appropriate strategy.