Ahh, your cottage – a place of sanctuary, family fun and warm memories. But passing along a cottage to the next generation can set off complex financial and family issues. Here are some suggested steps to ensuring cottage continuity.
Know what your kids want You know that cottage ownership is a big personal and financial responsibility that is not for everyone. Discuss this with your children and if any of them are not interested in inheriting the cottage, avoid family squabbles by making sure they are treated fairly in your will.
If you decide on shared ownership, keep in mind that it can be a difficult proposition. That’s why it can be useful to obtain legal advice when you put an agreement in place – about such things as who uses the cottage and when, who pays for repairs, maintenance and upkeep, and the other nitty-gritty aspects of joint cottage ownership – to avoid protracted disputes and misunderstandings.
Manage the tax burden If your cottage has appreciated in value, your estate can face a significant capital gains liability that could force its sale by your heirs.
Capital gains taxes are based on the difference between the cost of your property and its current fair market value at the time of your death. The cost of your cottage is what you initially paid for it plus the value of any capital improvements you made to it over the years – a new deck or roof, for example, including the cost of anyone you hired to do the work for you – so keep your receipts to account for all these costs to help offset capital gains. General upkeep costs such as painting the cottage are generally not considered capital improvements.
Consider taking advantage of the primary residence exemption. You are allowed to name a primary residence that is exempt from tax on capital gain. The residence must be a property you ‘ordinarily inhabited’. It can be either your city home or your cottage. You are allowed just one principal residence at a time but you can choose to exempt the property with the bigger gain.
Have a succession plan Include an effective strategy for passing on your cottage. One option is to purchase life insurance with tax-free death benefits that will cover the capital gains on your cottage and/or other expenses and avoid the forced sale of estate assets. Life insurance is also a good way to equalize an estate where one child wants to keep the cottage, whereas other children would prefer to sell it and divide the proceeds of sale.
Some of these estate planning options may not work in your situation, so it’s a good idea to talk to your professional advisor about your wishes for your cottage and the financial and estate planning options that will work best for you.