Insight & advice

Early inheritance? The benefits of giving money to your family today

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Consider the tax, lifestyle impact of giving money to loved ones today

It’s been said that providing for the next generation is the best way to judge how we’ve lived our life.

And while we know how important it is to plan for retirement and to prepare our estate for our loved ones, sometimes we feel it would be much more rewarding and satisfying to pass along these gifts earlier – while we’re alive. This way we can witness the joy and security we’re providing to those we love.

The benefits of giving sooner

For most people, the emotional reward of seeing your loved ones enjoy the fruits of your lifetime of work is the biggest reason to give earlier. However, there can be the more practical benefits of giving while you’re still alive:

  • Potential to save on taxes and fees.
  • Simplifying or reducing the size of your future estate – it may help to lessen or eliminate the burden of managing assets by others later (especially with real estate or other investments).
  • Giving the next generation an early inheritance to start a business or to invest now (and grow the size of your gift in the future).
  • Potential for avoiding estate administration taxes (also known as probate) and ensuring your privacy.
  • Reduce the potential for family conflict over your estate after you’re gone.

On death, the Income Tax Act considers you to have disposed of all your worldly possessions. This means your estate or heirs can be taxed on any income earned or accrued gains on your assets in the year of your death. The sudden tax burden can be substantial on large estates because the tax is often calculated at the top brackets. There may also be extra and unexpected expenses such as executor fees, accounting fees and/or legal fees).

Fortunately, advance tax planning can make sure your heirs are spared some of these costs to get the largest gifts possible. Once the assets are in their hands (usually children or grandchildren over the age of 18), taxes on the future growth of the assets are their responsibility and typically charged at a lower marginal tax rate. Those tax savings for heirs of large inheritances can be substantial. Of course, for new graduates or homeowners, they can use your estate to pay down debt instead of producing tax-generating income, which would still put them in a better financial position.

Happiness doesn’t come from what we get, but from what we give

One of the biggest reasons to give your estate before you die is so your family and friends will enjoy it more while they’re younger and healthier. You get to see how your gift changes and improves their lives while you’re still alive. Of course, the counter to this is that you’ll have fewer assets for your retirement and the rest of your life. This explains why planning is key: you want to make sure these assets aren’t needed to support any of your own future lifestyle or living needs.

What to keep in mind

As with any other gift – whether it’s a holiday present or a large fortune – once you’ve given it to someone else, you won’t have any remaining control over it and can’t get it back. This may seem obvious, but you must be prepared to accept there’s no option if the recipient chooses to use the proceeds in ways you disapprove.

You do, however, have several different options to ensure the longevity of your gift. Your assets don’t necessarily have to be given to beneficiaries in a lump-sum. You can choose to leave your gift in the form of an annuity to give smaller, more regular, guaranteed payments to last throughout their lifetime. This might be an ideal plan for those family members who you want to benefit from your gift over time. Alternatively, you may also want to consider using a trust, which may provide additional control and protection of your gift.

As you plan your estate, consider these possibilities for how your gift can help loved ones over time yet still honour your wishes.

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