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Financial gifts: What you need to know before giving money or investments

Giving to family members

When you give cash to a family member, there are generally no immediate tax issues to consider—unless you are a U.S. citizen. U.S. citizens may be subject to U.S. gift tax if they give more than US$15,000 annually to anyone other than a spouse. Gifts by a U.S. citizen to their spouse who is a non-U.S. citizen have an annual exemption of US$159,000.

If you gift cash to a minor child or grandchild and the funds are subsequently invested, the resulting income—including interest and dividends—are attributed or taxed back to you. Capital gains, however, are not subject to the attribution rules and are taxable, when realized, to the child or grandchild whom you gifted. If you gift cash to a child or grandchild who is 18 or older, there is no attribution. 

A gift to a spouse will result in attribution of both income and capital gains. Attribution can be avoided by establishing a family trust and making a loan at the Canada Revenue Agency’s prescribed rate (currently 1%), but this can be costly and complex, so may require a significant outlay. A spousal loan can also be made at the prescribed rate to have subsequent income taxed to the recipient spouse; that’s a simpler way to make a gift and split income with a lower income spouse.

If you gift a capital asset, such as investments, a cottage or a rental property to a family member other than a spouse, that asset is subject to a deemed disposition (just as if you sold it). The gift takes place at the fair market value of the property, with any capital gain taxable to you. You cannot get fancy with real estate and try to avoid this by having the gift take place at an artificially low value, either. 

Although assets gifted to a spouse can occur at the adjusted cost base and not the fair market value, the subsequent income and capital gains are subject to attribution.

In some cases, a loan may be better than a gift. It may give you the confidence to part with a larger amount, knowing there is the protection of being able to request repayment of the loan. For family law purposes, a loan may help ensure a gift is not split with a divorcing son- or daughter-in-law; it is repayable by your child and their spouse in the event of a relationship breakdown.

Loans can also be prudent when you have multiple children and have given more to one child than to another and want to ensure equality in future. The larger amount, if offered as a loan, can be owed to your estate on your death to maintain an equal division of your assets among all of your children, if that is your intention.

Giving to charities 

Gifts of investments instead of cash can be advantageous, as non-registered investments that have appreciated in value can be transferred in kind to a charity. The charity will issue a donation receipt for the fair market value just as if you had given cash, but the capital gain on the deemed disposition is not taxable.

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