Wednesday, March 2, 2016
Capital gains tax on the principal residence? Yes, if the tax is incurred while the house is in the estate
Posted by Lynne Butler
"I thought that if a home was the deceased primary residence, then the estate does not have to pay capital gains taxes, when the home is sold. After talking with CRA today, I was told that capital gains would have to be reported on a T3 return and any taxes paid from the estate. Aaargh, it is confusing! We have been 3 years in a mess of trying to get my husband's Mom's estate settled and it seems that there are always more questions than answers."
I've been asked this question many times, since tax isn't the easiest information to work with. The principal residence rules are confusing to a lot of people, so you're in good company.
Capital gains tax is a tax on the increase in value of a property during the time you own it. For example, if you buy a property for $100,000 and then sell it a few years later for $150,000, the gain is $50,000. Half of the $50,000 gain must be reported on the personal tax return of the person who owned it when the property is sold. The gain must also be reported if rather than being sold, the property leaves the owner because the owner died. You're right that when a person sells or disposes of their principal residence, they don't have to pay capital gains tax on that property. That's because a principal residence is an exception to the usual capital gains tax rule.
So, when your mother-in-law passed away, the house was transferred from her name into the name of the estate. The transfer of the house was not taxable because it was her principal residence and was exempt, as described in the paragraph above.
The reason you must now pay tax is that the house has been in the estate for three years and apparently it has increased in value during that time. You are confused because you are thinking the house is still tax exempt. It's not. It was only tax exempt when it was your mother-in-law's home and principal residence. Now it's not her home because it belongs to the estate. The estate doesn't have a principal residence.
There are two transactions here. The first was from your mother-in-law to the estate. The second is from the estate to the buyers or beneficiaries. Only the first transaction was tax exempt.
Note that you were told the tax gain goes on a T3 return. That's a return for an estate, not for a person.
In most cases, the house does not stay in the name of an estate long enough to gain or lose in value, so there is no tax impact. Obviously three years is long enough to have incurred a gain, and it was the delay that caused the problem.
I take it you're not working with an estate lawyer or an accountant, because either one would have told you that the house is no longer tax exempt. It sounds as if you're the executor, so I should probably let you know that if you didn't have a really good, unavoidable reason for a three-year delay, and if the beneficiaries are not very accepting of the reason, you could be on the hook personally for the amount payable now in capital gains tax. An executor is always potentially liable for any financial loss to the estate he or she is administering.