Estate planning during COVID-19 – Is now the ideal time for an estate freeze?
We have blogged over these past couple of weeks about the novel issues which have arisen with the drafting and execution of Wills during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we remain hopeful that there will be guidance and/or legislative changes from the government soon regarding how to address issues such as the witnessing of Wills for individuals who are in quarantine or self-isolation, a recent article from Dale Barrett in Lawyers Daily notes that it may not all be doom and gloom surrounding estate planning during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the recent significant drop in the stock market could make it an ideal time for certain individuals to complete an “estate freeze”.
An estate freeze at its most basic accomplishes exactly what the name implies, insofar as it “freezes” the value of an individual’s assets at a particular date and time prior to their death, with any “future growth” on the assets being attributed to someone else (often the individual’s children). The use of an estate freeze is often done as a tax planning tool, with the underlying rationale being an attempt to reduce the potential taxes associated with the deemed disposition of their assets upon their death, which is accomplished by “freezing” the value of the assets at their current value such that the growth is not as great as it otherwise may have been (assuming the asset would continue to grow in the future). Although the structure that is required to accomplish this is somewhat complicated and will require the involvement of professionals, in a very basic overview it is typically accomplished by having the individual create a new company that will ultimately hold the assets being “frozen”, with two classes of shares being created the first which is retained by the individual implementing the freeze and fixed at the value of the assets on the day the of the freeze, with the second class of shares being attributed any “gain” in value of the assets after the freeze attributed to someone or something else other than the individual carrying out the freeze (often ultimately benefiting their children). The implementation and steps required is more complicated and nuanced than the description above suggests, and will almost certainty require the involvement of professionals to ensure that the individual does not go offside complex tax rules, but you get the basic idea.
Although the availability and potential use of an estate freeze is not for everyone, the recent drop in the stock market associated with COVID-19 could create a potential advantage and incentive for people considering an estate freeze to do so now as they could potentially “freeze” the value of their assets at a lower value than they otherwise may have been able to. If you are considering an estate freeze you may wish to speak with a professional now about whether it may be an opportune time to do so and to ensure that it is properly implemented.
Thank you for reading and stay safe and healthy.