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Many Canadian snowbirds who purchase Palm Springs area property wish to rent out the property during the time when they can’t use it personally (or maybe rent it out all the time). I think it’s a great idea, primarily because if the snowbird plays his or her cards right, they can receive rental income and possibly owe $0 tax on the income in the United States- a great deal. But if you’re going to let strangers use your property as business guests, in these days of excess lawsuits, you have to protect yourself. Insurance is a must, but insurance will only protect you to a certain point. It is possible a court could award a settlement of a far higher amount than the value of your US house or your insurance. Next, the injured renter wants every penny you have to compensate for the injury. Finally, I am asked from time to time whether a judgment from a California court could ever be enforceable in Canada? The answer is it is possible for a judgment from a California court to be enforceable in Canada. So Canadians, like Americans, need to be careful about how they conduct their US businesses, just like they need to careful about how they conduct their Canadian businesses.

So Let’s Review Our Various Ownership Forms From a Liability Protection Perspective

Ownership as an Individual, as Joint Tenants or Tenants in Common– If you are going to rent out your property to strangers regularly, none of these basic forms of homeownership is likely a wise idea. In each case, the owner can be sued in his or her personal capacity (it’s either one or multiple individuals who own the property), and that means (in a worst case scenario) you could lose all your personal assets.

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So a few months ago on this blog we informed you that the IRS offered a new FBAR amnesty program (now the 3rd program it’s offered), but that it only had released the broad stokes of the program (see our entry from February 16, 2012, for our last discussion of this topic). Since then, the IRS has established new procedures for dual citizens who have foreign bank accounts but who have paying the appropriate tax on the amounts in the those accounts in the foreign country at issue. Taxpayers with this situation can resolve it rather easily without having to go through a formal amnesty program (see our post from July 5, 2012, discussing this new option). However, that program won’t be available for everyone, and for the rest there is now the 2012 Overseas Voluntary Disclosure Program (the “OVDP”). On June 26, 2012, the IRS issued a set of Frequently Asked Questions and Answers (this is new guidance to assist taxpayers under the 2012 OVDP).

Background

Again, recall US tax citizens or residents must file a “FBAR” (a “Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts”) annually, provided the US citizen or tax resident has over $10,000 in financial account(s) which are not located in the United States. The term financial account includes any savings, demand, checking, deposit, or other account maintained with a financial institution in addition to certain annuity and life insurance contracts, commodities and precious metals and safe deposit accounts. The FBAR is filed on a US Treasury Form TD F 90-22.1, by June 30 of the year after the US citizen or resident had a non-US account.

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So we’re continuing our discussion of why, for the sole purpose of avoiding or minimizing the probate costs of the Canadian snowbird, a trust is likely the best way to own your Palm Springs area home. Remember, probate is the legal process your estate goes through when you die. For the Canadian snowbird who passes away from Vancouver with a vacation house in Indian Wells, there is probably already a probate which must occur back in British Columbia. If at all possible, why make it two? It’s expensive, it can be difficult due to the international component, and can be time consuming (maybe even takes over a year). And by the way, the same analysis holds true for somebody whose permanent residence is in Japan or Germany, or even for somebody whose permanent residence is in Michigan. So if you’re not living permanently in California, you probably would rather avoid a second costly probate (which would occur in California). We will call the second probate in California (the one we’d like to avoid if possible), the “ancillary probate”. Review our last post for an overview of the costs of the California probate process.

Let’s Revisit our Various Forms of Property Ownership, and Review Whether, Upon the Death of a Canadian Snowbird Owner, a California Ancillary Probate is Required.

Property Owned by Individual– If Larry from Vancouver owns, in his name alone, a house in Indian Wells, upon his death a California probate is required to determine who inherits Larry’s Indian Wells house (i.e., so while the rest of Larry’s estate is likely going through the primary probate in process back in BC, the estate has no choice but to also pay for the expensive costs of an ancillary probate in California). As a side note, the California court would likely admit Larry’s Canadian will to determine who to distribute the Indian Wells house to.

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On June 26, 2012, the IRS announced a new initiative to help US citizens living in another country (very likely dual citizens) catch up with their unfiled US tax returns and FBARs.

Background

In our law office in Palm Springs, we regularly see clients who may be Americans by birth, but who live in (and are also probably a citizen of) another country (usually Canada). While the dual American/Canadian may enjoy visiting Indian Wells three months a year, she really lives in Vancouver. But since she was born in Seattle, she has a social security number, she is a US citizen, and (whether she wants one or not) she has an obligation to file a US tax return every year (even though maybe she’s never filed one in her life). Plus, since she has bank accounts outside the US in Canada with more than $10,000 in them, she has an annual FBAR filing requirement as well.

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We’re going to start a new series on our Canadian blog, aimed specifically at those Canadians purchasing Coachella Valley real estate, and the best way to own their new Palm Springs areas home (i.e., how to take title). The first issue we’re going to discuss is how to best to take title to avoid (or minimize) the expensive cost of California probate. Keep in mind as we discuss the issue of probate, the analysis is the same whether we’re talking about somebody from Canada, or France, or Brazil, or even Washington or Oregon (i.e., people who own a home in California, but who live either in another state in the US or in another country outside the US).

Let’s First Identify the Common Methods of Real Property Ownership

Owning as an Individual- self explanatory.

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In the last post, we discussed how the State of California will tax RRSP earnings which sit in Canada on an annual basis, even if the Canadian who is now a US resident does not receive a distribution. Not a good result. But don’t forget, the US will also tax the earnings of an RRSP on an annual basis, unless the Canadian living in the US elects otherwise pursuant to Article XXIII(7) of the US-Canada Tax Treaty. How does the Canadian elect that the US should not tax the earnings on an annual basis? He or she files an IRS Form 8891 to defer US tax on income accrued in the RRSP. But what if they forget to file, or only recently recently found out about this obligation?

IRS Private Letter Ruling 201225002 Provides Relief For Past Years For Those Who Recently Discovered the Obligation to File a Form 8891

Just 3 days ago (June 22, 2012), the IRS reviewed a situation where a Canadian (now a US resident) had a RRSP, but had not filed a Form 8891 to defer US federal income tax on the RRSP’s earnings. The taxpayer has not contributed any money to the RRSP nor withdrawn any money from the RRSP since becoming a U.S. resident. The taxpayer was not aware of the need to make an election pursuant to paragraph 7 of Article XVIII of the United States – Canada Income Tax Treaty on Form 8891 in order to defer the US tax on income accrued in the RRSP. Then, the taxpayer read a news article that dealt with IRS rules about Canadian RRSP accounts, did further research on the rules, and sought professional advice. The taxpayer then requested from the IRS an official extension of time (in order to cover prior years) to file the Form 8891, to defer the otherwise required federal income tax on the interest component. The request for an extension of the time is the subject of IRS Private Letter Ruling 201225002.

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If you’re a Canadian living now in California (so here we’re not really talking about snowbirds, we’re talking about the Canadian who has decided to live in California on regular basis…maybe a green card, or a L-1 visa, or maybe we’re talking about a dual US-Canadian citizen), you may have a RRSP from your time living and working in Canada. You may wonder, how will the US and the State of California tax my RRSP. We’re not talking about when you actually receive a distribution (obviously the US will have a claim to the distribution, and we’ll talk about that another time), we’re talking about the amounts that sit in the plan, and maybe have earnings each year due to plan investments (but, again, these are not earnings the Canadian living in California will actually see until they receive a distribution from the plan, which may not be for years).

How the US Taxes the Earnings of a RRSP?

As a general matter, the US would probably tax the earnings of an RRSP on an annual basis. So as a general matter, a US citizen (or current resident) who lived in Canada for years and has a RRSP would be taxed each year in the US on the earnings of the plan. But here comes the US-Canada Tax Treaty to the rescue. Article XXIII(7) of the Treaty states:

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So we’re still on a parallel track with our main blog (these will separate again after we complete the FBAR amnesty discussion). We’re talking about when a Canadian snowbird can sell an appreciated property (like a property in Indian Wells that has increased in value) and close to simultaneously buy a new property (our Canadian purchases a Palm Desert property), and not pay any tax on the first sale. This is done under IRC Section 1031. What Canadians should take away from this discussion (and the 2 previous blog entries) is its very unlikely Canadians can use 1031 and get the tax free treatment on the sale of the first property. Why so unlikely? Because Canada does not have a tax provision like 1031. So while the Canadian might be able to exchange a US property he or she is using as a rental property (remember, a vacation house won’t work probably unless the Canadian snowbird uses it no more than 14 days a year) for another US rental property (must be US, can’t be exchanged for a property in another country), and qualify for 1031 on their US tax return, Canada will still tax them immediately upon the sale of the first property. What good are nonrecognition provisions in one country if they are not observed in the other country (and the treaty doesn’t mandate Canada honor US Section 1031)? The answer is: no good at all. Canadians buying property in the US must worry about both how the US and Canada taxes the transaction. Canadians, until your government adopts 1031 (or a provision like it), you cannot utilize the favorable treatment of the IRC Section 1031, even for property exchanges in the US.

The remainder of this entry is copied from our general blog on 1031 examples.

Let’s do some basic (and not so basic) 1031 examples. Again, before we start, remember that in addition to a rising real estate market (no sure thing the last few years, although in the Palm Springs area we might finally be turning the corner), in order to qualify for 1031 you need property either: held for (a) investment or (b) productive use in a trade or business.

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Let’s do some basic (and not so basic) 1031 examples. Again, before we start, remember that in addition to a rising real estate market (no sure thing the last few years, although in the Palm Springs area we might finally be turning the corner), in order to qualify for 1031 you need property either: held for (a) investment or (b) productive use in a trade or business.

Also remember vacation homes are unlikely to qualify as either: held for (a) investment or (b) productive use in a trade or business, unless the owner or the owner’s family uses the vacation house not more than 14 days a year. A property used as rental property will qualify for Section 1031 because the IRS deems rental properties as held for productive use in a trade or business.

Basic 1031 Examples

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Before we show mathematical examples of how a 1031 exchange works, let’s look a little more at when a Canadian snowbird may exchange their Palm Springs home (which we are assuming has appreciated in value) for a new Rancho Mirage home, and not pay any US tax. Recall the problem is that home must be “used in trade or business” or “held for investment” in order to be eligible for 1031 tax free exchange treatment. The IRS does not generally view the typical vacation house as either used in trade or business or held for investment. However, the IRS did issue a safe harbor in Revenue Procedure 2008-16, which states that vacation properties may qualify for a 1031 if:

(a) The dwelling unit is owned by the taxpayer for at least 24 months immediately before the exchange; and

(b) Within the qualifying use period, in each of the two 12-month periods immediately preceding the exchange,