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How to calculate the adjusted cost base of inherited property

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When you inherit real estate, any accumulated tax, if applicable, is generally paid by the estate of the deceased. This is because when a taxpayer dies, they are deemed to have sold their assets on their date of death, and any tax payable is calculated on their final tax return.

Property inherited from a spouse or common-law partner

One exception is for real estate left to a surviving spouse or common-law partner. If you inherited this building from your spouse or common-law partner, Bill, it may not be the property’s 2003 value that you need to determine.

By default, capital assets pass to a surviving spouse or common-law partner at their original cost, unless the executor of the deceased elects otherwise. In this case, you would declare any change in value between the original cost of the property and its fair market value at the time of sale. If the deceased taxpayer is in a low tax bracket in their year of death or has tax deductions or tax credits to claim, a value that is higher than the original cost may be reported.

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A capital asset’s original cost is referred to as the adjusted cost base (ACB), and it’s based on: the original acquisition price (typically the purchase price); acquisition costs (like land transfer tax for real estate); and adjustments over the years (like renovations for real estate or reinvested dividends for a stock).

What to do when the adjusted cost base is unknown

Assuming you did not inherit this property from your spouse or common-law partner, Bill, you would need to know the value of the property at the time you inherited it. It should be the fair market value of the property reported on the tax return of the person you inherited it from in 2003. If the building was their principal residence, it may not have been reported.

Assuming you have no record of that value, you could estimate the value on your own. If that’s not easy to do, you can have a realtor look up sales of comparable buildings in the same area around 2003 to try to determine a value. A designated appraiser may be the professional best equipped to provide a valuation based on historical sales data, if it’s available. A formal valuation by the Canada Revenue Agency is an option, but it is not required for your tax filing.

Don’t forget about renovations and rental income

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If you have done any renovations to the property since inheriting it, Bill, those renovations may have increased your ACB. Capital improvements are added to the original acquisition cost (the property’s value when you inherited it, in your case) to determine your tax cost in the year of sale.

If the property was a rental property, you may have claimed capital cost allowance or depreciation to reduce the net rental income in some or all of the years you owned it. Those past tax deductions are recaptured in the year of sale and included in your income.

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