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This story comes from a colleague; it’s about a young woman who suffered a substantial loss based on a few words in a letter. It’s an important story for anyone who will be using a gift as a down payment on a house in Canada.

A few years ago, Natalie met Brian, a young Canadian who came to her country. Love blossomed. After two years, they married, and Natalie moved with Brian to his hometown, Calgary, Alberta. Brian reintegrated very quickly, but Natalie struggled as a newcomer to Canada. Although she got support from her parents, coping with Calgary’s extreme winter and her inability to find work was difficult. Natalie’s parents suggested the couple purchase a house in Canada, for both emotional and economic reasons. They hoped that once Natalie had a house in Canada, she would feel more at home. Since the young couple had only a modest savings account, Natalie’s parents offered to give them $75,000 as a gift; a gift is recognized by Canadian banks as a legitimate source for a down payment.

Based on a request from the bank, Natalie’s parents wrote a gift letter, stating that the money was a gift to the young couple for the purpose of purchasing a house. Brian and Natalie purchased a beautiful house in the suburbs. Natalie was pregnant, and things were looking up for the young couple. But after she gave birth to their son Daniel, Natalie still felt foreign and alienated; her struggle was made worse by postpartum. The couple’s marriage began to fall apart. Eventually, they decided to separate. They signed a separation agreement, and Natalie went with Daniel back to her home country, while Brian stayed in Calgary. They put the house on the market, and it seemed that all that remained was to split the proceeds from the sale of the house.

Natalie had planned to go back home and begin a new life with the $75,000 that her parents had gifted towards the house in Calgary. This, however, wasn’t to be. Natalie and her parents were shocked to learn that Canadian law entitled Brain to half of everything they shared, including the $75,000. Natalie and her parents appealed, but lost. To the surprise of Natalie and her parents, the court ruled against them on the basis of the gift letter. The court ruled that, because the gift letter showed that the gift was to them both as a couple, Brian was entitled to half of the $75,000. If, on the other hand, the gift letter had indicated that it was a gift only to Natalie, she would have been entitled to the full $75,000. Natalie returned to her country with her son, her memories and one hard-learned lesson about Canadian mortgages.

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