Does an attorney, or guardian, have the power to change a grantor’s estate plan?
According to section 31(1) of the Substitute Decisions Act, a guardian of property (or attorney for property) has the power to do on the incapable person’s behalf anything in respect of property that the person could do if capable, except make a will.
The statute, however, is deceptively simple. Can a guardian transfer property into joint tenancy? Can a guardian sever a joint tenancy? Can a guardian change a beneficiary designation on a RRSP, RRIF or insurance policy? Can an inter vivos trust be established or an estate freeze undertaken to save taxes? There are numerous cases which have tested these issues.
For instance, in Banton v Banton, Justice Cullity found that although the grantor’s attorneys had the authority to create an irrevocable inter vivos trust, they nonetheless breached their fiduciary obligations owing to the grantor, in creating the trust.
The irrevocable trust provided for income and capital at the trustee’s discretion for the grantor’s benefit during his lifetime and a gift over of capital to the grantor’s children, who were also the attorneys. The scheme of distribution of the irrevocable trust was the same as provided for in the grantor’s will. However, the court found that the fact that the remainder interest passed automatically to the grantor’s issue defeated the grantor’s power to revoke his will by marriage and would deprive his common law spouse of potential rights under Parts II and V of the Succession Law Reform Act and Part I of the Family Law Act. The court found that the gift of the remainder of the interest went beyond what was required to protect the grantor’s assets.
Justice Cullity stated:
“I do not share the view that there is an inviolable rule that it is improper for attorneys under a continuing power of attorney to take title to the donor‘s assets either by themselves or jointly with the donor . This must depend upon whether it is reasonable in the circumstances to do so to protect or advance the interest, or otherwise benefit, the donor.”
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If a Registered Retirement Savings Plan passes outside of an Estate, for example to a spouse or child, who pays the tax – the recipient beneficiary or the Estate?
In order to answer this question, first consider the terms of the Will.
If the Will does not clearly set out who is responsible, attention must be turned to the statute and common law.
According to section 160.2(1) of the Income Tax Act, the deceased testator and the recipient of the RRSP are jointly and severally liable for the payment of the tax. The section specifically states that “…the taxpayer and the last annuitant under the plan are jointly and severally, or solidarily, liable to pay a part of the annuitant’s tax…”.
Ontario common law has, however, held that the payment of any tax liability with respect to an RRSP remains the primary obligation of the estate. Payment should be sought from the RRSP recipient, only if there are insufficient assets in the estate to satisfy the tax obligation.
In Banting v Saunders, Justice J. Lofchik held that:
“…the estate, rather than the designated beneficiaries, is liable for the income tax liability arising from the deemed realization of the R.R.S.P.’s and R.R.I.F.’s so long as there are sufficient assets in the estate including the bequest to Banting, to cover the debts of the estate and it is only in the event that there are not sufficient assets in the estate to cover all liabilities that the beneficiaries of the R.R.S.P.’s and the R.R.I.F.’s may be called upon.”
Nonetheless, as set out in O’Callaghan v. The Queen, the CRA may first seek payment directly from the RRSP recipient, instead of the estate, especially if there is a possiblity that there are insufficient assets in the estate to satisfy the tax.
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