Under the common law, trustees are not permitted to take compensation unless authorized to do so by the will or trust document, an agreement of all the beneficiaries, or court order. In Ontario, trustees have a statutory right to compensation. Section 61 of the Trustee Act provides for two types of compensation arrangements: (i) the “fair and reasonable allowance for the care, pains and trouble, and the time expended in and about the estate” or (ii) compensation “fixed by the instrument creating the trust”.
Bequests made under a will, being capital distributions, are not taxed as income in Canada. On the other hand, compensation claimed by an estate trustee will be subject to income tax.
But does an estate trustee have an obligation to charge HST on the compensation?
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) takes the position that executor’s compensation received for administrating an estate, not performed “in the regular course of business”, is income from employment or an office under section 3 of the Income Tax Act (“ITA”). This compensation is therefore subject to income tax for the year the compensation is paid, even if the work was performed over the course of two or more years. An executor who does not administer estates “in the regular course of business” does not appear to have an obligation to charge HST in addition to the compensation.
If the executor’s compensation is considered to be income from employment or an office, the estate trustee or administrator must request a payroll account be opened for the estate and generate a t4 slip for the estate trustee or executor. Pursuant to section 153(1) of the ITA, the estate must withhold an amount determined by the Income Tax Regulations.
If the executor administers estates “in the regular course of business,” HST must be imposed pursuant to Part IX of the Excise Tax Act (“ETA”). Accordingly, trust companies must charge HST for any compensation claimed. Whether a lawyer must charge HST on compensation for administration of an estate is a question of fact. A lawyer whose regular practice includes the administration of estates must charge HST on claimed compensation. Conversely, a lawyer who does not administer estates as a part of his or her practice but acts as an executor for the estate of a friend or family may not be under an obligation to charge HST on the compensation they claim. In this case, the compensation would be considered income from employment or an office rather than income earned in the regular course of business.
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A couple of months ago, I blogged about a letter from the Department of Finance in which it addressed concerns regarding amendments to the Income Tax Act (the “ITA”) that have come into force as of January 1, 2016. The stated purpose of the letter was to confirm the Department of Finance’s understanding of the issues raised and to describe an option for responding to these issues. There was no promise that the option would be pursued or that any action would be taken.
However, on January 15, 2016, the Department of Finance released draft legislative proposals that would modify the income tax treatment of certain trusts and their beneficiaries. The legislative proposals, along with explanatory notes, can be found here.
Currently paragraph 104(13.4)(a) of the ITA provides that upon the death of a beneficiary of a spousal trust, the trust’s taxation year will be deemed to come to an end on the date of the individual’s death. Subsequently, according to paragraph 104(13.4)(b), all of the trust’s income for the year is deemed to have become payable to the lifetime beneficiary during the year, and thus must be included in computing the beneficiary’s income for their final taxation year. This has been raised as an issue due to paragraph 160(1.4) which makes the trust and the beneficiary jointly and severally liable for the portion of the beneficiary’s income tax payable as a result of including the income from the trust. As such, it is possible that the beneficiary could be responsible for the full income tax liability, to the benefit of the trust and the trust’s beneficiaries.
According to the draft legislation, paragraph 104(13.4)(b) is to be amended and 104(13.4)(b.1) is to be added, such that (b) does not apply to a trust unless all the requirements are met and the trust and the beneficiary’s graduated rate estate jointly elect that (b) apply. It would, therefore, be up to the trust and to the estate of the beneficiary to determine whether they wish the trust’s income to be included in the income of the beneficiary for their final taxation year.
There was also an issue raised with respect to the stranding of charitable tax credits. This situation could arise if a trust were to make a charitable donation after the beneficiary’s death. As the trust’s income for the year has to be included in the beneficiary’s income, consequently, the trust would have no income against which to deduct tax credits. Based on the draft legislation, as long as the beneficiary and the trust do not jointly elect for 104(13.4)(b) to apply, the trust’s income will be included in the trust’s tax return, and any charitable donation tax credits should be able to be deducted from that income.
The press release issued with the draft legislation stated that the Department of Finance had released the draft legislative proposals for consultation and welcomed interested parties to provide comments by February 15, 2016.
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In Kiperchuk v. The Queen, 2013 TCC 60 (CanLII), the Tax Court of Canada held that a spouse who received RRSP benefits upon her spouse’s death was not liable to pay the deceased’s unpaid tax debt arising prior to his death.
There, deceased designated his wife as the beneficiary of his RRSP. The couple subsequently separated, and divorce proceedings were commenced. However, the designation remained in place. Prior to his death, the deceased incurred significant tax debts, which were unpaid as at the time of his death. His estate was insufficient to pay the tax debts. CRA sought to find the wife liable for the unpaid taxes. It relied on s. 160 of the Income Tax Act which, in effect, imposes joint liability for unpaid taxes (to a certain extent) where a tax payer transfers property to a spouse, child or “person with whom the person was not dealing at arm’s length” for less than fair market value.
The Court refused to find the wife liable. Although it had no difficulty in finding that there was, in fact, a transfer, the transfer took place at the time of death. As of that date, the status of marriage ended due to death, and the wife was, therefore, no longer a spouse, and further, “nor was she a person with whom the transferor was not dealing at arm’s length at the time of the transfer”.
The Court may have been splitting hairs here. The transfer took effect on the moment of death, and as of that moment, according to the reasoning, the parties were no longer spouses: the husband “was not related to the appellant by marriage at the time she became entitled to the RRSP”. “The status of marriage is ended by death… .”
Further, the Court does not give much explanation as to why it considered the transfer to be at arm’s length.
Finally, the limited application of the case should be noted. The case dealt only with tax liability arising before death: a beneficiary of an RRSP is liable for unpaid income tax on the RRSP proceeds where the estate is unable to pay: s. 160.2(1) of the Income Tax Act.
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David M. Sherman’s Basic Tax and GST Guide for Lawyers 2008-2009 (Toronto: Carswell, 2008) is a helpful resource for lawyers not specializing in tax law. The section on Wills and Estates (chapter 7) is concise, easy to follow, and the annotations are precise. The style is rule-driven and not overly burdened with qualifications (these appear in the Preface); it is not cluttered with lengthy paragraphs or run-on sentences.
One criterion I use to rate general texts is how helpful or interesting they are to me in areas outside my field. This book scores well on that basis. See, for instance, the section on deductibility of legal fees or health club memberships.
This text is highly recommended.
And my Friday blogs are always short for you.
Enjoy the weekend,
Chris M.B. Graham – Click here for more information on Chris Graham.
It’s just about tax time, so I thought I would briefly discuss the taxation of executor compensation.
The basic premise is that executor compensation is taxable in the hands of the recipient. It is either income from an office or employment (if the executor is not in the business of being an executor) or income from a business (if the executor is in the business of being an executor, or if such a function is in the executor’s usual course of business). Various consequences flow from the distinction, such as allowable deductions, and withholding requirements for EI and CPP.
CRA takes this obligation to report executor compensation quite seriously. An example of the lengths to which CRA will go is found in the decision of Oolup v. The Queen. There, Ms. Oolup, the executor held a joint account with her grandmother, the deceased. She was advised by her lawyer that upon the death of the deceased, the joint account became hers, by right of survivorship. However, for “reasons of family harmony”, she decided to keep only $10,000 from the joint account, and divided the rest with the deceased’s next of kin.
CRA took the position that the $10,000 was executor compensation, and was therefore taxable, and they assessed Ms. Oolup accordingly. To get to this point, they argued that the joint account was held on a resulting trust for the estate. The CRA argued that the presumption of resulting trust applied, and was not rebutted. Accordingly, they asserted that Ms. Oolup received the $10,000 from the estate, as executor compensation.
Luckily for Ms. Oolup, she was able to rebut the presumption, and the court found that the joint account funds became her property upon the death of the deceased. She received the money by right of survivorship. Therefore, her keeping $10,000 was not receipt of compensation by her, and was not to be included in her income.
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