Morneau Proposals – Take Two

Morneau’s Tweet

As most readers are aware, the federal government’s small business July 18 tax proposals created an enormous backlash, with many groups and individuals, including yours truly making submissions to voice their concern. It appears the government heard the outcry as it has softened its stance to varying degrees on its new proposals. Here is a summary of how things now stand:

Income Sprinkling

The original proposals would extend the Tax on Split Income (“TOSI”) to dividends received by adults, unless they can show that the dividends are reasonable in light of their labour and/or capital contributions to the business.

The response by the tax and business communities focused mainly on the uncertainty of what might be considered “reasonable” and how this might translate into an acceptable dividend.

The finance minister has announced that it intends to move forward with the income sprinkling proposals. It intends to ensure that the rules will not impact businesses to the extent there are clear and meaningful contributions by family members. It will introduce reasonableness tests for adults in two categories – those aged 18-24 and those aged 25 and older. Adults will be asked to demonstrate their contribution to the business based on four basic principles:

  • Labour contributions
  • Capital or equity contributions
  • Financial risk, such as co-signing a loan, and/or
  • Past contributions of labour, capital or risks

While no new draft legislation has been released, the government states that the concerns surrounding uncertainty have been heard and they will simplify the proposed measures and reduce the compliance burden. Stay tuned to see what the specific legislation will contain.

Multiplication of the Capital Gains Exemption (“CGE”)

The original proposals would have disallowed the lifetime capital gains exemption on the sale of Qualified Small Business Shares and Qualified Farming Property as follows:

  • Elimination of CGE for minor children
  • Imposing TOSI reasonableness tests on availability of the CGE
  • Elimination of CGE for property held in a trust

After review, the government has backed off on all of the above proposals and will not be going forward with any of them.

Converting Income into Capital Gains

These proposals were designed to curtail what the government perceived as abusive “surplus stripping”.  It would have extended the rules in section 84.1, to any non-arm’s length sale of shares to a corporation. It would also have applied dividend treatment to any such sale, even where tax had already been paid on a previous capital gain on the same shares.

These proposals would have eliminated the “pipeline” strategy, widely used to limit the incidence of taxes on the death of an individual shareholder to a single capital gain in the hands of the deceased. It would have greatly increased the chances of gains on private company shares being taxed twice.

Thanks to the concerns expressed by the tax and business communities, the government has backed off completely on these proposals and will not be going forward with them.

This is great news for those who still have reservations about the legitimacy of implementing the Pipeline strategy on the death of a private company shareholder as the government specifically mentioned that it was responding to concerns about taxation on death.

Holding Passive Investments

The initial proposals addressed concerns that shareholders of private corporations are able to defer the ultimate taxation on their savings, thereby creating a larger pool of capital to be invested for retirement. This is an advantage that a shareholder of a private corporation enjoys compared to a person without a company and is to be eliminated.

After consulting with the public, the government, while not abandoning the proposals, has agreed to relax them.

First, any capital already in existence will not be affected by the new rules. They will not apply retroactively to existing retained earnings.

Second, there will be a base amount of $50,000 of passive income that a corporation may earn each year while still not having the rules apply. This is the equivalent of $1 million of capital invested at a 5% rate of return. Any income above that amount will not benefit from the tax deferral.

There is still no draft legislation to indicate exactly which mechanism will put in place. The new year should bring new announcements and more details in this important area.

The Morneau Massacre of 2017

loopholes

If you’ve just returned from vacation and wondering what’s new in the tax world, you’d better sit down and take a pill. On July 18, finance minister Bill Morneau rolled out the federal government’s proposals designed to “close loopholes and deal with tax planning strategies that involve the use of private corporations”. In short, Finance is proposing to tax an axe to many of the tax strategies that have been available to small business owners and professionals up until now.

The proposals are complex, comprehensive and wide-ranging, covering the following main areas of tax planning:

  • Income sprinkling
  • Multiplication of the capital gains exemption
  • Converting a private corporation’s regular income into capital gains
  • Holding investments inside a private corporation

Income Sprinkling

This strategy involves the splitting of income to take advantage of lower marginal tax rates available to family members. Many rules have been put in place over the years to curtail this practice. Most notably, the tax on split income (TOSI), or “kiddie tax” applies the highest marginal tax rates to certain dividends paid to minor children.

With the new proposals, the TOSI will no longer be limited to minor children. Complex new rules will apply the TOSI to dividends paid to adult individuals unless such dividends are reasonable in light of that individual’s labour contributions and/or capital contributions to the corporation.

The TOSI will also be expanded to apply to capital gains on property, the income from which was subject to the TOSI. Further, it will also apply (for individuals under age 25) to “compound income” that was previously subject to attribution rules or the TOSI.

These proposals are scheduled to apply to for the 2018 and later years.

Multiplication of the capital gains exemption

A capital gains exemption (CGE) of up to $800,000 (indexed) is currently available to any individual on the sale of qualifying shares of a private company. Issuing shares to family members, either directly or through a trust, is a common way to multiply this tax benefit.

The finance minister has proposed a three-pronged approach that will eliminate the multiplication of the CGE:

Age limit: The CGE will no longer be available to individuals where the gain occurs in any year before the individual reaches the age of 18 years.

Reasonableness test: In essence, this rule will deny the CGE on any gain on the sale of shares if the gain from those shares is subject to the TOSI measures described above.

Trusts: With exceptions for spouse or alter ego trusts the GCE will no longer be available on any gain on a share that is held by a family trust.

These proposals will apply to dispositions after 2017. However, there will be transitional rules that will allow an elected deemed disposition at any time in 2018. The fair market value of the shares would have to be determined, and the qualification criteria for the CGE will be treated as being satisfied if they are met at any time in the preceding 12 months.

Converting a private corporation’s regular income into capital gains

Normally, a distribution of a corporation’s retained earnings is considered a dividend and taxed as such. The top rate on dividends is approximately 44%. Strategies have been used with varying degrees of success to arrange for dividends to be transmogrified into capital gains, which are taxed at 25%. This involves the utilization of the high cost base on shares that have been acquired through a non-arm’s length transaction that had previously triggered a capital gain. Current rules are in place to curtail such “surplus stripping” in limited circumstances. Section 84.1 effectively forces a return to dividend treatment where the capital gains exemption was claimed on the previous capital gain.

The government proposes to extend these rules to any situation where a non-arm’s length transaction involved even a fully taxable capital gain. This proposal is meant to address what has become known as the “pipeline” transaction.

The pipeline has been used extensively in recent years as a post-mortem planning tool to avoid double-taxation where the capital is deemed to occur on the death of a corporate shareholder. Unless the current proposals are altered, the pipeline strategy will no longer be available to an estate.

These proposals will take effect for all dispositions that occur after July 18, 2017. There will be no room for transitional planning.

Holding investments inside a private corporation

One of the long-standing advantages of incorporation is the tax deferral that comes with lower rates on business income. Once the retained income has accumulated over time, the company will have a larger amount available for investment. This has been a great contributor to the retirement of many small business owners. However, it is an advantage that salaried persons or those who don’t incorporate cannot access. Accordingly, the government proposes to eliminate it.

Of all the proposals announced, this is the only one that is not fully developed with draft legislation. The Minister has included some suggested strategies to deal with the issue, each one complex in its own right, and generally altering the system of integration currently in place by eliminating the effect of the corporate tax deferral for future passive investment.

The Minister acknowledges that there currently exists a significant amount of capital invested within private corporations, and it is not his intent to affect these holdings. Any new rules will have effect on a going-forward basis.

These proposals are subject to a consultation period which will end on October 2, 2017. Interested parties should write to the Minister of Finance with any concerns before that date. I suspect that it will be an interesting and eventful autumn for the tax community.

Death of Testamentary Trust Rules

Turkey-Estate-Plan

The favourable tax rules enjoyed by estates and testamentary trusts until now are almost dead.  Major changes that were introduced in the 2014 federal budget are about to come into effect on January 1, 2016. Don’t be caught off guard.

Estate vs. Testamentary Trust

Until now, most of us have viewed a testamentary trust in basically the same way we would an estate. They both essentially were included in the definition of a “Testamentary Trust”, meaning a trust arising as a consequence of the death of an individual. As such, they were treated in similar fashion under the law, both benefiting from graduated tax rates and both able to have an off-calendar fiscal period for tax purposes.

But now, we must make a distinction between an estate and a testamentary trust.

A testamentary trust is generally a trust that is created by the will of the deceased person. Assets from the deceased’s estate are transferred to the trust for the benefit of named beneficiaries. These assets are then administered by designated trustees. Such a trust could go on for an indefinite period of time, depending on the terms of the trust.

On the other hand an estate is essentially the bundle of assets owned by an individual at the time of death, which is to be distributed by the liquidator to the beneficiaries pursuant to the will within a relatively short period of time. The CRA likes to refer to the “executor’s year”, implying that it should take a year or so to clear the estate and distribute the assets. In many cases it may take longer.

Elimination of Benefits to Testamentary Trusts

Now that we have our terms of reference, the first thing to note is that beginning in 2016, most testamentary trusts will no longer benefit from graduated tax rates, and they will have to switch to calendar taxation years. The only exception will be for “Qualified Disability Trusts”, which essentially is a testamentary trust with a beneficiary that qualifies for the disability tax credit.

There are no grandfathering rules. All existing testamentary trusts will have to cut off their taxation years on December 31, 2015. This could result in many trusts having two tax years in 2015. You should note that the due date for the first of these calendar taxation years will be March 30, 2016.

Furthermore, beginning in 2016, these trusts will:

  • be subject to the highest marginal tax rates
  • will have to make quarterly tax instalments
  • will lose the $40,000 alternative minimum tax exemption
  • will lose the ability to object to an assessment within one year (i.e. the 90 day deadline will apply)
  • will lose the ability to transfer investment tax credits to its beneficiaries
  • will lose the right to apply for a refund after the normal reassessment period
  • may become subject to part XII.2 tax on certain types of income where non-resident beneficiaries exist

Graduated Rate Estates

On the other hand, estates may continue to benefit from graduated rates and off-calendar fiscal years, under certain conditions. Estates that meet the requirements will be known as “Graduated Rate Estates” (“GRE”).

A GRE will qualify only under the following conditions:

  • no more than 36 months have passed since the death of the individual
  • the estate otherwise meets the definition of a “Testamentary Trust” under the law
  • the estate designates itself as a GRE in its tax return for the first taxation year ending after 2015
  • the deceased individual’s social insurance number is provided in the tax return
  • no other estate is designated as the GRE with respect to that individual.

Once 36 months has expired, the estate will no longer be a GRE and will become subject to the less favourable rules described above.

Charitable Donations by a GRE

Currently, a charitable gift made by an estate that was designated by the will of an individual is deemed to have been made by the deceased, and is not deductible within the estate.

Beginning in 2016, a GRE will benefit from new and more flexible rules regarding the claiming of charitable donations. If the estate is a GRE, then such donations may be claimed by:

  • the deceased in the year of death or the preceding year
  • the estate in the year in which the donation is made, or
  • the estate in an earlier taxation year or subsequent 5 years.

Other Changes

Other more complex changes regarding testamentary trusts are coming into effect as well, but a detailed description of these is beyond the scope of this short summary. Briefly, the election to pay tax within a trust, notwithstanding that income is paid to beneficiaries, will be virtually eliminated, unless certain conditions apply.

Finally, for testamentary life interest trusts, such as spousal trusts, upon the death of the beneficiary, a year-end will occur, and any gains or income triggered upon death will be deemed to have been paid to the beneficiary’s estate, making it liable for the taxes on death. This may create a mismatch between the liability for taxes and the ownership of the assets in cases where trust capital is to be paid out to persons who are not beneficiaries of the deceased beneficiary’s estate. A common circumstance where this issue could become a problem is in a case such as a second marriage where children from the first marriage are to receive the capital of a spousal trust upon the death of the beneficiary spouse.

 

What’s Your Tax Issue?

Tax season is upon us, and here at The Tax Issue, the questions are streaming in at a furious pace. I had a few free minutes this afternoon, so I thought I’d tackle some of the backlog.

The Tax Issue:

My partner and I each have holding companies that have joint ownership of our operating company.  If we wanted to sell a 1/3rd share in the operating company is there a mechanism to utilize our personal capital gains exemption?

The Answer:

The capital gains exemption is a $750,000 lifetime limit available to all Canadian resident individuals. It can be used to shelter capital gains on the sale of either qualified farm property or qualified shares of a small business corporation.

Since the shares of your operating company are held through a holding company, the exemption would not be available in the situation you describe. Your holding company would be the vendor of the shares and the exemption is available to individuals only.

Having said that, there may be some “reorganization” of shares you could perform to get you into a better position. Such planning would go beyond what I could explain here, so I would explore these options with a tax professional.

The Tax Issue:

I am a Canadian living/working in the US and considered non-resident of Canada for tax purposes. I do have a rental property in Canada and looking for an easy way to file my income tax on the rental property. What I have read so far makes me believe that I must file my taxes through an agent in Canada. I am wondering if I can file my taxes without using an agent and what is the process to do that.

The Answer:

The short answer is that you do not need to file a tax return through an agent.

Since you are a non-resident of Canada, the Canadian person who pays you rent must withhold taxes and remit them to the CRA on a regular basis. This person could be your tenant directly, or a Canadian agent who manages the property and collects rent on your behalf. Either way, there has to be a Canadian responsible for withholding and remitting these taxes.

You then have the option of filing a tax return under section 216 of the Income Tax Act. The taxes previously withheld would be treated as a credit against your taxes payable. There are two options for withholding and filing under section 216. I have discussed this mechanism in a previous post. Check it out. Also, the CRA has an extensive section on their web site dealing with the issue.

The Tax Issue:

My mother passed away in 1995 and my father gifted her 50% portion of a house to me, however kept himself on title for the other 50%.   He had another house that he resided in.   He kept his name on solely to protect my interest in case of divorce.    He passed away in May 2010 and now I’m told that I may have to pay capital gains.   I don’t understand why I have to pay capital gains if I’m not selling the property and the property has been my principal residence.   He had nothing to do with the house.   Is there anything I can do to avoid paying this capital gains tax?

The Answer:

Unfortunately, it sounds like your father was the owner of more than one principal residence. Upon the death of an individual, he is deemed to have disposed of all his capital property at fair market value. That includes any real estate he owned. There is an exemption for a principal residence. The definition of “principal residence” includes, not only the house he lived in, but can also include a house occupied by his child. The downside is that his estate can only claim one property as a principal residence.

Your father’s executor will have to determine which of the properties he should claim as his principal residence in order to minimize the taxes on his death. I would call in the help of a good tax accountant to crunch those numbers.

Death of a Non-Resident RRSP Annuitant

OK everyone, this post gets a little technical, so I’m adding footnotes for the first time ever. If the Income Tax Act (ITA) frightens you, don’t read on.

My good friend and colleague (let’s call him “Shya”) came to me recently with an interesting problem. In 2007, his client, a former resident of Canada, died with a balance remaining in his Canadian RRSP account. At the time, the RRSP funds were transferred to the RRSP of his wife, also a non-resident of Canada. Under the normal rules for Canadian residents, the surviving spouse would simply report the “refund of premiums” on her 2007 tax return, and claim a corresponding deduction[1] for amounts deposited into her RRSP. No tax would have applied.

Unfortunately, the administrator of the RRSP was not on top of the situation. Had they realized that the taxpayers were non-residents of Canada, they would have known that a 25% withholding tax[2] applies to an RRSP that is paid to any non-resident. Further, since the amount was transferred directly to the spouse’s RRSP, filing a prescribed form upon the transfer of funds would have exempted the non-resident spouse from the withholding tax[3].

Unfortunately, the proper form was not filed, and no tax was withheld at the time of death.

Along comes the CRA two years later. Realizing what has happened, the CRA assessed the surviving spouse for the 25% withholding tax. Since the transfer to her RRSP was not done “pursuant to an authorization in prescribed form” as the law states, no exemption from this tax can apply.

Is the taxpayer out of luck? Perhaps.

Let’s go back in time once more. Had the taxpayer discovered this oversight in time, she still could have filed a special Canadian tax return under section 217 of the ITA[4]. The section 217 return is designed to give non-resident taxpayers the option of paying tax at the normal Canadian tax rates as opposed to the flat 25%. For many taxpayers the 217 election is not advantageous, because the Canadian tax rate that applies is based on a complex calculation that takes world income into account. For a non-resident with any substantial amount of total income, the rate usually will exceed 25%.

For our surviving spouse, however, the section 217 election would have resulted in no tax, since she would be allowed to take a deduction under the normal Canadian rules for the amount transferred to her RRSP. This would bring her net Canadian taxable income down to zero, and she could claim a refund of the 25% withholding tax.

There’s just one problem left for Shya’s client. The section 217 return must be filed within six months from the end of the taxation year that income was received. In this case, that would have been June 30, 2008. Since the problem didn’t come to light until the CRA’s assessment in 2009, the taxpayer is not entitled to file the election.

Now, the taxpayer’s only hope is to request that the CRA extend the time and allow her to file a late section 217 return. The CRA has the power at any time to extend the time for filing any return[5]. However, this administrative concession is not given lightly.

The issue has been dealt with in the past with respect to returns under section 216 of the ITA. The CRA has a published policy to give taxpayers “one opportunity” to file a late return where they have neglected to do so through ignorance or inadvertence. Perhaps this concession could be extended to section 217 returns.

If not, the CRA has issued guidelines[6] which presumably could apply in this scenario. In essence, the taxpayer would have to convince the CRA that there were extraordinary circumstances beyond her control (other than ignorance of the law) that prevented her from filing the return on time.

The moral of the story? Always consult a tax professional when dealing with unusual transactions involving non-resident taxpayers.


[1] ITA 60(1)(l)

[2] ITA 212(1)(l)

[3] ITA 212(1)(l)(i)

[4] ITA 217

[5] ITA 220(3)

What’s Your Tax Issue? – Gift of RRIF on Death

The Tax Issue:

My Mom passed away very recently. She had indicated designated beneficiaries of her RRIF with varying percentages – none to the estate. One of these is her church, a charitable organization.  My understanding is that I can not claim the RRIF amount to the charity as a charitable donation (because it has not passed through the estate), although I’m not sure exactly why.

No one seems to be able to answer this and, in fact, the whole income tax issue on RRIF’s at death was quite befuddling – with each person I asked (ie. financial planner, lawyer) pointing me in another direction 🙂

If you have any thoughts on this, could you please pass them along? Thanks.

The Answer:

Well, yes, the subject of RRIF’s on death is indeed befuddling, as I pointed out in a previous post, and I always get excited when a question begins with the phrase “no one seems to be able to answer this…”

There are two parts to the answer. The first is, who gets taxed on the proceeds from the RRIF? Upon death, the general rule is that the full amount coming out of the RRIF is taxable unless it qualifies for a rollover. The church is not a qualified beneficiary, so the full amount of the RRIF will be a taxable amount to be added to your Mom’s final tax return.

Next question: can the amount that goes to the church be claimed as a tax credit for gifts? Under rules that have existed since the olden days, a gift made to a registered charity by virtue of an individual’s will is deemed to be a gift made by the individual immediately prior to her death, and may be claimed on her final return. Your advisors are confused because the gift is a direct designation in the RRIF, and not made by virtue of the will.

We have come a long way since the olden days. In 2004, the law was amended to give similar treatment to gifts made as direct designations through a RRIF. The only stipulation is that the transfer of funds must occur with 36 months of death.  Accordingly, although the RRIF is taxable in your Mom’s final return, her estate will also benefit from a corresponding tax credit for the gift made to the church.

The RRIF administrator should issue a T4A in the name of your mother for the full amount of the RRIF. The church should issue a charitable donation receipt to the estate for the amount it receives.

Rollover of RRSP’s and RRIF’s on Death – Don’t Take It For Granted

If you are the executor of an estate, or you are perhaps advising your client on his will, you should be aware of the rules regarding RRSP’s and RRIF’s on death.

I’m surprised at the number of people, executors and plan administrators alike, who work on the often erroneous assumption that these plans simply roll over tax-free when the surviving spouse is named as the beneficiary.

In fact, the opposite is true. While capital property automatically rolls over tax-free to a spouse on death, a RRSP/RRIF does not. The general rule is that it is taxable in the hands of the deceased annuitant. From there, a number of possibilities can occur.

If the spouse is named as the “successor annuitant”, then the capital in the plan is not paid out. The plan simply continues and the spouse replaces the deceased as the annuitant. There is no tax to the estate and no reporting is required. The successor annuitant can be named in the plan itself or in the will. The successor annuitant can also be established in other cases if the executor and the plan administrator agree.

If there is no successor annuitant, then the proceeds of the plan are realized and they are taxed either in the hands of the surviving spouse or the estate, depending on the circumstances. If the spouse is designated as the plan beneficiary in the contract, the payment of funds is made to the spouse upon death of the annuitant, and the spouse adds the amount to income. The spouse then has until 60 days after the end of the year to transfer the funds to his or her own RRSP/RRIF to obtain an offsetting deduction.

If the spouse is named as a beneficiary in the will alone (which will likely be the case in Quebec), then the payment of funds is made to the estate. The executor and the spouse must then agree and file an election (form T2019 for RRSP’s  or T1090 for RRIF’s) to have the proceeds added to the spouse’s income, and be eligible for rollover into his or her plan.

What if the spouse refuses to sign the election?

Take the case where a deceased man is survived by his second wife, has children from a former marriage and the leaves a RRIF to the spouse in the will, with no clear instructions regarding the taxes. The residue from the estate goes to the children. The executor must receive the funds from the RRIF and pay them to the spouse under the terms of the will. No taxes are deducted from this amount. The spouse can then choose not to make the election. She will receive the entire amount of untaxed capital from the RRIF and she will not have to roll it into her own plan, thus avoiding future taxes on withdrawal. The taxes will be borne by the deceased, and be taken from the residue of the estate, thus providing a possible unintended benefit to the spouse, and most likely some very disgruntled children.