Rectification in Tax and Estate Matters Part I – Tax

Confucius said “A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it is committing another mistake.”

When we are dealing with tax and estate matters, even a simple mistake may have disastrous consequences. One way such a mistake may be corrected is by way of a rectification order.  Indeed, rectification is an important remedy that allows for the correction of errors or mistakes in legal instruments that have resulted in an unintended result.  This newsletter will review the doctrine of rectification as it applies to tax matters.  Our next newsletter will focus on rectification in estate matters.

What is Rectification?

A rectification order is an equitable remedy to correct errors in legal instruments that do not reflect the true intention of the parties resulting in unintended and, likely, unfortunate results.  A rectification order allows the affected parties to rectify the terms of a transaction as was initially intended by the parties. The effect of the rectification is retroactive.

The remedy of rectification is available only under certain defined circumstances; essentially to correct a mistake. However, rectification is not permitted if the intention of the parties is simply to alter the terms of an instrument nor can it be invoked in an attempt to correct every mistake in order to alter unwanted results.

In order for a rectification order to be granted, one must file an Application to the Superior Court of Ontario; only a court may grant such remedy.  Interestingly, the Tax Court of Canada cannot grant equitable remedies, and, as a result, rectification of a tax matter can only be heard by the appropriate forum, the Superior Court of Ontario.  The duty of the Court is to examine the evidence and assess the facts in order to determine whether the application is truly one to correct a mistake which result in an unintended legal effect or an undesirable legal consequence.  The Court must ensure that the parties are not just changing their minds “in the middle of a transaction.” The evidence is the key to the determination.

To be successful in obtaining a rectification order, one must establish:

  1. the existence and nature of the common intention of the parties prior to preparation of the instrument alleged to be deficient;
  2. that the common intention remained unchanged at the time the document was made; and
  3. that the instrument, by mistake, does not reflect that initial common intention.

If one can prove the above, the Court may grant a rectification order thus restoring the party(ies) to their initial common intention.  Applicants should be aware that rectification orders are a discretionary remedy granted at the discretion of the Court and one should not anticipate the granting of an order.

Rectification in Tax Matters

In tax matters where unintended tax consequences arise as a result of a mistake, rectification may be a valuable tool, if not a “life saver,” for taxpayers who find themselves in a situation where their tax planning went awry.

Although the equitable doctrine of rectification is not new, it only truly emerged as a valuable tool in tax matters in the last decade or so.  The leading case, Canada v. Juliar, has been a key decision in establishing such remedy to taxpayers. Indeed, in Juliar, the Court granted a rectification order in a tax matter which ultimately fixed a mistake in a document intended for tax planning purposes. The granting of the rectification order enabled the taxpayer to avoid having to face a tax liability from an unanticipated outcome. Interestingly, the Court had no issue with the fact that the taxpayers’ intention throughout the transaction was to avoid immediate tax consequences.

Since the Juliar decision, the law and the doctrine of rectification in tax matters has expanded considerably.  Taxpayers appear to show a willingness to consider an application for rectification to correct/rectify transactions that achieved unintended tax consequences. Notably, the jurisprudence has acknowledged that the avoidance of tax is a legitimate intention in rectification matters involving a tax issue.  As a result, rectification may be available where transactions that resulted in unintended tax consequences might be altered in order to achieve the initial tax intention; that is the avoidance or minimization of tax.

A more recent decision from the Supreme Court of British Columbia, McPeake v. Canada, is also instructive as to how and when granting a rectification order may be appropriate in tax matters.  The McPeake decision is consistent with prior cases where the taxpayers demonstrate an intention to avoid tax but the documents or transactions failed to reflect their true intentions.

The McPeake decision stands out also on the basis that in tax matters, the taxpayers must convince the Court that their initial intention was to avoid tax.  Another interesting point of that decision is the fact that the Court accepted that it ought to consider the unfairness or harm the taxpayer may suffer should the rectification order not be granted (thus allowing a tax liability to arise although the avoidance of such liability is what gave rise to the transaction in the first place).

Rectification Application and the Crown

The Crown also distinguishes between an error in implementation and an error in tax planning and the Agency will vigorously oppose rectification orders disguised as an attempt to implement a form of retroactive tax planning.

The Crown’s position is that a taxpayer requesting a rectification order should provide the Agency with notice of the application; especially in instances where the rectification application is being made on the basis that the taxpayer is alleging unintended tax consequences.

However, whether or not the Crown should be notified of any particular application for rectification is a dilemma for the taxpayer and his lawyer to resolve.  There is a valid argument to be made that since the Crown may not be a party to the original instrument and the original transaction, it has no interest in the application to rectify the written instrument and the transactions. There is jurisprudence where the Court has said that notice to the Crown was “appropriate” or a matter of courtesy; however, the Court has never said it is mandatory.

In reality, the decision of whether to serve notice to the Crown or not is essentially a matter of assessing the basis of the application and ultimately, it is a strategic decision. Further, should one serve notice to the Crown, they risk having the Crown oppose the application.  However, opting not to serve notice may result in the judge requesting notice be served prior to rendering his or her decision.  Having to serve the Crown after the initial application is likely to raise suspicion from the Crown.

It is important to know that the Department of Justice has a rectification committee which discusses and decides whether to oppose an application.  The CRA and the Department of Justice have established a procedure to be followed when applying to the Court for a rectification order; notably, that a letter be sent to the Director of the Tax Services Office advising rectification will be sough, that the CRA should be named as a party in the Motion and that the Department of Justice be served with the Notice of Motion.

Once served, the rectification committee will review and discuss the merit of the application and inform the party(ies) whether it intends to oppose the application.

Conclusion

In tax matters, an application for a rectification order remains a valuable tool for taxpayers and should be considered when adverse tax consequences are erroneously triggered by an error or errors in implementing a transaction.

An application for a rectification should be considered by tax advisors, including accountants, lawyers and any other tax advisors.  Indeed, rectification may be the key to correct an oversight in their tax planning memorandum or an error in the drafting of an instrument.  Rectification may translate into a lifeline for their mistake, thus avoiding a liability; something well worth considering.

Ultimately, the original intent is the key determining factor in the decision whether to grant a rectification order.

In our next newsletter, we will address rectification in estate matters.

Tierney Stauffer LLP would be glad to assist and advise you.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sébastien Desmarais
LL.B., LL.L., J.D.
Lawyer, Tierney Stauffer LLP
This article is provided  as an information resource and is not intended to replace advice from a quaified legal professional and should not be relied upon to make decisions. In all cases, contact your legal professional for advice on any matter  referenced in this document before making decisions. Any use of this document does not constitute a lawyer-client relationship.

Defamation, Responsible Communication and Cyberspace

[excerpt form paper by Partner Ian Stauffer]

Before embarking on a review of some important substantive and procedural issues, remember that there are two conflicting values at stake in all defamation cases. There is the desire to protect an individual’s reputation pitted against the perceived need to encourage free speech.

It’s said that a person’s reputation is priceless.

But butting up against this ancient maxim is another value which goes back to at least the American Revolution: Freedom of Speech. As you probably know, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms sets out, as a fundamental freedom, the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.  It is my belief that the pendulum has swung from protecting reputation to enhancing freedom of expression.

As one Supreme Court of Canada Judge has put it: “an individual’s reputation is not to be treated as regrettable but unavoidable road kill on the highway of public controversy, but nor should an overly solicitous regard for personal reputation be permitted to ‘chill’ freewheeling debate on matters of public interest”.

In a lawsuit based on defamation, a judge or jury is asked to set limits on what someone can write or say about another person.

In this short paper I will consider some of the difficult questions a lawyer must address when a plaintiff or defendant is involved in a defamation action.  Remember, defamation has been recognized as the basis for a lawsuit since at least the 17th century and there are volumes of cases and legal commentaries which have been generated.  This paper can only skim the surface of a very complex and technical subject.

For the full paper please go to http://www.tslawyers.ca/_files/Defamation%20IStauffer%20Paper%202012.pdf

 This reference is provided  as an information resource and is not intended to replace advice from a quaified legal professional and should not be relied upon to make decisions. In all cases, contact your legal professional for advice on any matter  referenced in this document before making decisions. Any use of this document does not constitute a lawyer-client relationship.

Categories: Uncategorized

Voluntary Disclosure Program – It’s worth considering under the right circumstances

The Voluntary Disclosure Program (VDP) is an initiative from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)  designed to encourage  taxpayers to be more compliant with their income tax filings and to correct omissions or errors which may be considered “negligent” from previous income tax returns.  
The VDP offers taxpayers an opportunity to correct inaccurate or incomplete information or to correct previous erroneous information without penalties or prosecution.
One of the major incentives of proceeding by way of a voluntary disclosure is the assurance of knowing that IF his/her disclosure is accepted by the CRA, the taxpayer is assured of not facing tax evasion charges.

Criteria for a VD to be Valid

For a voluntary disclosure to be valid, it must meet certain specific criteria.  If the taxpayer fails to meet any of these criteria, the voluntary disclosure will be considered potentially invalid resulting in penalties and prosecution.
The CRA is unequivocal that a valid voluntary disclosure must be

(1) voluntary,
(2) complete,
(3) involve a monetary penalty, and
(4) involve information that is one year or more overdue.

Timing

Timing is crucial when filing a voluntary disclosure.  The CRA and the jurisprudence are clear: a disclosure may not qualify as a voluntary disclosure if it is found to have been made with the knowledge of an audit, investigation or other enforcement action that has been initiated by the CRA or other authorities or an administration with which the CRA has information exchange agreements.
It is crucial that the taxpayer be unaware of any audit, investigation or enforcement procedure when filing a voluntary disclosure. This means that if there is any direct contact by the CRA (such as a telephone call from a CRA agent or receiving a letter or a requirement to file from the Agency), the voluntary disclosure will be denied on the basis that it is not voluntary.
Furthermore, if a third party closely associated with the taxpayer receives a communication from the Agency or if any enforcement action against that third party is initiated and such action is sufficiently related to the taxpayer in the eyes of the CRA, the taxpayer’s voluntary disclosure may be denied on the basis it is not voluntary.

Completeness

The CRA is unequivocal that the taxpayer must provide full and accurate facts and documentation for all taxation years where there was previously inaccurate, incomplete or unreported information.  In most instances, the agent reviewing the voluntary disclosure will most likely request additional specific documents or information corroborating the initial application.
Should the taxpayer fail to provide the information requested, or should the facts in the initial application not withstand the scrutiny of the CRA, the voluntary disclosure will likely be denied.
As is always the case in tax matters, the onus of proof lies with the taxpayer. It is the responsibility of the taxpayer to prove that the information submitted provides a complete and accurate account of the facts involved.
However, it is worth noting that minor errors or omissions shall not disqualify the disclosure. Further, the CRA clearly states that each submission will be reviewed on its own merits.

Monetary Penalty

Another criterion is the obligation that the voluntary disclosure must involve the application, or potential application, of a monetary penalty.  There are different reasons as to why a penalty would be levied (such as a late filing penalty, a failure to remit penalty, an installment penalty or a discretionary penalty) but in order for a voluntary disclosure to be valid, it must involve a monetary penalty applying to one reporting period.

One Year Past Due

The last criterion for a valid disclosure is that it must include information that is (1) at least one year past due, or (2) the disclosure is to correct a previously filed return.

10 Year Limitation

CRA will only grant penalty relief for a period of 10 years.  (§220(3.1) of the Income Tax Act was amended in 2004 to only provide relief for a period of 10 years prior to the application for relief of interest and penalties).
This is quite unfortunate as a taxpayer that would like to rectify past filings must take into consideration this 10 year limit.  Indeed, should a taxpayer opt to file a disclosure concerning taxation years dating back more than 10 years from the application, they run the risk of being liable for penalties.
CRA does not advertise such a limitation period and this further emphasises the importance of seeking professional assistance prior to proceeding with a voluntary disclosure.

Conclusion

The VDP is worthy of consideration by any taxpayer that wishes to rectify a previous filing and avoid any penalties or prosecution.
However, the criteria of a valid voluntary disclosure are precise and one should always seek professional assistance given the significant risks that an invalid application may invoke.
Should you be interested in proceeding by way of a voluntary disclosure, Tierney Stauffer LLP would be glad to assist and advise you.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sébastien Desmarais
LL.B., LL.L., J.D.
Lawyer, Tierney Stauffer LLP
This article is provided  as an information resource and is not intended to replace advice from a quaified legal professional and should not be relied upon to make decisions. In all cases, contact your legal professional for advice on any matter  referenced in this document before making decisions. Any use of this document does not constitute a lawyer-client relationship.

Net Worth Assessment – Avoid it at all costs

A net worth audit is one of the most powerful techniques available to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to unilaterally deem a taxpayer to have a certain amount of unreported income. The net worth audit is a method which, on its premise, assumes the taxpayer has hidden or failed to disclose annual income, and as a result CRA is not able to rely on the accuracy of the amount of taxpayer income from tax returns filed. Subsequently, CRA will use the results of a net worth audit to deem a taxpayer to have unreported income, resulting in allegations of tax evasion or civil fraud against the taxpayer.

In recent years tax professionals have noticed an increase in CRA’s use of net worth audits against taxpayers. The CRA appears to be targeting their net worth audits to cash-based businesses, owner-manager businesses and illegal businesses (such as drug dealers).

The following will attempt to answer two primary questions, first, what is a net worth audit and second, what is the burden on a taxpayer faced with a net worth audit.

What is a Net Worth Audit?

A net worth audit is a two-step audit by the CRA. First, the Agency will look at the taxpayer’s assets and liabilities at the beginning and end of the tax year and determine the increase and/or decrease in the taxpayer’s net worth. Second, the CRA will review the taxpayer’s expenditures for that same tax year and compare them with standards of expenditures according to Statistics Canada.

The net worth method relies on the concept that when a taxpayer accumulates wealth during a tax year, he shall either invest it or spend it. For an auditor conducting a net worth audit, they will consider an increase in the taxpayer’s net worth throughout the year as taxable income. From that starting point, the auditor will add all non-deductible expenditures to the taxpayer’s net worth and then compare the taxpayer’s net worth at the beginning of the taxation year and the taxpayer’s net worth at the end of the taxation year. Any increase in the taxpayer’s net worth will be considered income for tax purposes.

Interestingly, at the audit stage, the CRA has essentially free reign in their assessment and interpretation of the taxpayer’s net worth. Indeed, CRA may assume facts or use general statistics from Statistic Canada in their assessment; in most instances, to the taxpayer’s detriment.

Burden is on the Taxpayer

It is important to understand that because the Canadian tax system is a self-assessing system, the onus is on the taxpayer to rebut all of the Minister’s assumptions and findings.

The Courts have consistently taken the view that once CRA issues a reassessment based on a net worth audit, the taxpayer must rebut all of CRA’s assumptions and findings by either:

Challenging whether the net worth assessment is needed or is the most appropriate method of computing the taxpayer’s income; or

Challenging every specific aspect of the net worth assessment calculations.

In the context of a net worth audit, the taxpayer’s onus of proof is a considerable one. Indeed, in most net worth audits, the auditor will have requested all available taxpayer records including, but not limited to, a list of all inventories, physical assets, debts to creditors, bank records, securities, and any other statements of assets.

From the documentation provided, the auditor may have interpreted some book entries and assume facts that may not be accurate, however, the onus is on the taxpayer to provide proof to clarify, explain and rebut all of the auditor’s assumptions and interpretation of facts.

When combating a net worth audit, the devil is in the details. Every item, interpretation and assumption of the auditor must be analyzed in great detail and dissected for correctness.

Indeed, with every error found, the trustworthiness of this inherently untrustworthy method is called further into question.

If the matter is to proceed before the Tax Court of Canada, pointing out the auditor’s errors in their interpretation shall contribute to discrediting the auditor’s findings and tilt the judge’s opinion in favor of the taxpayer. However, the taxpayer will also need to provide evidence explaining and clarifying the increase in his net worth over the year.

A valid explanation, such as the receipt of an inheritance, will undoubtly favor the taxpayer in his pursuit of rebutting the auditor’s finding. However, if the taxpayer lacks any evidentiary documentation attesting his point then the matter becomes one of credibility; something a taxpayer should always avoid.

Conclusion

Maintaining well-organized documents and financial records is truly the sole solution for succeeding over a net worth audit. Indeed, documenting all receipts of significant funds received during the taxation year, especially any foreign funds, is the very best way to beat a net worth audit.

My former colleague Arthur Drache once wrote: “good paper almost always will prevail, but in a contest of your unsupported word against CRA, you’ll almost always lose.” This remains the gold standard in a net worth audit.

 If you are the subject of a net worth audit, we highly recommend you consult with your accountant and lawyer. Tierney Stauffer LLP would be glad to assist and advise you. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sébastien Desmarais
LL.B., LL.L., J.D.
Lawyer, Tierney Stauffer LLP
This article is provided  as an information resource and is not intended to replace advice from a quaified legal professional and should not be relied upon to make decisions. In all cases, contact your legal professional for advice on any matter  referenced in this document before making decisions. Any use of this document does not constitute a lawyer-client relationship. 

Succession Planning – How to Plan for Passing the Torch

For many business owners, the phrase “succession planning” evokes images of passing the company torch to a family member. But succession planning does not necessarily mean passing a business along to one’s relative. Instead, it refers to planning the way in which you wish to exit your business, and, as this article will  summarize, this can be done in a number of different ways.

The importance of having a  succession plan should not be overlooked. Having a plan in place will help ease the transfer of a business from one owner to another, manage expectations of family members, employees,  managers and business partners who may desire ownership of the business, thereby helping  departing business owners preserve their relationships with these individuals and maximize the net financial return from your business. Placing your business in the hands of another takes time to orchestrate and can raise many issues, including properly valuating your business, assessing tax implications and estate planning issues, and training your successor. Therefore, it is important to begin succession planning early.

When planning the succession of your business, there are a number of options to consider, such as transferring the business to a family member or an employee, manager or partner of the business or selling the business to an unrelated third party. In addition to deciding how your business will be passed on to a new owner, there are a number of other elements which should be considered. Th e following list sets out a few of these items, but should not be considered an exhaustive list.

Choose your Successor

If you wish to keep the business in the family, you will need to determine if this is a viable option. The key question for you to consider is whether there is someone in your family who is interested in owning the business and who has the necessary skill set for running the business? This can be a very difficult element as you will often have a family member who has the interest but not the skill set. Failing a family member, you may consider whether an individual already involved as an employee in the business is a candidate for taking over the business.

After you have chosen your successor, you will need to arrange for his/her training in the business. It is also a good idea to have on-going communication with your successor to keep him/her involved in the succession process. This will allow him/her to understand his/her role in the business and in the overall transition process.

As well, having the potential successor become a minority owner early in the process (subject to the right protective agreements if things don’t work out) is often an excellent method of both “test driving” the potential successor’s involvement, and creating a financial stake for the successor in the business.

If neither of the potential internal buyers is viable, you may need to sell your company to an unrelated third party. In any of these cases, it is always a good idea to consider what other stakeholders (i.e. family members, business partners and/or employees) should be consulted prior to making a decision. If you are concerned that a conflict in the decision-making process might arise, you can implement an agreed-upon conflict resolution mechanism.

Decide on a Timeline

As with any plan, you will need to decide on, and establish, a timeline in which you wish to exit your business and transfer ownership. If you intend on maintaining voting control of the company after you have retired from working for your company, which is often the case if you are owed money from the successor and maintained some ownership then you should, at a minimum, consider what dates you wish to retire, transfer your share ownership and transfer voting control.

Position Your Business For Sale

The income tax rules in place today require businesses to meet certain tests in order for the owners to achieve the best tax results from sales. It is very important that early steps are taken to properly structure your business to maximize your net return on a sale. Your lawyer or accountant should be consulted now as it is often too late once a decision to sell is made to put in place the required structure.

Planning for Unforeseen Circumstances

It is always prudent to have a contingency plan to make sure financial resources are in place to ensure your business could continue in the case of an unforeseen circumstance, such as an accident, illness or death. Life and disability insurance are great tools to consider.

Regular Review of your Succession Plan

Review your succession plan regularly to determine whether it is still appropriate and applicable to your then-current circumstances and to current income tax rules. Ensure you revise the plan if changes are needed. Succession planning will raise financial, tax and legal implications so it is always a good idea to speak with advisors, such as your accountant, lawyer, and banker, before deciding which route is best for you.

Stephen Tierney & Jennifer Brigandi

Stephen Tierney is a Partner and Jennifer Brigandi is an Associate in the Business Law Group of Tierney Stauffer LLP. If you require further details, or require a lawyer to review or help draft your succession plan, please contact Jennifer at (613) 288-3221 or jbrigandi@tslawyers.ca
Tierney Stauffer LLP is a full service law firm with offices in Ottawa, Cornwall and arnprior. We focus on solutions.

Why You Need a Will

Upon the breakdown of a marriage or a long-term relationship, there are a number of issues which normally need to be resolved depending upon the circumstances of the parties. These issues may include: the custody of children, child support, spousal support and the division of property.

If you presently have no valid Will, or if you have not reviewed your Will lately, you should consider meeting with a member of our Wills, Estates and Trust Practice Group to obtain advice on how best to protect your family or loved ones in the event of your death.

The following true-to-life scenarios may help to illustrate some of the dangers of failing to plan for your demise, or proceeding on faulty assumptions as to your present estate plan.

1. You are a 65 year old woman, recently married for the second time to a wealthy man.

You signed a will shortly after the death of your first husband which leaves your entire estate to your three children, and you see no reason to make any changes to that will, in view of the fact that your new husband has no need of your assets. Did you know that your recent marriage revoked your previous Will, and if you die without making a new will, your husband will inherit a significant portion of your estate?

2. You are a 50 year old man, divorced from your wife of 35 years.

You remain “best friends” and are very much in each other’s lives. You have no children and both of your parents and your only brother have died. You have two nieces which you barely know. You made a Will 20 years before your divorce which leaves your entire estate to your former wife. In view of your continuing relationship, you see no reason to change the disposition of your estate. Did you know that upon your death, any benefits accruing to your former wife are revoked, absent a contrary intention contained in your Will, and that your estate will devolve upon your nieces?

3. You are a 35 year old male, married with three children ages 1 month to 5 years.

Your wife is a stay-at-home Mom with no job skills and no assets of her own. You have no Will. Did you know that if you die without a Will, your wife will have to share a substantial part of your estate with your children, and may not have enough to live on without being forced into employment to make ends meet? Did you also know that any share to which your children are entitled must be paid into Court and supervised by an official of the Ontario Government until they attain the age of eighteen years?

4. You are married and all of your assets are owned jointly with your spouse.

You have no children, and you see no need to prepare a Will at this time, since on the death of either one of you, the survivor will inherit everything. The survivor would of course prepare a Will at that time. Did you know that if you and your wife die in a common disaster, one-half of your joint estate would be divided among members of your family, which could include parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews, while the other half of your joint estate would be divided in the same fashion among members of your spouse’s family? Is this what you would want?

5. Consider the same scenario as above.

Instead imagine that you die immediately in the same disaster, while your spouse survives, but dies from his or her injuries, one day later. Did you know that your entire joint estate would go to your spouse’s family?

Make an appointment with one of our skilled professionals today, to ensure that your wishes will be implemented on your death, and further to determine the most cost efficient and practical methods of accomplishing that objective. At the same time, consider planning for potential incapacity by putting Powers of Attorney in place.

If you have questions about your will or would like to draft a will, please contact one of our family law lawyers at (613) 728-8057. You can also contact Gail Nicholls directly at (613) 288-3234 or by e-mail at gailnicholls@tslawyers.ca.

Gail Nicholls,
Counsel Group,
Tierney Stauffer LLP

This article is provided  as an information resource and is not intended to replace advice from a quaified legal professional and should not be relied upon to make decisions. In all cases, contact your legal professional for advice on any matter  referenced in this document before making decisions. Any use of this document does not constitute a lawyer-client relationship.

U.S. Estate Tax – Should You be Concerned?

We have all heard the saying that there are two things in life that are certain: death and taxes. For tax and estate  professionals, both are always concerns but especially so for clients owning U.S. properties or assets. This is due to the U.S. estate tax.

Canada does not impose an estate tax upon the death of an individual. In fact, when Canadians die they are deemed to dispose of all their capital property at fair market value.

The U.S. system works differently: upon the death of a U.S. citizen, a tax is levied on the fair market value of the  deceased’s world-wide property. Furthermore, the U.S. estate tax applies to all property situated in the U.S. including  property owned by non-residents of the U.S. (oft en referred to as “Canadian Snowbirds”).

Consequently, upon death, a Canadian resident who owns U.S. real property or U.S. stocks may be regarded to have a large “deemed” capital gain with respect to such property in addition to a possible U.S. estate tax liability depending on the value of their U.S. properties or assets.

The first $3.5 million USD of a U.S. citizens’ estate is exempt from tax.  However, non-residents, including Canadians, are only entitled to a pro-rated exemption under the Canada-U.S. Tax Treaty. This exemption is equal to $3.5 million USD multiplied by the ratio of U.S. property to your worldwide estate. Essentially, if your worldwide estate is worth less than $3.5 million, you need not worry about paying  U.S. estate tax … at least for now.

In June 2001, the U.S. passed a law that commenced the phasing-out  of the estate tax over the following decade.  Essentially, the estate tax rate has been gradually reduced and the exemption amount increased and, based on the legislation, the estate tax will be repealed  for the 2010 tax year. However, this may not be permanent as the legislation contains a “sunset clause” whereby, unless further steps are taken by Congress, the repeal of the estate tax will only last for one year, being 2010.

In 2011, the estate tax rules will revert back to the rules applied before 2001 resulting in the effective exemption of only $1 million USD (compared to $3.5 USD in 2009) and a maximum estate tax rate of 55% (compared to 45% in 2009). Many U.S. tax experts expect this issue to be addressed by Congress already proposed legislation that would cap the top estate tax rate at 35% and maintain the personal exemption at $3.5 million USD.

Nonetheless, Canadians who own U.S. property or assets should consult their tax professionals until Congress legislates on this issue. Until Congress acts on this issue, Canadian Snowbirds should review the U.S. estate tax with their estate planning advisor.

Canadians who have an estate worth more than $1 million USD may be at risk of having to pay U.S. estate tax.

If you have questions regarding this issue or any other issue pertaining to your estate, please contact Sebastien Desmarais, Associate, Tierney Stauff er LLP at (613) 288-3220 or sdesmarais@tslawyers.ca.

Sébastien Desmarais
LL.B., LL.L., J.D.
Associate, Tierney Stauffer LLP
This article is provided  as an information resource and is not intended to replace advice from a quaified legal professional and should not be relied upon to make decisions. In all cases, contact your legal professional for advice on any matter  referenced in this document before making decisions. Any use of this document does not constitute a lawyer-client relationship. 

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