What is that saying? The only two things certain in life are death and taxes. I cannot say for sure if these are the only two things certain in life but they definitely are certainties.
How to navigate death and taxes
When a taxpayer dies, there is work to be on the personal tax side of things and depending on the situation, there could be a lot of work to be done. It can be quite daunting for the Executor of the estate to deal with these final taxes as often this is not their area of expertise. So where to start?
Communicate with the government and other authorities
In my experience, most funeral homes are very helpful with this step of the process. But, just in case, it is important for the Executor to communicate with the government as soon as possible. You will need to let Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) know that the taxpayer has passed away. CRA has some handy information on their website about What to do following a death.
You may also have to communicate the death with other government departments if the taxpayer was receiving benefits such as: CPP, OAS, GIS, AISH, etc. Now is also the time to communicate with the bank, investment advisors, life insurance companies and pension providers.
And don’t forget to apply for the CPP Death Benefit now.
Retain professional assistance
There are two professionals that can be imperative when dealing with wills and estates: a lawyer and a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA). These professionals can provide great assistance to you through the process.
Since I am a CPA, not a lawyer, I will only focus on the tax side of things and will leave the legal side to the lawyers. A CPA well versed in dealing with estate files can guide you through the process and alleviate some of the stress and confusion for you.
It is ideal to talk to a CPA in advance of the infamous April 30th personal income tax deadline. (The filing deadline for a deceased taxpayer may not even be April 30th as it depends on when in the year they pass away.) Getting authorization with CRA on a deceased taxpayer’s account takes a bit of time so this is something that you would want to have done in advance. Also, now is a good time for a CPA to get to know the file and can start to guide you on what sort of paperwork they will need.
Some final personal income tax returns can be very simple while others can be very complex so patience may often be required. The Executor may have to do a lot of digging to find past income tax returns and to determine where all the assets are even held.
So… what is simple and what is complex?
The level of complexity will depend on what they owned, their marital status and what is detailed in their will. When a taxpayer dies, they are deemed to have disposed of all capital property they owned on the date of death and some of these dispositions may have tax implications. If the deceased has a surviving spouse that is the sole beneficiary of their estate, then that personal income tax return will be less complex. The Income Tax Act has a spousal roll-over provision which allows for all the deceased taxpayer’s assets to roll-over tax free to their spouse on their death. In cases like these, there is often only a need to file that final personal income tax return.
Not so simple
When a taxpayer has no surviving spouse, this can get more complex and can take a lot longer to settle the estate. There is still the need for that final personal income tax return that may report some taxable income on certain deemed dispositions. Some of the more common items are: RRSPs, pension payouts, real estate holdings and non-registered investments, to list just a few.
Often these assets can take some time after death to be sold or converted into cash. When this happens, there is now an Estate created. An Estate essentially is the mechanism for holding those assets from the time of death until the time they can be paid out to the beneficiaries. Once this happens, there is now an annual filing obligation of a T3 Trust Return with CRA. The year-end for these returns will be the anniversary of the date of death.
Once you have received all Notices of Assessments from CRA for all the returns filed then you can apply for a Clearance Certificate. This Certificate is CRA’s stamp of approval that there are no outstanding tax issues for the taxpayer. This one little piece of paper is very important for an Executor to have before they fully distribute the estate assets to the beneficiaries.
If you do not get a clearance certificate and distribute the assets of the estate, you may be personally liable for any tax owed by the deceased, to the extent of the value of the assets distributed. An Executor may not even be a beneficiary of an estate and could still have potential liability for the deceased taxpayer’s taxes if they do not get this Clearance Certificate.
Even more complex
Sometimes terminal income tax returns can have even more levels of complexity. Here are a few other items that add extra layers to these final tax returns:
- Taxpayer is behind on filing personal tax returns
- Taxpayer owned farmland or fishing property
- Taxpayer owned shares of a small business
- Potential for optional returns
- Capital losses incurred
- Estate donations – those donations made by will or designated donations
- Foreign property owned
As you can see, there can be a lot more involved in the preparation of these final income taxes. At Richardson Miller LLP, we have seen a very wide array of estate files and we would be happy to help you through this process.
Bobi-Rae Miller has been working in public practice since 2000 and received her professional accounting designation in 2005. She focuses on working with small to medium-sized businesses and feels it is important for business owners to understand the financial side of their operations, so she takes the time to ensure that this happens.