My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant and a partner with BDO. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Best of The Blunt Bean Counter - No Will? You're in Famous Company

This summer I am posting the best of The Blunt Bean Counter blog while I work on my golf game. Today, I am re-posting a February, 2018 post on famous people who did not leave a will and in many cases, caused havoc for their loved ones and/or their estate? If you do not have a will or it is outdated, please get it drafted or updated.

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Readers of my blog are aware of my inclination to harp on the fact that you should have a will, and where you have a will in place, that it should be updated for significant life events. I also think it is important to have up-to-date powers of attorney for financial and personal care. But today, we are talking wills and the lack of such for some famous people and the lessons you may learn from their estate planning miscues.

In my blog post “Canadians Don’t Have the Will”, I highlighted a 2016 survey conducted by Legalwills.ca, that found 62% of Canadians do not have wills.

The 62% number is astronomical and in my not so humble opinion, just irresponsible. I thought of this survey, when I was recently told by a colleague that they were working on an estate where the first spouse passed away without a will, and then the surviving spouse died a couple years later without ever having a will drafted. I can maybe understand that some couples don’t have wills based on the premise “everything will just automatically flow to the surviving spouse”, although this thinking may be flawed depending upon your province of residence as noted in this link for the laws of Ontario when you die intestate (without a will). But for a surviving spouse to not have a will drafted is just beyond my comprehension.

Since the advice of accountants, lawyers, finance columnists and bloggers is obviously being ignored, I thought instead of lecturing that you should have a will, I would reflect on the folly of not having a will by looking at famous people who have died intestate and the messes they left behind.

Please note: I have no ability to confirm that these people did not have wills and I am relying on articles and other internet sources for this list, so I cannot guarantee its accuracy. Some of the stories in respect of these people’s deaths and estates are fascinating. You may wish to read in detail the links and source documents I provide below.

Famous People Who Supposedly Died Without a Will


The Musicians

There seems to be a correlation between being artistic and financially irresponsible as noted by the extremely famous musicians I note below. This does not surprise me, as I have suggested in prior posts on naming executors, that at the risk of generalizing you will want someone more anal than artistic to carry out this task.

Prince


In this article by People Magazine it was reported: “A Minnesota judge has made it official – despite Prince’s estate being worth an approximated $250 million, the singer did not have a will in place to declare the distribution of his assets. A hearing was held Wednesday morning, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE, and the judge has approved Bremer Bank, the institution Prince trusted with his finances over the years, to move forward with handling his estate – both personal and financial business”.

Prince's former manager, Owen Husney, in this USA today article said “he was too smart to have overlooked something that crucial and he had teams of lawyers, business managers and accountants over the years who would have advised him it was crucial”. Assuming that no will ever surfaces, it is mind numbing that with so many advisors, Prince did not have a will in place and it could have fallen through the cracks (unless he just refused to have one drafted).

"It's astonishing, absolutely astonishing that he did not have a will," says Jerry Reisman, an estate lawyer on Long Island who's been following the case. He predicted trouble ahead. You're going to have 'siblings' coming out of the woodwork alleging they are siblings. Everyone is going to be fighting over this estate.”

Will Lesson #1: Run Out and Write Your Will 

Hendrix, Marley and a Cast of Thousands


In this LegalZoom,com article the writer notes that both Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley died without wills and that their estates were subject to legal battles for years. Musicians such as Prince, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley have complicated estates due to the publishing rights they hold on their music, the typically massive demand for their music once they pass away and the value in unreleased material that is often released posthumously.

Other musicians that have purportedly died without wills include Kurt Cobain, Barry White, Tupac Shakur, James Brown, Sonny Bono and Amy Winehouse.

Athletes

Many athletes are known for blowing fortunes, but you would again think that their advisors would have ensured they had wills in place, but that apparently is not the case, or the athletes ignore their advice.

Steve McNair


Mr. McNair who played in Super Bowl XXXIV as the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans and was the NFL’s Co-MVP in 2003, did not have a will. He also had, in addition to his wife and children, a girlfriend - who murdered him in a murder-suicide. The sad details of this case can be read in this Probate Lawyer blog. 

If this story is not tragic enough, this Family Archival Solutions Inc. article discusses how McNair’s mother subsequently lost her home because Mr. McNair had not put his mother’s name on the house or made provision in a will for her to inherit the property as he had intended for her.

Will Lesson #2: Unintended Consequences Transpire when a Will is Not Drafted

Lamar Odom


This is a story about almost dying without a will. In 2015, former NBA star and ex-husband of Khloé Kardashian was hospitalized after being discovered unconscious at the Love Ranch, a brothel in Crystal, Nevada. Mr. Odom’s heart supposedly stopped several times and was touch and go to live. Luckily for him, he survived the ordeal.

As Mr. Odom supposedly did not have a will, it was reported that if he died, his estate would have all gone 1/3 to Khloé and 2/3 to his children. It is my understanding that Odom and Khloé had a good relationship despite their divorce and she was there at his side while he recovered and she did not want his money. So this is not a story about an ex-spouse trying to get something that was not hers, but clearly reflects that an ex-spouse may be entitled to your estate or part of it, if you are not careful.

Will Lesson #3: When You Do Not Have a Will, Your Ex-Spouse May Inherit Part of Your Estate

Other Famous People Who Died Without a Will (or Updating Their Will)


Martin Luther King


Mr. King who was assassinated on April 4, 1968 was one of the best known civil rights activists in the World. His “I Have A Dream” speech made in 1963 during the march on Washington is known as one of the finest speeches ever given. Unfortunately, when assassinated Mr. King was only 37 years old and did not have a will per this Forbes article.

This LA Times article discusses how the children are threatening his legacy as the estate battles on 47 years after his death in respect of his tomb, sermons and memorabilia.

Will Lesson #4: When You Die Intestate You Create Possible Conflict amongst Your Family

Pablo Picasso


As detailed in this 2016 article by Vanity Fair on the estate of Pablo Picasso,  Picasso did not have a will and left over “45,000 works, all complicated by countless authentications, rights and licencing deals”. The legal fees on this estate have were supposedly over $30 million.


Will Lesson #5: When You Die Intestate, Your Estate Can Be Withered Away in Legal Fees

Heath Ledger


As I noted in the introduction, I not only stress the importance of a will, but that it must be updated to reflect significant life events. Heath Ledger died of an accidental drug overdose in 2008 during the editing of the Dark Knight Batman movie in which he played the Joker and posthumously won the Academy Award for best supporting actor.

Mr. Ledger had a will drafted a few years earlier in which his parents and sisters were beneficiaries. He however, had neglected to update his will upon his marriage to actress Michelle Williams and on the birth of their daughter Matilda. However, unlike many messy and nasty estate fights highlighted in this blog post, Heath’s family as detailed in this People article altruistically handed over the entire estate to Matilda. It is nice to see some kindness amongst the greed and fighting of the other estates.

Will Lesson #6: Update Your Will for Life Events, or You May Negate the Benefits of Having a Will

Howard Hughes


As per Wikipedia, Howard Hughes “was an American business magnate, investor, record-setting pilot, film director, and philanthropist, known during his lifetime as one of the most financially successful individuals in the world. He first made a name for himself as a film producer, and then became an influential figure in the aviation industry. Later in life, he became known for his eccentric behavior and reclusive lifestyle—oddities that were caused in part by a worsening obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), chronic pain from several plane crashes, and increasing deafness”.

As discussed in this New York Times article it took over 20 years to sort out the estate of the reclusive Howard Hughes. Mr. Hughes did not leave a will and his estate was subject to various forgeries.

Will Lesson #7: If You Have Not Decided to Draft or Update Your Will After Reading These Stories, I Give Up!

While most of these famous people had substantial estates, the lesson is still the same for the average person. Have a will drafted (and powers of attorney) so that you ensure your estate goes to whom you wish and it is not frittered away on legal battles that not only cost significant sums, but destroy the lives and relationships of your loved ones.


The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Best of The Blunt Bean Counter - Common Investment Errors

This summer I am posting the best of The Blunt Bean Counter blog while I work on my golf game. Today, I am re-posting an August, 2011 blog on common investment errors I have observed over the years.

I am involved in wealth advisory for some of my clients as their wealth quarterback, co-coordinating their investment managers and various professional advisors to ensure they have a comprehensive wealth plan. I sort of chuckled when I reviewed this list, as not much has changed in the last eight years.

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Duplication of investments

Duplication or triplication of investments, which can sometimes be interpreted as diworsification, is where investors own the same or similar mutual funds, ETFs or stocks in multiple places. A simple example is Bell Canada. An investor may own Bell in their own “play portfolio,” they may also own it in a mutual fund, they may own it in a dividend fund and they may own it again indirectly in an index fund. The same will often hold true for all the major Canadian banks. Unless one is diligent, or their advisor is monitoring this duplication or triplication, the investor has actually increased their risk/return trade off by overweighting in one or several stocks.

Laddering

This is simply ensuring that fixed income investments such as GICs and bonds have different maturity dates. For example, you should consider having a bond or GIC mature in 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 and so on, out to a date you feel comfortable with. However, many clients have multiple bonds and GICs come due the same year or group of years. The risk of course is that interest rates will spike, creating a favourable environment for reinvesting at a high rate, and you will have no fixed income instruments coming due for reinvestment. Alternatively, rates may drop and you have all your fixed income instruments coming due for reinvestment, locking you in at a low rate of return. With the current low interest rate environment, you may wish to speak to your investment advisor about whether shortening your ladder a year or two makes investment sense for you; however, that ladder should still have maturity dates spread out evenly over the condensed ladder period.


Utilization of capital gains and capital losses

Most advisors and investors are very cognizant of ensuring they sell stocks with unrealized capital losses in years when they have substantial gains. However, many investors get busy with Christmas shopping or business and often miss tax loss selling. Even more irritating is that I still occasionally see clients paying tax on capital gains as their advisors have not reviewed the issue with them and crystallized their capital losses. Always ensure your advisor has reviewed with you your personal realized gain/loss report by early December, and the same holds true for your corporate holdings, except the gain/losses should be reviewed before your corporate year-end.

Taxable vs. non-taxable accounts

There are differing opinions on whether it is best to hold equities and income producing investments in your RRSP or regular trading account. The answer depends on an individual’s situation. The key is to review the tax impact of each account. For example, if you are earning significant interest income in your trading account and paying 53% (when I wrote this article initially, the rate was 46%, quite the jump in rates) income tax each year, should some or all of that income be earned in your RRSP?  Would holding equities in your RRSP be best, or do you have substantial capital losses you can utilize on a personal basis? There is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all answer, but this issue must be examined on a yearly basis with your investment advisor. (In 2017 I wrote a two-part blog series on considerations for tax-efficient investing, which you may wish to review. Here are the links: Part 1 and Part 2.)

Tax shelter junkies

I have written about this several times, but it bears repeating, I have observed several people who are what I consider "tax shelter junkies" and repeatedly buy flow-through shares or other tax shelters, year after year.  I have no issue with these shelters; however, you must ensure the risk allocation for these type investments fits with your asset allocation.


Beneficiary of accounts

This is not really an investment error, but is related to investment accounts. When you have a life change, you should always review who you have designated as beneficiary of your accounts and insurance policies. I have seen several cases of ex-spouses named as the beneficiary of RRSPs and insurance polices.

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Best of The Blunt Bean Counter - Estate Planning - A Tale of a Father's Selfless Act of Love

This summer I am posting the best of The Blunt Bean Counter blog while I work on my golf game. Today, I am re-posting a January 2012 blog on a father's selfless act of love. That act: getting his estate in order so he did not leave his estate in disarray for his loved ones.

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Lynne Butler, of Estate Law Canada blog fame, had a blog titled “What my father’s death taught me about estate planning." What was interesting about this blog post, is that Lynne essentially got out of the way and just said you have to read this amazing article. I wondered why Lynne had so little to say until I actually read the guest post on the Getting Rich Slowly blog. Essentially, Jody (the guest poster) relayed how her father planned while he was alive, to make her job as an executor as stress free as possible. If there was ever a selfless act of love in a financial sense, this is it.

This blog was of particular interest to me as I have written several blogs on this topic: Where are your Assets, Speak to your Executor-surprise only works for birthday parties, not death and You Have Been Named an Executor Now What. Like Lynne, I was amazed at how much thought Jody’s father put into his estate. This contrasts with the average person, who often does not even inform their executor that they have been named, let alone provide a roadmap that can be followed once they are gone.

In her guest blog, Jody discusses the steps and actions her father undertook while he was alive to minimize the fees associated with administering his estate, and just as importantly, to keep the process as stress-free for his daughter as possible. While I cannot do Jody's guest blog justice (you really should open the link above and read it), the following is a summary of some of the steps her father took to ensure he minimized Jody's stress in administering his estate.

To help assist in administering your estate, you may wish to download the BDO Estate Organizer so that you have a detailed document for your family and/or executor.  You can link to the estate organizer and download the document here.

Professional team


Jody’s dad not only built a team of advisors - a banker, accountant, insurance agent and lawyer - but he also ensured that he introduced his daughter to each of these advisors while he was alive and ensured that she had their contact information. Think about how smart that was. How much easier is it to communicate and work with someone you can put a name and face to?

Fees


Jody’s dad negotiated the estate fees with his lawyer down to 2% from the typical 4-5%. One can easily see why the lawyer accepted the lower fee. Jody’s father was so organized; the estate probably took one-quarter of the time most estates need to settle. Not only did he negotiate the fee, but he also put those fees aside in a separate account.

Joint Accounts


Jody’s father added Jody to his bank accounts, which allowed her to seamlessly pay bills. As Jody is American and there are no probate fees in the U.S., this was not done for probate purposes, but only for easing the administration of the estate for Jody. See my blog on Joint Bank Accounts Documenting your Intention, to understand some of the issues of using joint bank accounts in Canada.

 

Preparing for death


Jody’s father pre-paid his funeral expenses and even had a master binder that included funeral instructions - he told Jody to go to “F” for Funeral in his binder. Jody essentially had nothing to do but follow instructions.

In addition, her father left extra money for miscellaneous expenses that always arise on an estate. The extra money, whether left in a joint accounts or actually just given to a responsible child, is very important in Canada. The banks will typically pay for the funeral expenses and the probate fees, but access to the funds for any other expenses can be problematic until probate is authorized. Consequently setting aside funds so your executor will not need to beg the bank for access to accounts is a great idea.

Executor Fees


When Jody’s father informed her she would be named executor and he offered compensation, she, like many children, declined because she did not feel that she should charge her father.

However, after undertaking the executor’s job, Jody had this to say: “After he passed away and I realized all that it entailed, I found myself thinking that maybe I should have taken him up on that offer. Being the executor of an estate — even a very well-planned estate — took about 10 to 15 hours a week for months. It’s a big job. I found myself resenting my brothers since I was doing it all.”

The above is a very insightful and honest comment and is the reality in many estates. Jody’s father showed even more insight when he disregarded Jody’s protestation on accepting an executor fee as he had arranged to give her 1% extra when his IRA was distributed.

I cannot say it better than Jody


I conclude with one more quote from Jody. “I honestly consider my father’s financial planning to be a selfless act of love. Despite his generosity, I would trade every last cent for ten more minutes with him. When someone you love dies, it’s brutal. Emotionally, and physically. Trust me; you really are in no state to make these types of financial or legal decisions on your own.”


The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.

Monday, July 1, 2019

5 Lessons Investors Can Learn from the Raptors' Championship Run

The Toronto Raptors are the toast of the town and the talk of the National Basketball Association. Fresh off a championship run that surprised some pundits, they now have basketball higher-ups wondering how to replicate their success.

For The Blunt Bean Counter, I’m more interested in the lessons investors can glean from the Raptors’ success – especially tips around the psychology of investing. Both sports and investing mix hard analysis with emotion. We all know the role emotions play in sports. Less known are the psychological challenges of high-stakes investing. Researchers call them behavioural biases.

As Canadians continue to bask in the glow of Raptor success, here are five lessons investors can learn from this historic championship run. 

#1: Herd mentality


The Raptors won a championship by going their own way. President Masai Ujiri set the tone with his bold acquisition of Kawhi Leonard – who was recovering from injury and had played only nine games the previous season with the San Antonio Spurs. Coach Nick Nurse adapted the maverick approach to the hardcourt, where he innovated on both offence and defence to help the Raptors win their first championship.

What investors can learn


Following the herd can be tempting as an investment strategy — popular stocks and funds often look like successful stocks and funds. In reality, smart investors take note of the investment climate but also stop to question the hysteria of the markets. Staying true to your investment policy and principles is important not only for picking stocks, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, but also for timing decisions to buy and sell.

Avoiding the herd doesn’t need to push investors to the extremes of contrarian investing – but it does require independence and well-defined goals.

#2: Overconfidence


All athletes need to master that balance of confidence and overconfidence – avoiding the pull of “too high or too low.” The Raptors made a mantra of the practice, by preaching the benefits of “staying in the moment.” Because when playing top-flight teams like the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks, an overactive ego can prove as damaging as a faulty jump shot.

What investors can learn


What goes for athletes is also true for investors. So many investors think that a few smart investing moves will translate into long-term investing genius. In this way, overconfidence ties into self-attribution bias, when investors believe their success can be attributed only to their investing acumen. If only investing were that straightforward. Even legendary investor Warren Buffett has made mistakes while wrestling with the limits of human intelligence and the inevitable factors beyond his control.

#3: Diversification


The Raptors present an interesting case of a superstar paired with balanced team. While Kawhi Leonard proved pivotal to the team’s success, several Raptors contributed double-digit scoring. This led commentators to describe the Raptors as one of the more balanced championship teams in recent memory. The Raptors’ tendency towards balance only grew as the postseason progressed, and helped the team compensate for a Kawhi limited by injuries and opponents’ double-teaming defences.

What investors can learn


It may constitute almost the first rule of investing, but we tend to forget it: diversify your holdings. Much as basketball teams can’t rely on scoring from one or two sources, investors can’t depend on big gains from a small number of similar investments. Portfolio risk needs to be spread among a variety of investment vehicles and various sectors.

Some investors fail to diversify due to familiarity bias. The theory goes that people trust – and select investments based on - what they know best. They will therefore focus on domestic stocks and funds or those stocks and funds that are household names. By investing in international stocks, adding holdings in several sectors and including both low- and high-risk investments, investors put themselves in a better position. A word of caution: when exploring less familiar investments, seek out dependable research and advisors.

Familiarity bias can also be viewed as a home vs. international bias from an investing perspective.

As I am writing this, Kawhi has not yet decided whether to stay with the Raptors or return home to play for the Los Angeles Clippers, the other rumoured option. He is weighing many factors, but his choice pits Los Angeles, where he was born and raised and has family and friends, against Toronto, an international destination that is somewhat familiar but is still a foreign location and certainly not home. If Kawhi looked at this from an investment perspective, clearly he should sign with Toronto. (And now I’m showing my own bias – for the Raptors.)

#4: Worry


It’s not just sports fans who experience anxiety as they live and die with their teams’ fortunes. Even professional athletes have been known to lose sleep due to worry, as former Raptor Jonas Valanciunas has acknowledged. When tired athletes bring the previous night’s restlessness to the court, their performance generally suffers. Raptors management recognizes this, and educates the players on how to use rest to prepare their bodies and minds for competition. This year’s edition of the Raptors was also helped by a coach, in Nick Nurse, who cultivated a calming culture.

What investors can learn


Losing sleep may not directly influence investing performance in the same way as it drives on-the-court results. But researchers have uncovered interesting ties between worry and investing. Victor Ricciardi, who studies the psychology of investing, found that increased worry about a stock decreases an investor’s risk tolerance for that stock and the chances they will buy it. People may want to control their worries – but we all struggle to master our emotions around investing. For some this can lead to sleepless nights, which can certainly impact us at the office and at home. Part of investing is matching our risk tolerance to our rest tolerance.

#5: Anchoring


Raptors’ fans may not know the anchoring bias by name, but they know it all the same. Years of seeing good teams bowing out in the playoffs – sometimes in embarrassing fashion – conditioned fans to expect defeat for the team. Their beliefs about the future were “anchored” in past Raptors performances. So much so, in fact, that one American sportswriter asked Raptors players about Torontonians’ so-called defeatism. Acquiring Kawhi Leonard helped shift fans’ perceptions, but many still found it difficult to believe this year would be different. Now a championship has given Raptors’ fans an entirely new, and positive, anchoring event to form their expectations in the future.

What investors can learn


Anchoring bias can unsettle our portfolios in surprising ways. The classic investing example concerns purchase price: investors hold on to a stock because they remember their purchase price, not the stock’s decrease in value. They use that original price as an anchor. On the other end of the spectrum, investors may exhibit an extremely low tolerance of risk based on past performance. Think of a new investor who lived through the record one-day TSX drop in 2008 and runs from the markets as a result. Even the investing styles of our parents can anchor our perceptions of the correct way to invest.

Anchoring, like all investing biases, is difficult to avoid. Even our best attempts at fully rational investing behaviour can’t rid us of the emotions that make us human. What we can do is know our personal biases, understand why they may exist and access the best research and professional advice possible so that facts and data inform our investing decisions. And be sure to ask questions; even advisors have their investing biases. Professional advisors should be able to explain their investing recommendations to you.

I hope you found this post fun and informative. As this is the last original post until September (I will post The Best of The Blunt Bean Counter a couple times a month in July and August), I wish you a great and safe summer.

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Making the most of your pension income tax credit

Say a word for the pension income tax credit. It may pack a comparatively smaller financial punch, but ignore it at your peril. As part of a comprehensive wealth planning strategy, it plays its own modest part in helping Canadians make the most of their retirement savings.

I’ve asked my colleague Jeffrey Smith to break down the ins and outs of this sometimes underappreciated tax credit. Jeff is a Manager in BDO’s Wealth Advisory Services practice, based in Kelowna, BC.
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What is the pension income tax credit?


The pension income tax credit (PITC) is a tax credit that you can apply to the first $2,000 of eligible pension income, which would result in a tax savings of 15% of eligible income. The maximum savings federally is $300 ($2,000 x 15%), plus a provincial credit depending on the province you live in.

The PITC is non-refundable, so you cannot carry it forward in subsequent years. You use it or lose it.

That may lead to your next question: what is eligible pension income?

Eligible pension income


There are different sources of income that are eligible to claim the PITC. What’s interesting is that age may factor into eligibility. If you’re under 65, the PITC is available for the following pension income from as early as age 55:
  • A life annuity payment from a superannuation
  • Payment from a specified pension plan
  • Annuity payment arising from the death of a spouse under a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF), or Deferred Profit Sharing Plan (DPSP).
If the above income is elected split pension income, your spouse or common law partner will qualify for the PITC as well.

If you do not have the income sources noted above, when you reach age 65 there are many new types of income that qualify for the pension amount. These types of income are:
  • Payment from an RRIF
  • Interest from a prescribed non-registered annuity
  • Payment from a foreign pension
  • Interest from a non-registered GIC offered by a life insurance company.

Non-eligible pension income


Clients are sometimes surprised by the list of benefits that don’t qualify for the PITC – especially when it comes to government benefits. Income from the following sources generally does not qualify for the pension amount:
  • Old Age Security
  • Canada Pension Plan
  • Death benefits
  • Quebec Pension Plan
  • Retirement compensation agreements
  • Foreign-source pension income that is tax free in Canada
  • Salary deferral arrangements
  • Income from a U.S. Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

Potential tax savings


Now that we have identified what does and what does not qualify for the PITC, below is an example of the tax savings on the federal level for each marginal tax rate. For the purposes of this discussion, we have ignored federal surtaxes that apply on personal rates.

Federal tax rate
15%
22%
26%
29%
Eligible pension income
$   2,000
$   2,000
$   2,000
$ 2,000
Federal tax
        300
        440
        520
      580
Pension tax credit
    -   300
    -   300
    -   300
  -   300
Net federal taxes payable
$          0
$      140
$      220
$    280

Each province has its own respective tax rates and pension tax credit limits, so the total tax savings will vary by province.

Tax planning opportunities


If you have income that is eligible for the PITC, you should use it. However, if you are 65 or older and do not have eligible income, you can still take action to use this credit for you and your family. Here are three mechanisms on which we advise clients:
  • Transfer $14,000 of an RRSP to an RRIF. This will allow you to draw $2,000 per year and use the PITC from 65 to 71 when your RRSP converts to an RRIF naturally. This is an opportunity whether you need the income or not.
  • Transfer any unused PITC to a spouse who earns pension income greater than $2,000 and has not used the pension credit themselves.
  • Transfer a Locked-in Retirement Account to a Life Income Fund and annuitize.
These recommendations should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to ensure that any pros and cons have been outlined before making a decision. Reach out to your advisor to assist you with structuring your assets in the most tax-efficient manner.

Jeffrey Smith - CPA, CA, CFP - is a Manager in BDO’s Wealth Advisory Services practice and can be reached at 250-763-6700 or by email at jrsmith@bdo.ca.

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Should I commute my pension?

Defined benefit pension plans make some people very happy – and others just a bit jealous. But they’re not all fun and games. Their recipients – and the recipients’ families – must ask themselves several questions when they leave their job. Here is a key one: should I take the defined benefit or go for the commuted value?

Some people may ask, aren’t defined benefit plans a thing of the past? Yes and no. While the number of defined benefit plans offered by private sector employers in Canada has declined over the last 10 to 15 years, they still play a vital role in the retirement of over 4 million Canadians, according to 2016 Statscan figures. They also remain de rigueur in the public sector.

Today, BDO’s Tom Mathies – Senior Advisor, Wealth Advisory Services – drops by Blunt Bean Counter to analyze whether you should keep the pension as is or take the commuted value as a lump sum.
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The families my team deals with on a daily basis ask many questions about retirement. Often they boil down to one simple concern: “Where do I get my ‘next’ paycheck from?” That’s why the question of defined benefit vs. commuted value is so crucial. By taking the commuted value, people add a variable into the certainty of a defined benefit pension.

Figuring out where to start can be overwhelming for many. We recommend keeping track of your spending for six months to a year before retirement. This helps you understand your spending decisions by looking at your long-term habits and trends. It serves as a first step in deciding whether to commute your pension.

Aside from spending habits, the factors in deciding whether to take the commuted value over the defined pension are as varied as the number of Canadian families. There is no universal rule to make this an easy choice. However, let’s discuss a few of the considerations.

What is a defined benefit plan?


A defined benefit plan provides a predetermined monthly income after retirement based on the formula stated in the plan. Typical factors in determining the benefit include number of years of service, age at retirement, amount of the contributions into the plan, and average income.

Many people believe that having a defined benefit pension is the retirement equivalent of receiving Willy Wonka’s “golden ticket.” These plans do provide peace of mind and potential income security. However, they are not foolproof. Cautionary tales like the Sears bankruptcy – though anomalies - illustrate how fragile defined benefit guarantees are for pensioners.

In addition, governments provide little protection in case the company goes belly-up. Ontario is the only province to provide such a guarantee, through its Pension Benefits Guarantee Fund.

Bridge benefit


To support retirees who retire early, many defined benefit plans offer a bridge benefit option. This bridges the gap years until age 65, when many people start receiving Canada Pension Plan (CPP) benefits. While Canadians can choose age 60 as their start date, they will receive lower individual payments than if they begin later.

Bridge benefit payments are considered an additional benefit above the calculated lifetime pension. If retirees commute their pension, they don’t receive the bridge benefit. Some pensioners choose to receive their reduced CPP benefit while also receiving a bridge benefit. Old Age Security (OAS) benefits also often begin at age 65 and will therefore replace some of the bridge benefit.

We urge people to consider all of their taxable income when applying for OAS, as OAS benefits are reduced when net income exceeds $77,580. If net income reaches $125,696 in 2019, OAS will be fully clawed back beginning July 2020. For those pensioners with higher income between ages 65 and 69, OAS can now be deferred to age 70. Those pensioners who opt to defer to age 70 will receive a benefit that could be as much as 36% greater than those who elect to take OAS at 65.

Survivor benefits


Defined benefit plans also offer a number of survivor benefit options in case the pensioner passes away after retirement. These ensure at least 66.67% of the monthly pension is available to their spouse. Pensioners may instead choose a survivor pension that provides a greater percentage - 80% or 100% - of the monthly benefit. If you choose a higher survivor benefit, the monthly pension will be lower to accommodate for the increased benefit to your spouse. The survivor options for loved ones of a pensioner who dies before retirement, or for a pensioner who dies without a spouse in retirement, vary based on the pension.

What is the commuted value?


People who decide their commute their defined benefit pension receive a lump sum amount instead of a monthly payout.

The commuted value of an individual’s pension is calculated by an actuary. It represents the net present value of the future obligation to fund a retirement benefit, based on the years of service and lifetime average income earned during the years of membership in the pension, to use the description of Fraser Lang of GBL Inc. Once calculated, a portion of the commuted value can be transferred to a locked-in retirement account (LIRA), and the balance comes out as taxable income. Every pension calculates the commuted value differently.

Consider a pension that pays $70,000 per year for life. What size portfolio would one need to generate that kind of income? Using the 4% rule, you would need a portfolio of $1.75 million to maintain your principal. So would a pensioner be further ahead by taking the commuted value?

In this example, the commuted value would be about $2 million. Of this value, approximately $650,000 would be eligible for transfer to a LIRA, and the balance comes to the pensioner as taxable income. After paying tax, they will be left with about $1.35 million in a mix of registered and non-registered money.

One note of warning: commuting a pension provides the recipient with liquidity, but also with a potentially large tax bill.

Defined benefit vs. commuted value


Deciding between taking the relative safety of a defined benefit and the lump sum of commuted value demands that you ask some tough questions:
  • Are you a person who needs the structure of a defined budget to keep you on track?
  • Do you like the idea of predetermined income for yourself and your spouse in case you pass away first?
  • Do you believe your company or organization is in a good position to fund pension liabilities for many years to come?
  • Is the defined benefit indexed to inflation?
  • Is the defined benefit plan underfunded?
  • Does the plan provide a greater benefit than what could be reasonably achieved in other stock or bond investments?
  • Do you require immediate liquidity?
  • Would you rather invest the funds directly or with the help of an advisor – or leave them in the plan?
  • Would you like to leave an inheritance for the next generation without purchasing a life insurance policy?
Deciding between keeping the defined benefit and choosing the commuted value can be one of the toughest decision retirees make. In the end, the answer will often come down to those familiar investment variables – lifestyle, risk profile, and finances.

Tom Mathies is a senior advisor in the Wealth Advisory Services practice at BDO. He can be reached at tmathies@bdo.ca, or by phone at 519-432-5534.

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Retiring at a Market Peak – Why it May Not Be as Bad as You Think

In January of 2014, I took on my most ambitious task (never to be repeated) in writing my blog: I decided to write a six-part series titled “How Much Money do I Need to Retire? Heck if I Know or Anyone Else Does!”

The first four posts dealt with various studies and reports on the appropriate withdrawal rate in retirement. The consensus seemed to be that taking 3 or 4% (depending upon your perspective) of your inflation-adjusted nest egg each year (or “withdrawing” it, to use the term that gives the withdrawal rate its name) would last you approximately 30 years. Those four posts can be found here:
Post 5 dealt with the factors that could impact your retirement funding, such as longevity, inflation and sequence of returns. That post can be found here.

In my final Post 6, I provided some simple retirement nest egg calculations to see if I could determine a reasonable range for the magic retirement number. That post can be found here.

Sequence of returns


In writing the above series, it became evident that not only is determining the correct withdrawal rate and approximate dollar value needed to retire a complex and somewhat impossible task — but also that the timing of your retirement could cause a significant variance in your financial position. This concept, known as “sequence of returns,” says that market performance just after your retirement date could sideswipe your retirement plans. I discussed it in my fifth post and it was very intriguing to me.

In that post I quoted retirement guru Wade Pfau as saying:

“In fact, the wealth remaining 10 years after retirement combined with the cumulative inflation during those 10 years can explain 80 percent of the variation in a retiree's maximum sustainable withdrawal rate after 30 years.”

In plain English, Wade is saying this. Let’s say two people have the same exact rate of return over 10 years. If one person’s return is better in, say, years 1 to 5, and the other’s is better in, say, years 6 to 10, the interaction between the rate of return, inflation and the standard rate of withdrawals will favour the person with the front-loaded higher returns. As a result, they will be able to continue their standard withdrawals for a longer period.

Since numbers probably illustrate this issue best, it may be useful to look at exhibit 4 on page 7 of this report from Fidelity Research written by W. Van Harlow and Moshe A. Milevsky.

Retiring at a market peak


Quite honestly, the fact that the arbitrary sequence of returns could drastically affect a well-planned retirement has always freaked me out. My luck isn’t too bad, but I just know that the market will peak the year I retire and fall for several years after.

I was thus very interested in an article titled “Solace for those worried about retiring at a market peak” (paywall protected), written by Norman Rothery, the founder of Thestingyinvestor.com in The Globe and Mail in late January of this year.

For those of you who cannot access the article, essentially Norman modelled an investor who retired at the top of the stock market in 2000 with $1 million invested in a balanced portfolio and reviewed the portfolio value using withdrawal rates of 3, 4, 5 and 6%. (“Balanced” in this case means half in the S&P/TSX Composite Index and half in the S&P Canada Aggregate Bond Index.)

What Norman found is that the portfolio using a 4% withdrawal rate lost 30% of its real value by the end of 2002 but climbed back to nearly $680,000 in inflation-adjusted terms by the end of December 31, 2017. He noted that while this unfortunate retiree did not have the greatest experience, the odds are that the 4% rule will still survive for 30 years, given the capital balance after 18 years. (It is important to understand: Norman is not saying that they did as well as the lucky investor who retired into a bull market. He is saying that the 4% rule still appears to work in that the retiree likely can continue to withdraw their intended yearly amount and make their savings likely last for at least 30 years.) 

Norman noted that the more aggressive withdrawal rates did not fare well, and this aligns with our discussion above. He suggests a 3% withdrawal rate would provide a greater margin of safety, but the model to date, reflects those who retire into a peak market should still make it through with 4% if they have a conservative retirement plan.

So, the moral of the story is to plan your retirement to occur at the bottom of the market. But seriously, this article should provide some hope to anyone unlucky enough to retire at a market peak who is using a 4% withdrawal rate and especially those using a 3% withdrawal rate.