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 a National Accounting Firm in Toronto. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are written solely in my personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which I am affiliated. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humor/sarcasm. You've been warned.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cohesive Professional Advice

I have written a couple times about how important it is to ensure a client’s investment advisor, lawyer, insurance agent, banker, business consultant and accountant integrate their advice into one efficient coordinated plan. A plan that takes into account the client’s investment, retirement, income tax and successions needs. 

I have noted that when advisors operate in silos, only the client suffers. Even worse are situations where advisors operate at cross purposes, often trying to protect their own fiefdom and fees.

Thus, when Adrian Spitters, a senior Financial Planner with Assante and the blogger behind The Retiring Boomer blog, offered to write a guest blog on the importance of cohesive advice amongst professionals, I jumped at his offer.

In his blog below, Adrian discusses several situations in which the joint efforts of his clients team of professionals, prevented some potentially disastrous legal results and produced some significant income tax savings. Without further ado, on to Adrian’s blog.

Cohesive Advice

by Adrian Spitters

"Most Canadians find that they lack the financial knowledge, or the time required, to  research all the options available to them and to make the important financial decisions they need to make at critical points in their lifetimes." Individuals, who decide to forgo advice and think they can do it on their own, may find themselves ill-prepared for some of the most important financial and life changing decisions they will encounter in their lifetimes; especially since many of these significant decisions are complex and require cohesive planning from several professionals.

There are a lot of good financial, legal, accounting and insurance advisors to choose from. However, some are lone cowboys that focus on what they do best and give good advice, but rarely consult with their clients other advisors to understand how their recommendations affect their client’s overall financial well-being. This can lead to problems down the road.

For example, I had a client who resisted undertaking a detailed financial plan and financial check-up. Unfortunately, only when he took ill, did he relent and provide me all his financial documents (personal and business).

With his permission, I had a tax lawyer that I work with review his legal documents, as I had some concerns. The lawyer noted there was a $500,000 cash gift clause in his will that was potentially at cross purposes with an Alter Ego Trust that had been set-up previously. He asked my client if his intention was to give his wife $500,000 through his estate and an additional $500,000 from his Alter Ego Trust. My client replied that he only intended to give his wife $500,000 in total.

It turns out that years ago when my client remarried, he had a new will drafted that gave his new spouse a life interest in the home and $500,000 cash from his investment portfolio. As the years passed, it became apparent his only son and new wife did not see eye to eye. To deal with this situation, my client’s accountant recommended he settle an Alter Ego Trust.

My client then met with a new lawyer to create the Alter Ego Trust. He instructed the lawyer that it was his intention to give $500,000 of his estate to his spouse and the rest of his estate to his son. The lawyer, unaware that a $500,000 provision for his wife already existed in his original will, wrote this provision into the Alter Ego Trust. This resulted in a potential $1,000,000 obligation to his spouse, while potentially leaving his son out in the cold, which was not his intention. The new lawyer then redrafted the will to reflect the actual wishes of my client.

Another example of the benefit of cohesive advice is a client couple who wanted to retire and sell their respective 25% interests in a company that they owned with another couple. I had some concerns about certain assets reflected on the company's balance sheet, so I recommended to my clients that they have the financials reviewed by a lawyer and an accountant that I work with to determine if my concerns were well-founded and whether they had any recommendations. My client's agreed to the review. When the tax lawyer and accountant reviewed the company financials, they discovered that the company owned a condominium and also had a corporate insurance policy with significant cash value. As a result, the company did not meet the requirements of a qualified small business corporation (QSBC) and neither shareholder was entitled to their $750,000 lifetime capital gains exemption as the company was currently constituted.

Since the value of the company was approximately $1,200,000 and the shares had no adjusted cost base, the additional income tax owing would have been in the neighbourhood of $250,000 if the company could not be restructured to qualify for the capital gains exemption. However, we were able to work with their accountant and lawyer to restructure and purify their company by selling the condominium. I also arranged to have their insurance agent transfer the insurance policies form the company into their personal names. This process took two years and once the offending assets were removed they found a buyer to purchase their company shares. While there were some costs and taxes involved in selling the condominium and transferring the insurance policies out of the company into their personal names, these costs were minimal compared to the approximately $250,000 in combined tax savings to the shareholders.

In the process of working with this client, the accountant that I worked with discovered that their partners owned a holding company. He noted that the company had two $450,000 insurance policies on each of the partners. He had the insurance agent we work with review the policies. The agent found that the policies were owned by the company, the insurance payments were made by the company and the beneficiaries were the insured couple. This posed a significant tax liability should either of the insured die. When a company makes payments on an insurance policy on behalf of the insured and the insured’s estate receives the proceeds; the proceeds are taxable to the estate (Bloggers note: if the shareholders reported a personal taxable benefit for the insurance paid by their corporation on their behalf, the CRA typically does not deem the insurance proceeds taxable, although some professionals think the proceeds are taxable even if a benefit was reported).

To correct this, our insurance agent arranged to have my client’s insurance agent change the beneficiary of the policies form the insured’s estate to the company. This way the insurance proceeds will be received by the company tax free, and can then be paid as a dividend to the surviving shareholder tax free through the corporation’s capital dividend account. Soon after the changes were made the husband passed away and the spouse received the full $450,000 insurance proceeds tax free, saving her almost $220,000 in taxes.

These real life examples help illustrate the importance of seeking advice from a cohesive team of professionals, who work together to understand your complete financial picture. Otherwise you may find yourself inadvertently, negatively impacting your financial well-being.

Adrian Spitters, FSCI, CFP, FMA, is a Senior Financial Planner with Assante Capital Management Ltd in Abbotsford, BC. Adrian has extensive business experience that includes over two decades of helping individuals, business owners, professionals, and high-net worth families. For further information please visit http://www.assante.com/advisors/aspitters/ or contact Adrian at aspitters@assante.com

The blogs posted on The Blunt Bean Counter provide information of a general nature. These posts should not be considered specific advice; as each reader's personal financial situation is unique and fact specific. Please contact a professional advisor prior to implementing or acting upon any of the information contained in one of the blogs.

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