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.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Let Me Tell You!

This summer I was considering ways to freshen up the blog and keep myself invigorated to write. My son and daughter suggested that in addition to the two or three tax/financial blogs I write each month I should consider writing a monthly editorial blog and title it “Let Me Tell You”. The title was suggested since as a blunt and somewhat opinionated person, I often give them mini topic lectures and always start with “Let Me Tell You”.

My kids thought “Let Me Tell You” would provide me a platform to speak my mind openly on a variety of topics. I loved the idea. However, upon reflection, as a partner in a National Accounting firm, I decided it is not best for my future career prospects to use my blog as a soapbox for my personal opinions, as some may not reflect my firm’s position on certain issues.

That being said, I am going to write a few blog posts under “Let Me Tell You” that delve into topics that may a bit more philosophical or life lessons as opposed to critical pieces (although I have an idea that may allow me to write a factual piece that in essence becomes an opinion piece). Your feedback will help me judge whether you find these pieces interesting or whether I should stick to the financial status quo.

Next Monday I’ll share with you in my first “Let Me Tell You” post, strategies I use to help me make engaging speeches, presentations and meetings.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Proposed Changes to the Voluntary Disclosures Program (VDP)

Most people are aware of the Canada Revenue Agency’s Voluntary Disclosures Program, or VDP. This program gives taxpayers the opportunity to make changes to previously filed returns, and to file returns that haven’t been filed, and provides relief from penalties and potential some interest that would have been assessed.

On June 9, 2017, the CRA proposed changes to the Voluntary Disclosures Program. These proposed changes will impact a taxpayer’s eligibility for the program and impose new conditions on those who apply.

Large Corporations


For corporate taxpayers, if the company had gross revenue of more than $250 million in two of the last five tax years, the application would generally not be accepted under the proposed changes. Neither would applications related to transfer pricing adjustments.

Dual Streams


The proposal also included two new “streams” for disclosures called the General and Limited programs. However, taxpayer’s would not apply to one program or the other. Applications would be made to the program and, if accepted, the CRA would determine the program/stream under which it would be evaluated.

The main difference between the programs would be the relief provided. Penalty and interest relief would be available under the General Program, whereas no interest relief would be available under the Limited Program.

To determine the stream under which an application should be assessed, CRA would consider the following criteria:

  •  Were there active efforts to avoid detection (use of offshore vehicles, etc.)? 
  • Are large dollar amounts or multiple tax years involved? 
  • Is the disclosure being made after the CRA has made it known that they intend to focus on the area of non-compliance that is being disclosed? 
  • Is there a high degree of taxpayer culpability in the failure to comply?
If one or more of the above conditions are met, the application would likely be evaluated under the Limited Program.

There are two significant changes that would affect all applicants. The first that payment for the estimated tax owing will need to be included with the application under the proposed rules and two, a no-name disclosures will no longer be an option. That being said, the CRA has indicated that it would allow taxpayers to have pre-disclosure discussions on a no-name basis to provide them with insight into the process, the risks involved in remaining non-compliant, and the relief available.

Changes have also been proposed to the way interest relief will be calculated. Under the General Program, there are two time periods to consider: for the three most recent years required to be filed, full interest would be assessed; for years before the most recent three years required to be filed, 50% of the interest otherwise applicable would be assessed. As previously mentioned, no interest relief would be available under the Limited Program.

It is important to note that CRA reserves the right to audit or verify any information provided under the VDP application, whether it is accepted into the program or not.

Keep an eye out for an official announcement on the proposed changes, which is expected in the fall of 2017.

I would like to thank Samantha Harris, CPA, CA, Senior Accountant, Tax for BDO Canada LLP for her extensive assistance in writing this post. 

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Tax Planning Using Private Corporations - A Philosophical and Critical Review

I am back from my summer break. Today, I comment on the Liberal tax proposals put forth in July, in respect of the taxation of private corporations. I have a feeling I may be writing on this topic several times this year.

On July 24th, I wrote a blog post on the Liberal government’s proposals for tax planning using private corporations. As these proposals were released mid-summer, it took a while for small business owners and professionals to understand the potentially complex and punitive nature of these proposals. If you want to read an updated summary with recommendations on this issue,
this report by BDO Canada is very good.

I can tell your first hand that there is a lot of anger among business owners for what they consider a totally misguided government notion that business owners should be treated in exactly the same manner for tax purposes as their employees who take none of the business and financial risks and the implication private business owners are abusing the tax system. Opposition has been growing throughout the summer and there is a mounting backlash from professionals and small business owners against these proposals. Based on email responses I have been CC'ed on, local MPs are taking this issue seriously. Whether this pressure will cause Prime Mister Justin Trudeau and/or Minister of Finance Bill Morneau to change their stance on this issue remains to be seen.
Whether you philosophically believe these proposals are fair (and based on feedback both publicly and to my email inbox, most of my readers think they are not fair), these rules will create a very negative climate. Just as importantly, there is currently tax paralysis, as advisors are not sure what the rules are and will be and thus, they cannot properly assist their clients. One way or another, a clear path needs to be set as soon as possible.

I could provide a laundry list of reasons why I feel these proposals unfairly target small business owners and professionals, but that is not my objective for this post. What I want to discuss is the feedback I have received from those affected by the proposals, other accountants, and employees who may not feel as aggrieved.

The proposals target three specific areas:

1. Converting Income into Capital Gains

2. Income Splitting

3. Taxation of Passive Income

Converting Income into Capital Gains


When people speak frankly about this proposal, there is generally unanimous consent that the proposals for the conversion of income into capital gains are “fair”. I don’t think that if this proposal was released in a typical budget that it would cause much consternation. There is concern however; that the government has to distinguish between aggressive tax planning and tax planning that avoids double tax (such as pipeline planning upon death).

Income Splitting


When discussing this topic, most business owners and professionals feel these proposals are punitive and generally unfair save one provision (the capital gains exemption – which I discuss below). These proposals in general will prevent family income splitting (as the income will be taxed at the highest marginal tax rate) unless there is reasonable compensation and the compensation is based on labour and capital contributed.

Where I have discussed these proposals with people that are employees, in general they feel the proposals are unfair to restrict income splitting with spouses, but they tend to agree with the government that income splitting with children should be eliminated.

Business owners feel the income splitting rules are unfair is that they look at their business as a family business, not a business owned by a sole individual, even if that individual is the only one actually working the business full-time. For example, many spouses who do not work in the business either gave up a full or part-time career to enable the business owner to work the hours required. Spouses in many small businesses are sounding boards and consultants. When a spouse comes home they discuss over dinner or drinks decisions to be made regarding expansion, employee issues, equipment purchases, etc. The unpaid “consulting or sympathetic listening time” for spouses is immense. This does not even account for the family time lost due to the crazy hours worked by entrepreneurs. Children are often called in to assist with a new business in many ways for no pay and/or to have time to spend with the parent/owner.

Most business owners feel it is fair for spouses and children to own shares in a family corporation. Although when pushed, in general they feel that the $835,716 small business capital gains exemption should be restricted to spouses only and at most children over 18 years of age. Non-business owners feel that children should have no access to the capital gains exemption.

So in summary, I would suggest most business owners and non-business owners feel these proposals are extremely unfair in respect of spouses, but many non-business owners and some business owners feel the restrictions on income splitting with children are reasonable for those at least under the age of majority.

Taxation of Passive Income


As noted in my July 24th blog post, where a corporation earns less than $500,000 the company pays tax at 15% in Ontario and a similar amount in each province. This results in a tax deferral, not a tax saving of up to 38%. Where corporations earn income in excess of $500,000, or in the case of many professional corporations where access to the small business exemption is limited (they must share the $500k exemption with all their partners), the tax rate is 26.5% in Ontario and similar in most provinces, resulting in a tax deferral of 27% or so. The proposals effectively eliminate the tax deferral for all income not re-invested back into the active business.

I would say these rules have antagonized small business owners, professionals and tax advisors the most and there is unanimous consent these rules are not required and unnecessarily punitive. The reasons for this are as follows:

1. Unlike the income splitting and capital gains stripping rules, in general, these rules only result in a deferral of income tax, not an absolute saving.

2. This deferral has been used extensively by small business owners and professionals to create their own retirement fund. The fact that the government is considering removing the ability to save for retirement within a corporation has many people going apoplectic. The reason for this is essentially twofold. Firstly, business owners are furious the government is not providing any benefit for the risk they take for starting and owning a business and secondly, they look at government employees with gold plated pension plans and ask what right does the government have to prevent them from trying to create their own retirement fund?

3. Any new rules will be unbelievably complex and expensive for the business owners and advisors to administrate, especially given there is only a tax deferral and not an absolute tax savings. How do you track excess income earned between corporate use and passive use when they are often intermingled in some manner?

I have found that when you take emotion out of this issue, there is some agreement that the capital gains stripping and income splitting with children proposals were fair. However, the other proposals are considered prejudicial against high income earners, punitive, complex and totally ignore the risk that business owners must accept in starting a business. Finally, I think the Liberals are missing a very important consideration: that being mindset. When you tax people at 53% and restrict the benefits to start a business, you stunt business growth, create more underground transactions, and cause some of your best and brightest to leave the country. This does not even consider the massive spending power you are taking out of the economy by reducing the discretionary income of typically the highest spending Canadians.

Update


A couple important updates, one on this topic and one on the work-in-progress transition period announced in the 2017 Federal Budget.

In this editorial by the Finance Minister in The Globe and Mail, Mr. Morneau states the following " For those business owners and professionals who have saved and planned for their retirement under the existing rules, I want to be clear: We have no intention of going back in time. Our intent is that changes will apply only on a go-forward basis and neither existing savings, nor investment income from those savings, will be touched". This statement at least clarifies the passive income rules will at worst be go forward rules.

In this March, 2017 blog post on the federal budget, I discussed that professionals would no longer be allowed to deduct their work-in-progress ("WIP") from their taxable income and their current WIP deduction would be subject to a two year addback transition period (2018 & 2019) that would result in harsh income tax consequences for many. Late last week the government released draft legislation regarding the 2017 budget proposals and they have changed the transition period for WIP that has to be brought into taxable income to 5 years (20% a year starting in 2018 through 2022) from the initial two year proposal.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Best of The Blunt Bean Counter - The Duties of an Executor

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 blog post from April 2011, on the duties of an executor. As the 86 comments on the initial post reflect, many people are oblivious to these duties, until they are suddenly thrust upon them. This is the last "Best of" for this year, I return next week with my regular newly minted blog posts.

The Duties of an Executor


 As I noted in the first installment of this series, I have been an executor for three estates. I have also advised numerous executors in my capacity as the tax advisor/accountant for the estates of deceased taxpayers. The responsibility of being named an executor is overwhelming for many; notwithstanding the inexcusable fact many individuals appointed as executors had no idea they were going to be named an executor of an estate. In my opinion, not discussing this appointment beforehand is a huge mistake. I would suggest at a minimum, you should always ask a potential executor if they are willing to assume the job (before your will is drafted), but that is a topic for another day.

So, John Stiff dies and you are named as an executor. What duties and responsibilities will you have? Immediately you may be charged with organizing the funeral, but in many cases, the immediate family will handle those arrangements, assuming there is an immediate family in town. What’s next? Well, a lot of work and frustration dealing with financial institutions, the family members and the beneficiaries.

Below is a laundry list of many of the duties and responsibilities you will have as an executor:

  • Your first duty is to participate in a game of hide and seek to find the will and safety deposit box key(s).  If you are lucky, someone can tell you who Mr. Stiff's lawyer was and, if you can find him or her, you can get a copy of the will. Many people leave their will in their safety deposit box; so you may need to find the safety deposit key first, so you can open the safety deposit box to access the will.
  • You will then need to meet with the lawyer to co-coordinate responsibilities and understand your fiduciary duties from a legal perspective. The lawyer will also provide guidance in respect of obtaining a certificate of appointment of estate trustee with a will ("Letters Probate"), a very important step in Ontario and most other provinces. 
  • You will then want to arrange a meeting with Mr. Stiff's accountant (if he had one) to determine whether you will need his/her help in the administration of the estate or, at a minimum, for filing the required income tax returns. If the deceased does not have an accountant, you will probably want to engage one. 
  • Next up may be attending the lawyer’s office for the reading of the will; however, this is not always necessary and is probably more a "Hollywood creation" than a reality. 
  • You will then want to notify all beneficiaries of the will of their entitlement and collect their personal information (address, social insurance number etc).
  • You will then start the laborious process of trying to piece together the deceased’s assets and liabilities (see my blog Where are the Assets for a suggestion on how to make this task easy for your executor). 
  • The next task can sometimes prove to be extremely interesting. It is time to open the safety deposit box at the bank. I say extremely interesting because what if you find significant cash? If you do, you then have your first dilemma; is this cash unreported, and what is your duty in that case? 
  • It is strongly suggested that you attend the review of the contents of the safety deposit box with another executor. A bank representative will open the box for you and you need to make a list on the spot of the boxes contents, which must then be signed by all present.
  • While you are at the bank opening the safety deposit box, you will want to meet with a bank representative to open an estate bank account and find out what expenses the bank will let you pay from that account (assuming there are sufficient funds) until you obtain probate. Most banks will allow funds to be withdrawn from the deceased’s bank account to pay for the funeral expenses and the actual probate fees. However, they can be very restrictive initially and each bank has its own set of rules. 
  • As soon as possible you will want to change Mr. Stiff's mailing address to your address and cancel credit cards, utilities, newspapers, fitness clubs, etc. 
  • As soon as you have a handle on the assets and liabilities of the estate, you will want to file for letters of probate, as moving forward without probate is next to impossible in most cases. 
  • You will need to advise the various institutions of the passing of Mr. Stiff and find out what documents will be required to access the funds they have on hand. In one estate I had about 10 different institutions to deal with and I swear not one seemed to have the exact same informational requirement. 
  • If there is insurance, you will need to file claims and make claims for things such as the CPP benefit. 
  • You will need to advertise in certain legal publications or newspapers to ensure there are no unknown creditors; your lawyer will advise what is necessary.
  • It is important that you either have the accountant track all monies flowing in and out of the estate or you do it yourself in an accounting program or excel. You may need to engage someone to summarize this information in a format acceptable to the courts if a “passing of accounts” is required in your province to finalize the estate. 
  • You will also need to arrange for the re-investment of funds with the various investment advisor(s) until the funds can be paid out. For real estate you will need to ensure supervision and/or management of any properties and ensure insurance is renewed until the properties are sold. 
  • A sometimes troublesome issue is family members taking items, whether for sentimental value or for other reasons. They must be made to understand that all items must be allocated and nothing can be taken.  
  • You will need to arrange with the accountant to file the terminal return covering the period from January 1st to the date of death. Consider whether a special return for “rights and things” should be filed. You may also be required to file an “executor’s year” tax return for the period from the date of death to the one year anniversary of Mr. Stiff's death. Once all the assets have been collected and the tax returns filed, you will need to obtain a clearance certificate to absolve yourself of any responsibility for the estate and create a plan of distribution for the remaining assets (you may have paid out interim distributions during the year).
The above is just a brief list of some of the more important duties of an executor. For the sake of brevity I have ignored many others (see Jim Yih's blog for an executor's checklist).

The job of an executor is demanding and draining. Should you wish to take executor fees for your efforts, there is a standard schedule for fees in most provinces. For example in Ontario, the fee is 2.5% of the receipts of estate and 2.5% of the disbursements of the estate.

Finally, it is important to note that executor fees are taxable as the taxman gets you coming, going and even administering the going.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.