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. 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, February 2, 2015

The Two Certainties in Life: Death and Taxes - The Impact on Small Business Owners

In my two prior blog posts in this series on death and taxes, I discussed with you the general income tax rules as they relate to the death of an individual. Today, I am going to discuss the income tax issues that arise on death, where you own shares in a private Canadian corporation (“CCPC”).

Note:You may own shares in a private corporation (typically a Canadian company controlled by non-residents) as opposed to a CCPC  or shares in a private foreign corporation. Although the general deemed disposition rule will apply upon death, for purposes of this blog post, I am not considering any issues related to these type entities. Please seek specific advice if you own such shares.

It has been my experience that some owner-managers of CCPC’s are surprised to find out that their shares are subject to the general deemed disposition rules upon death. The rule being: that upon your death, the shares of your CCPC (assuming the shares are not transferred to your spouse) are deemed to have been disposed of for proceeds equal to the fair market value (“FMV”) of those shares and a capital gain results to the extent that FMV (which is often difficult to determine for a CCPC) exceeds the adjusted cost base (“ACB”) of those shares.

There are two reasons I typically hear as to why the private company owner-manager does not think their shares are subject to the deemed disposition rules:

(1) They thought the corporate taxes they paid each year took care of that issue.

(2) They thought if they left the company to their children, their kids would be the ones who pay the tax (as per my blog on estate freezes, this tax can be mitigated, but not eliminated by undertaking an estate freeze).

The owner-manager may also be surprised to hear that their shares are potentially subject to double taxation if proper steps are not undertaken to alleviate this liability. Double taxation can occur where the estate pays tax on the deemed disposition reported on the owner-manager’s terminal tax return, and then the estate pays further tax when it removes the assets from the corporation in the form of dividends to the estate.

There are two tax planning strategies that can generally eliminate any double tax; however, both techniques have some potential restrictions:

(1) The first is known as a subsection 164(6) loss carryback. In simple terms a loss is created on a share redemption by the estate that reduces or eliminates the capital gain that arose as result of the deemed disposition on death. It should be noted that new legislation related to the changes to “graduated rate estates” could impact this planning in the future, as the loss carryback may be restricted.

(2) The second, known as the pipeline strategy allows the estate to remove the corporate funds tax-free by in very simple terms, transferring the deceased owner-manager’s shares to a new corporation and using redemptions and a netting of promissory notes to remove those funds tax-free.

However, a pipeline strategy can be problematic in certain circumstances.

Capital Gains Exemption

In many cases the owner-manager can avail themselves to the $800,000 capital gains exemption ("CGE") to utilize against any deemed capital gain. However, as discussed in this post, it can be problematic to access the exemption where the corporation has excess cash or the owner-manager dies suddenly without implementing the proper planning.

In summary, as morose as this sounds, if you own shares of a private corporation, you and your tax advisor should be proactively planning for your death, which includes monitoring on an ongoing basis, whether your shares will qualify for the CGE.

The planning process would in general start with a determination of your potential income tax liability on death, including an estimate of the liability related to your private company shares. This will lead to a discussion of whether or not your estate will have enough liquidity to cover that anticipated liability or if you need to consider purchasing life insurance to cover any taxes potentially owing upon your death. The discussion should then morph into a succession planning discussion, and whether or not an estate freeze/sale to family member would make sense in your situation, or what plans you have in regard to an exit strategy.

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. Please note the blog post is time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.


  1. I know this doesn't apply to most readers, but if the family business is farming or fishing there are more options. Please see # 5 &7 in It really has helped my family situation. Kevin

    1. Thx Kevin, applies to lots of people, just no one I deal with.

  2. For a family holding company is the FMV taxed as a cap gain or a deemed dividend?

    1. Hi Anon

      Upon death, the holding company shares are deemed disposed as a capital gain, however, as noted above you may need a pipeline or similar transaction subsequently that involves redemption and deemed dividends. This is extremely complicated and you would need to discuss with your accountant to work through the best solution for a particular circumstance.

  3. Hello Mark,
    could you please share your opinion on estate achiever life insurance policies, specifically how they compare to other forms of investment. The numbers look great (for EA) but I am concerned about the hidden management fees that are hard to understand and not very transparent unlike the management fees of the bank. Also, could you please advise on what to look for when comparing and choosing between EA policies from different companies (Canada Life, Manulife etc). Thank you