Monday, February 10, 2014
Beneficiaries paid before taxes were paid? Oops...
Posted by Lynne Butler
"I was named executor in my dad's will (he died in 2011) & I asked a major Canadian bank (not BNS) to take over this duty which was done through the proper channels. An interim distribution was made in Nov. 2011. Now the 3 beneficiaries are being told by the bank to repay $5,000 to the estate to pay CRA penalties for my parents failing to file back tax returns. Are we obligated to return this money to the estate? They have had the file since 2011 and made a distribution before being sure that CRA was not owed money. Are the beneficiaries responsible for their oversight?"
No, the beneficiaries are not responsible for their oversight; you are.
I've made this statement based on the assumption that when you hired the bank, you did not renounce as executor, but simply hired them as your agent. I assume this partly because this is how it is usually done, and because you didn't say otherwise.
The fact that there has been an error like this puts you in a bad position. I do not believe that the beneficiaries are obligated to return the funds, but you might hope that they do. It is the executor who is responsible for unpaid taxes when the estate is prematurely paid out, and you are the executor.
You have the final say in all decisions and as far as CRA and the law are concerned, you are the one who is ultimately responsible for the erroneous payout of the funds to the beneficiaries. You are responsible for all actions taken by anyone acting as your agent.
Having said that, I understand that when a bank/trust company or lawyer is helping with an estate, the executor leans heavily on their advice. They are professional executors and should be well versed in the tax rules. So, in reality, I think if the beneficiaries do not return the funds (and why would they?) you should try to get the bank to cover the shortfall.
It was their mistake, from what you've said. You haven't mentioned whether or not they hired an accountant to provide an estimate of taxes owing, so I will assume they did not. They might decide to cover the shortfall simply from a customer satisfaction perspective, if the mistake was indeed their fault.
This is a shame, really, because it seems to me that the bank/trust company was probably trying to do the beneficiaries a favour by paying out as much as possible and to hold back the minimum. This isn't the first estate that has been caught out this way, and it won't be the last.
But understand that this tax debt is ultimately yours as the executor of the estate. The bank is entitled to rely on the letter of the law that says that you personally are responsible for ensuring that taxes are paid or funds withheld.