Individuals may be asked to take on various roles in respect of loved ones, friends, clients or others. One role that is particularly riddled with challenges is that of an estate executor. While an individual may carry out their duties in an appropriate manner, it is important to consider the risks of unhappy beneficiaries and any other undesirable outcomes, including litigation and/or strained relationships.
A March 4, 2022, Tax Court of Canada case reviewed whether the taxpayer was personally liable for the estate’s tax debts. On the death of the taxpayer’s father in 1994, the taxpayer and his brother became executors of the estate. The taxpayer argued that he renounced his role of executor two months after the death of his father and therefore should not be held liable for the estate’s tax debts.
The father left most of his estate to the taxpayer’s brother, as well as a portion to grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The taxpayer accepted this decision but wanted to ensure that his daughter received her share of the estate. To this effect, in 2010, the taxpayer and his brother took steps to distribute a balance of $240,000 payable to the taxpayer’s daughter, secured by a mortgage against one of the estate’s properties. That is, the taxpayer’s daughter was essentially provided a $240,000 receivable from the estate. No clearance certificate was obtained, and the estate was in arrears with its taxes. In 2016, the brother died.
While the taxpayer argued that he renounced his role as executor and provided an alleged handwritten note from 1994 to that effect, the Court did not accept that he formally renounced his role. While the Court acknowledged that the taxpayer may not have understood everything about being an executor or every aspect of a land transfer, the Court believed he understood that he was signing as an executor. As he was the executor when the mortgage was secured and did not obtain a clearance certificate, he was held personally liable for the estate’s tax debts.
The Court further stated that even if it did find that the taxpayer had properly renounced his role, the taxpayer acted as a “trustee de son tort” (a person who is not appointed as a trustee but whose course of conduct suggests that he be treated as one), and for income tax purposes, he would have been considered a “legal representative.”
ACTION: Acting as an executor comes with significant responsibilities. Failure to properly administer the estate can result in personal liability. If you choose to decline the role, you must do so properly and not act as an executor.