In Kiperchuk v. The Queen, 2013 TCC 60 (CanLII), the Tax Court of Canada held that a spouse who received RRSP benefits upon her spouse’s death was not liable to pay the deceased’s unpaid tax debt arising prior to his death.
There, deceased designated his wife as the beneficiary of his RRSP. The couple subsequently separated, and divorce proceedings were commenced. However, the designation remained in place. Prior to his death, the deceased incurred significant tax debts, which were unpaid as at the time of his death. His estate was insufficient to pay the tax debts. CRA sought to find the wife liable for the unpaid taxes. It relied on s. 160 of the Income Tax Act which, in effect, imposes joint liability for unpaid taxes (to a certain extent) where a tax payer transfers property to a spouse, child or “person with whom the person was not dealing at arm’s length” for less than fair market value.
The Court refused to find the wife liable. Although it had no difficulty in finding that there was, in fact, a transfer, the transfer took place at the time of death. As of that date, the status of marriage ended due to death, and the wife was, therefore, no longer a spouse, and further, “nor was she a person with whom the transferor was not dealing at arm’s length at the time of the transfer”.
The Court may have been splitting hairs here. The transfer took effect on the moment of death, and as of that moment, according to the reasoning, the parties were no longer spouses: the husband “was not related to the appellant by marriage at the time she became entitled to the RRSP”. “The status of marriage is ended by death… .”
Further, the Court does not give much explanation as to why it considered the transfer to be at arm’s length.
Finally, the limited application of the case should be noted. The case dealt only with tax liability arising before death: a beneficiary of an RRSP is liable for unpaid income tax on the RRSP proceeds where the estate is unable to pay: s. 160.2(1) of the Income Tax Act.
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