Individual shareholders who wish to withdraw funds from a corporation can face some tax challenges that are sometimes difficult to overcome. Nevertheless, there are various ways of achieving this objective that limit or eliminate the negative tax consequences to the shareholder and the corporation, provided certain conditions are complied with. The transfer of a life insurance policy by an individual shareholder to a corporation where the two are in a non-arm’s length relationship is often an effective way of accomplishing this.

The technique is simple. The individual transfers his policy to his corporation and receives a consideration equal to the fair market value of the policy, as determined by an actuary. The consideration paid by the corporation may be in the form of money or a promissory note that will be paid when the corporation has the necessary cash available. By operation of the ITA, the proceeds of disposition are deemed to be equal to the cash surrender value of the policy transferred at the time of the disposition.1

The shareholder is then taxed on the difference between the cash surrender value of the policy and its adjusted cost base, and the resulting gain, if any, is considered to be income from property and not a capital gain.2 Assuming that the cash surrender value of the policy is low and that its fair market value is high, the shareholder will benefit from a significant disbursement of funds with little or no negative tax impact.

The fair market value of a policy will be higher than its cash surrender value, for instance, where the insured’s health condition has deteriorated since he or she took out the policy. This will also be the case where the theoretical premium for a comparable policy would be higher than that paid for the policy in question for financial reasons attributable to the type of policy purchased or to changes in pricing.

As for the corporation, it ends up making a non-deductible outlay of funds and acquiring an interest in an insurance policy with an adjusted cost base equal to its cash surrender value. Thus, upon the death of the shareholder, in addition to receiving the insurance proceeds, the corporation will also benefit from an increase in its capital dividend account equal to the indemnity received, less the adjusted cost base of the policy.3

The Canada Revenue Agency acknowledges the validity of this type of planning, but seems to be uncomfortable with the result.4 It has submitted this issue to the Department of Finance which has indicated that it is studying the issue. However, no amendment has been made to the statute to date, more than 10 years after the issue was raised for the first time in 2002.

In addition, there are certain advantages to the corporation holding the insurance policy and paying the premiums, particularly the fact that the after-tax cost of the premiums is often lower to the corporation than it would be to the shareholder.

The foregoing analysis is obviously general in nature and a more detailed assessment is advisable for any individual who is in a position to transfer a personally owned policy to a corporation.