Widow denied caregiver tax credit for husband's grandma
Sharon Ryan with her late husband's grandmother Edith Ryan, 104, in their Scarborough home on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. (Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun)
Jim Ryan was raised by his grandmother and vowed he would look after her until the day she died.
He, his wife Sharon and Grandma Edith Ryan, born in 1910, had lived happily under the same roof in Scarborough since 1980.
But, as with many of the best laid plans, it didn’t work out the way they planned. Jim died first at age 49.
However, the one comfort he did have as he passed on in 2008 from kidney disease was that “Grandma” was going to be in safe hands with the protection and care of Sharon.
“Absolutely,” Sharon said Thursday of her continuing on with her husband’s wishes. “She’s Grandma.”
For the past six years, just like the previous 28, Sharon has been Edith’s primary caregiver.
But it’s getting harder.
“She’s 104 now and can’t walk and is legally blind,” Sharon said. “She also now has cancer.”
Last year as the bills were piling up from all the costs of her care, some health professionals suggested Sharon and Edith apply for a federal disability tax credit to help cover some of the expense.
That’s when the bureaucratic dance began.
Sharon was told there would be no problem in theory with receiving a credit of up to $10,000 but it turned out to be much more difficult to process when it came to filing the paperwork.
“First, there was confusion about my marital status,” Sharon said. “They said I was single and not eligible for the tax credit. I was not singled. I was widowed.
“The next time they said I was separated. I was never separated from my husband. We were together for 28 years and married for 24. The only time we were separated was when he died and that does not count as a separation.”
It sure doesn’t.
While straightened out over the phone from sympathetic and reasonable people at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), the sensible solutions did not translate into practice.
Finally, in a letter Sept. 15, Sharon and Edith were told they do not qualify for this tax credit to help with the costs incurred from her complicated care, which involves expensive wheelchairs, medication, transportation and personal support and medical visitations.
“For an adjustment of Edith Ryan’s disability amount for the 2009 to 2013 tax years we cannot allow your claim for the disability amount transferred from Edith Ryan for the 2009 and 2013 tax years,” said the terse, unsigned letter. “You can transfer the disability amount from a dependent only when the dependent is you or your spouse or common-law partner, parents, grandparents, child, grandchild, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, niece or nephew. However since the dependent is your spouse-partner’s grandmother you are no longer considered related beyond a year of the death of your spouse.”
So there is a loophole in the system that excludes his wife from the tax credit because she is no longer considered related after one year.
“It’s ridiculous,” Sharon said of a suggestion she isn’t a relative because her husband died. “It seems cruel, cold. I asked them does this mean I have to take my wedding pictures down?”
This can be easily fixed.
CRA spokesman Sam Papadopoulos is looking into it, saying “please note, we are working on response and will get info to you tomorrow (Friday) morning.”
He did say “bloodlines” sometimes can be a factor when it comes to claims. My feeling is there are some claims that may have unique circumstances and sometimes there are instances where the strict definition of the rule does not fit the actual situation.
“I can tell you Jim would be mortified because he loved his grandmother, who raised him,” she said. “It’s a special set of circumstances and I guess I thought there would be some way to work it out. It’s not the money as much as it is the principle.”
Hopefully CRA can see if there is some compromise possible or an exception to the rule.
“It’s not like she has anyone else who can look after her,” said Sharon. “Jim’s birth parents are deceased and there is only me and my son.”
Sharon Ryan is hopeful there could be a change of heart on this one — something similar we saw Wednesday when the Harper government agreed to change the claims process for our veterans.
Our seniors — and certainly ones who reach 104 — are always special cases.