Mother accidentally declared dead by the CRA, son says

One Canadian man is learning just how difficult it is to bring someone back to life on paper, after his mother was erroneously declared dead by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

Dave Gibeault was surprised to find a date of death on his mother Mary’s notice of assessment this month and quickly had his accountant contact the CRA to rectify the situation.

“I read her CRA notice of assessment saying she was now deceased and since they had received a date of death, I would be required to settle any financials dealing with her,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Wednesday.

He said that when his accountant reached out to the CRA they had no explanation as to why she was declared deceased, and reversed the decision. Despite the reversal, Gibeault said that she still doesn’t have access to her old age security, GST rebate or funding for her room in a long-term care home.

“On very rare occasions an individual may erroneously be declared deceased with respect to their records with the Government of Canada. We understand that this can be both alarming and have financial implications. Our goal is to minimize any occurrence and if it occurs, deal with it quickly. Generally, the issue can be quickly resolved once we are advised of the error,” Christopher Doody, media relations for the CRA, told CTVNews.ca in an email on Wednesday.

“They now say she is alive but are unable to reinstate her pension and old age security,” Gibeault said. “Her GST is also unavailable, as well as her carbon tax, which they quickly removed from her tax return.”

Mary Gibeault, who is in a Winnipeg long-term care home with advanced dementia, is unable to advocate for herself, so Dave has been spending much of his time this week on hold with the CRA and Service Canada.

“They usually tell you now, the wait is between three-and-a-half and … four hours. If it gets to four hours, you'll be disconnected and you'll have to call back tomorrow,” he said. “I haven't worked for almost two days.”

He said that he submitted power of attorney papers to the CRA and Service Canada two years ago, but he’s having to resubmit the work and have it assessed to have her pension reinstated.

With the end of the month just days away, Gilbeault worries about paying for his mother's long-term care home, which Manitoba Health usually funds most of.

“I'll get through this. I'll figure this out somehow. And I'll pay it if I have to. But the bigger picture is there's a lot of people that are the lone survivor and … don't have an advocate,” he said. “Who's helping those people out when they've been declared dead and their money runs out?”

He said that part of the issue he’s facing is that Mary can’t get on the phone and speak with them herself because of her advanced dementia, which Dave says they’ve asked her to do.

“Unfortunately, the people in Service Canada and Canada Revenue don't seem to understand there's a person on the other side,” he said.

The CRA said that there are a number of reasons someone may accidentally be declared deceased, including when someone fills out a tax form incorrectly and cases of error on part of a CRA employee.

“The root cause of the error can vary. In many cases, these errors are made when a tax return is filed on behalf of a deceased person. In situations where it is determined that an error was made, the process is to simply remove the date of death from the taxpayer’s file and the taxpayer’s CRA account is restored,” Doody added.

Gibeault wonders what could have gone wrong in his mother’s case.

“The scary part is they say they received a date of death,” he said.

Whatever the cause, the solution to an accidental declaration of death seems simple enough.

“In cases where it is determined that an error has been made, the process is to remove the date of death from the taxpayer’s file and the taxpayer’s CRA account is restored. Upon discovery of an error, the CRA corrects the record immediately and advises Service Canada so they can update their records accordingly,” Doody added.

On the CRA website, it says they have a target turnaround time to rectify accounts that have been mistakenly declared deceased.

“Once an account is found to have been coded deceased in error, the CRA has an internal program target of 48 hours to correct the information,” it reads.

But for Gibeault, it hasn’t been that simple. He’s still trying to get his mother’s financials reinstated, and doesn’t know how long the whole process could take. Apparently, his mother isn’t alone in limbo. Another resident at her long-term care home had previously been declared deceased, and Gibeault said he’s heard from others who have had similar experiences.

Between 2007 and 2013, 5,489 people were erroneously declared dead. In 2014, a special ombudsman report addressed the issue and set out recommendations so that these errors could be avoided.