Money: Caring for Senior Parents

By Teenaz Javat

Silloo Pesi Behrana immigrated to Canada in 2001 to join her two daughters Mahrukh and Tenaz Behrana in Mississauga, Ontario.

Born in undivided India 87 years ago, Silloo, who was a 78 year old widow when she arrived in Canada, was vaguely aware of what was in store for her. Using her eldest daughter, Mahrukh as a translator, she explains in Gujarati, her mother-tongue, “I never wanted to leave my husband’s house in Karachi,” After a pause, she adds, “Not at this age at least.”

For Silloo it was a second migration. She had already left her family in Mumbai, India and moved to Karachi, Pakistan, with her husband in the early 1950’s. To move yet again at 78 years of age was not something she looked forward to. Toward the end of the previous decade, both her daughters decided to leave Pakistan, for a relatively safer life in Canada. “Being single women, we felt unsafe living in Pakistan especially since the mid-1990’s when kidnapping, bomb attacks and riots started becoming the norm,” says Mahrukh. “I was the first to leave in 1997. My sister followed and since we could not leave our widowed mother behind, we brought her here as well”.

The Behranas gave up their rental apartment in Karachi, sold the family car and came away with whatever they could carry to make a new life. Their savings could not be stretched for long, as the exchange rate of 85 Pakistani Rupees to one Canadian dollar does not go very far, so they were forced to find jobs quickly. Once well-employed, the sisters moved with their mother to a condo near Square One, Mississauga. Both contributed equally toward supporting their mom.

However, it was when Tenaz got married and moved out that the burden of looking after the mother fell solely on Mahrukh. It is not a simple task, and according to Mahrukh, there was not much help. She explains, “I think this system discriminates against single people who are looking after their parents. Take for example the HST rebate. I got back only $300 even though I am supporting my mom. Whereas a family of two (common law or husband and wife) got back $1,000.”

She adds that families who come in with young kids get their Child Tax Benefits once they start filing their personal Income Tax returns. “I too have paid taxes since coming here 13 years ago and when I need some help in supporting my mum I am told to wait 10 years.”

How the system works

What Mahrukh is referring to is the Old Age Security Program. Service Canada’s website calls it the cornerstone of Canada’s retirement income system, which provides you with a modest pension at age 65 if you have lived in Canada for at least 10 years. The payout ranges from $490.30 to a maximum of $521.62 a month. It is financed by the Government of Canada general tax revenues. Old Age Security pensioners pay federal and provincial income taxes.

“There are several benefits offered to seniors who have lived and worked here longer than 10 years,” says Jang Engineer, a Licensed Public Accountant with Nawaz Taub and Wasserman L.L.P. “However, in the case of Silloo Behrana, the tax credit that her daughter will be eligible for is $4,105 annually per senior with no other income. The benefit of this is 15 percent or $615 in actual tax savings,” he explains.
As Mahrukh is the sole sponsor and supporter of her mother she can claim that benefit amount on her income tax return. Engineer who is also a consultant with Amicus Immigration explained how this system works. “When you sponsor a family member, no matter what their age, you undertake to look after their needs for the next 10 years. You must meet the low income cut-off to sponsor family members and sponsors must know that they do not qualify for welfare or any such benefit. However, as legal immigrants they can undertake gainful employment.”

The financial health of seniors is at stake because they are totally at the mercy of their sponsor. Lots of them are brought in as potential caregivers to their grand kids while their adult children work. The parents save in day care expenses but most seniors feel cheated once the kids grow up.

Another area of caution is when seniors who have retired in their home country are paid pensions which are collected in Canada. That amount when converted to Canadian dollars usually falls short of what is needed to maintain a decent standard of living. Engineer again points out, “It is for the immigration officials to caution them and make them aware of the options involved before they decide to come here.”Engineer is of the opinion that the only cure for this problem is for seniors to understand what they are getting into. “Immigration officials should explain to them that they will be dependent on their sponsors for the next 10 years.

The sponsorship agreement must be explained to them before they decide to join their adult children in Canada.”

Sometimes, though, the sponsorship agreements are considered broken:

1. If the sponsor dies.
2. If the sponsor goes bankrupt in which case all financial contracts are wiped out.
3. If the sponsor is sentenced to prison for more than 6 months.
4. If the sponsor is convicted of an offence related to the sponsoring individual.

In those circumstances, seniors can receive Government of Canada social services before the 10-year time period is up.

In the case of Behrana, she would go back in a heartbeat as she had lived a good life in Pakistan and feels constrained and lonely in her Mississauga condo. However, the odds are against her as her daughter feels that loneliness is but one of the drawbacks. “At least we are alive, well and safe in Canada as opposed to Pakistan where it had become increasingly impossible for three women to live alone,” quips Mahrukh.

“My mother must learn to trade in her lifestyle for the safety that Canada has to offer.” Maybe at 87 years of age it is a tall order for Silloo Pesi Behrana who uses a walker to shuffle from one room to the next. She settles on the sofa facing the TV to watch her favourite show The Price is Right. If only it were so in her case, she laments!

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Old Age Security (OAS) Payment Rates
October – December 2010

The following chart shows the maximum and average monthly rates for Old Age Security (OAS),
Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Allowance, as well as the maximum annual income to be eligible for these benefits. Old Age Security benefit rates are reviewed in January, April, July and October to reflect increases in the cost of living as measured by the Consumer Price Index.
The term “spouse” includes a common-law partner. Pensioners are not eligible for benefits if their income, or the combined income of them and their spouse, is more than the maximum income shown on the chart.

Type of Benefit Recipient Average
Monthly
Benefit (July 2010)
Maximum
Monthly
Benefit
Maximum
Annual
Income
Old Age Security Pension All recipients $490.30 $521.62 See note
Guaranteed Income Supplement Single person $447.67 $658.40 $15,816
Spouse of pensioner $283.53 $434.78 $20,880
Spouse of non-pensioner $417.98 $658.40 $37,920
Spouse of Allowance recipient $371.99 $434.78 $37,920*
Allowance All recipients $387.25 $956.40 $29,232
Allowance for the survivor All recipients $566.31 $1,060.15 $21,288