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Estate planning: it's never too soon - DFSIN - SFL

Estate planning: it’s never too soon

What happens after death? This is definitely a philosophical question, but it actually has a significant financial dimension, too, especially if your personal financial situation is complicated.

June 20, 2023

In Canada, about 60% of individuals have yet to make a will. What’s more, nearly one in 10 of those who have taken the trouble to draft one admit that it is no longer up to date. This means that before receiving any inheritance, their heirs may well be inheriting a number of problems.  

Diagram composed of a pie chart and a horizontal bar graph. The pie chart shows the percentage of Canadians who do not have a will (about 58%), who have an up-to-date will (about 33%), and who have a will that is not up to date (about 9%). The bar graph portion of the diagram focusses on the percentage of Canadians who have an up-to-date will and shows the distribution by age group. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, about 16% have an up-to-date will. Among 25- to 34-year-olds, 15%; 35- to 44-year-olds, 20%; 45- to 54-year-olds, 39%; 55- to 64-year-olds, 50%. And among those age 65 and older, 45% have an up-to-date will.

Beyond the will

In fact, making your will is just one part of a larger process – estate planning – that allows you to ensure a smooth transfer of your assets (properties, investments, life insurance policies, etc.) after your death to your chosen heirs and in accordance with your wishes.  
In particular, if you own or co-own a business, estate planning can define the framework within which the assets and management of your company will be transferred to your family members, business partners, a holding company or a trust: it may even be an indispensable tool to ensure that your company can continue to operate.  

As a general rule, the more complex your financial situation, the more you would need to plan your estate down to the smallest details. No matter what your situation, though, here are three good reasons to think about estate planning. 

1. Optimize the after-tax value

There is no inheritance tax in Canada. However, when you die, you will be deemed to have disposed of all your capital property at their fair market value immediately before your death. This means that capital gains may be realized even if there is no actual disposal or sale. As well, in most cases, your registered plans would be completely cashed out. This “deemed disposition” could result in a substantial tax bill, which would have to be paid by your estate or your legatees, according to your wishes. Good estate planning can identify any cash shortfalls at death and develop strategies to ensure that the executor has the necessary funds to pay the taxes, debts and estate settlement costs, along with specific bequests. Note, however, that under certain conditions, some assets can be “rolled over” to a surviving spouse with no immediate tax consequences. 

2. Protect people 

Another advantage of estate planning is that it allows you to make provisions to protect the people you love in the event that you are no longer there for them. These could include your children and your spouse, of course, but also someone who is ill or vulnerable, your parents, if they survive you and need support as they lose their independence, and anyone else you would like to protect. This process also involves your own protection, since it allows you to specify how you would like your property to be administered if you become unable to handle it yourself, and to give instructions about the care you would receive if incapacitated or at the end of your life. 

3. Keep things going

Finally, estate planning can ensure the continuity of what is most important to you. This might be your family’s future and standard of living, the continuing operations of your business, or even the causes you feel strongly about. A great number of estate plans include a planned giving component that, among other things, leverages certain tax provisions when the bequest is made in the form of investment securities or life insurance policies. These strategies make it possible to support causes by bequeathing larger amounts to them. 

A good time to start

Statistics show that people are usually in their late forties when they start developing an estate plan. However, professionals in the field believe that every adult who has some financial assets would do well to begin this process. More specifically, certain situations should be viewed as triggers. For example, if you are married or, especially, in a common-law relationship, if you have children, if you own or are a partner in a business, if you own a home or other real estate, you should be keeping your estate plan up to date at all times.  

How to proceed

The first step in estate planning is generally taking stock of your property, investments and liabilities based on a detailed analysis of your financial, personal and family situation. This is followed by drawing up your estate inventory, which takes into account how much tax will have to be paid after your death (and which could lead to various tax-reduction strategies). This exercise makes it possible to evaluate the liquid assets that will be available and, if necessary, establish the means to ensure that your estate can quickly access funds to cover taxes, debts and other expenses following your death. For this purpose, many estate plans include life insurance as a way of providing rapid cash flow for beneficiaries. Finally, the planning exercise can allow you to specify your wishes in the event of your death or mental incapacity and to establish strategies to accomplish your estate objectives. 

It could be good to know that, just as a will is part of a broader estate-planning exercise, so estate planning is itself part of a more comprehensive exercise that can establish a game plan for your personal finances as a whole. That's why you might want to turn to your advisor for guidance through this potentially complex process.