Estate planning is one of the few planning activities that is really designed for those you love and those you will leave behind. While insurance plays a significant role in ensuring you family is not burdened with costs and taxes, there are ways to help your loved ones that doesn't involve money.
If you have ever been an executor, you know that the job can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. One of the most important estate choices you make will be who will execute your wishes after you pass. For many people they choose immediate family members, which is a choice that is totally up to each individual. Unless you have told your executor that they have been selected, they will have no idea until you pass away. This can make the process of being an executor even more stressful. We work with our client’s executors, should they be willing to meet, and discuss a few of the important activities that will need to be done.
We also have had many discussions with clients who did not know that they could assign a corporate executor/trustee to take care of their affairs, which could be an option for those who do not know who to select as an executor. This option also has the benefit of reducing family stress and potential conflicts, so it is something to consider.
Organizing an Estate
The more you can organize your affairs, the less stress you will create for your your family and beneficiaries. Consider these next few ideas as good places to start, and feel free to contact our office if you would like to know more.
Prepare an "estate file" for your executors. This file should contain, at a minimum, your up-to-date Will, your investment, insurance and financial statements, locations of physical assets and important people to contact should something happen to you. Ensure that your executor knows where this file is and it is easily accessible by them. We have a checklist available for our clients.
Ensure that you know where all of your assets are. We encourage our clients to get any paper stock certificates moved into electronic form, ensure that your electronic assets are in one place and ensure that you have accurate adjusted cost bases for your investments. This helps with tax preparations to be discussed in our final section of this page.
Finally, consider providing a living legacy for your beneficiaries. This can mean distributing property or possessions to your beneficiaries while you are still alive. This can be useful for tax planning purposes and to ensure you get to witness the enjoyment your beneficiaries will experience when you provide it to them. Be extremely careful in how you distribute these assets and that they do not affect your own ability to live your lifestyle. As a part of our Quality Financial Planning process, we help to establish what your estate will look like and the best way to ensure that assets are transitioned in the most tax-efficient way.
Taxes and your Estate
For clients who have a common-law partner or who are married, most of the tax that will be owing will occur when the second spouse passes away. The government has established many rules to allow for a tax-rollover to the surviving spouse should something happen to one spouse.
It is important to note that should something happen to both spouses all assets making up your net worth will be deemed sold for tax purposes the moment prior to your death. This means that you may have significant taxes owing.
Insurance can help to offset the taxes owing, and is especially important for physical assets, such as vacation properties. We have seen situations where beneficiaries were forced to sell vacation properties far below market value due to the taxes being owed.
There are many different tactics we use to decrease taxes owing at death and they form a part of your plan.
Estate planning is one of the toughest conversations to have with your family and your advisor. Your wishes are extremely personal, and sometimes you want your wishes to remain private, even from members of your own family. We help families work through the areas of estate planning that need to remain discrete and the areas that involve open communication.
Your family needs time to grieve, let them.