Douglas Gray and John Budd have published the third edition of their book The Canadian Guide to Will and Estate Planning. They do a good job of explaining in simple language the bewildering array of ways to protect your estate from taxes when you die.
The range of topics covered includes building your estate, wills, trusts, probate, taxes, U.S. taxes, cottages, family businesses, charity, insurance, advisors, retirement care, and funerals. It’s almost enough to make me renounce all my worldly possessions – almost.
I won’t try to summarize this book and further – even at 400 pages, most topics are covered quickly. The main value of this book to me was to become aware of possible estate planning strategies. Actually acting on this information likely requires further investigation or professional help.
For the rest of this review, I’ll point out some parts of the book I found interesting, surprising, or I disagreed with.
“You are protected up to a maximum of $100,000 for each separate deposit.” This may be technically true if you define “separate deposit” correctly, but this definition will not line up with what most people understand the words to mean. Similar deposits get lumped together. It’s best to read the details at the CDIC web site.
“Unless you consider yourself an expert in the markets, and in forecasting the economy and interest rates, you should have a professional manage your investment portfolio.” Unfortunately, the professionals can’t do any of these things either. The real game is to invest in a way that allows for the possibility of a wide range of outcomes.
Apparently it is quite difficult to disinherit a child or spouse. If you feel strongly about doing this, you’d better get some good advice, because the authors explain that various laws give spouses and children rights that can supersede your wishes.
Wills and Marriage
“A will is automatically revoked by law if the testator enters into a legal marriage after the will has been made.” There are some exceptions to this, but in general you need to look at your will whenever you get married.
Caution on Trusts
“Trusts are complex, and costly to set and maintain year-to-year.” Trusts can save on taxes and solve certain problems, but they are generally only worthwhile for large sums of money.
Final Income Tax Returns
The executor must file a final tax return for the deceased and must file another tax return for the estate to cover the time after death.
RRSP Tax Surprise
If you leave your RRSP to one child and the balance of your estate to another, the entire RRSP will go to the first child, and the balance of the estate will pay the income taxes on the RRSP withdrawal. This can skew the size of each share in a way you didn’t expect.
Electing Out of the Spousal Rollover
Ordinarily, you can leave property to a spouse without triggering capital gains taxes, and the spouse simply takes the property at your adjusted cost base. However, if you have a large capital loss from previous years, you may wish to elect out of the rollover to use up the capital loss and save the living spouse future capital gains taxes.
Principal Residence Exemption
See my previous post for a discussion of reducing taxes by taking advantage of the flexible principal residence designation.
“One might think that insurance agents’ ... recommendations on the need for, and the volume of, life insurance that is required in a situation are ‘product and sales driven’” to create commissions. “In the writers’ experience, this is not the case.” I’m sure there are many honest insurance agents, but fewer than half of the ones I’ve dealt with had integrity.
The authors provide a comprehensive list of executor duties in the appendices. This list is long and may make me a little less likely to agree to be executor for too many more family members. On the other hand, maybe it gets easier after you’ve been through it a couple of times.
According to a chart in the appendices, to have $5000 available to spend each month, you would need investible assets of $2.2 million and require life insurance to close the gap between your current assets and $2.2 million.
Overall, I found this to be a useful book that manages to take dry subjects that are often described with impenetrable jargon and makes them comprehensible.