Estate planning is an important step that every Canadian can take. Not only will this help ensure that one’s affairs are in order after their death, but it can also provide loved ones with peace of mind. However, the topic of estate planning can be overwhelming on its own, particularly if you are unclear on what tools are available to you. From wills to life insurance, countless estate planning tools can help Canadians strategically develop their estate plan.
This blog post will explore some of the most common estate planning tools available to Canadians. The options below will help you ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes and help minimize taxes, fees, and other expenses. For more information on the estate planning tools that will help you make the most of your planning, be sure to speak with an experienced estate planning lawyer.
Why is Estate Planning Important?
To answer this question, it is worth considering what might happen if you die without an estate plan in place. In Ontario, if someone dies intestate, their assets will be administered in accordance with the Succession Law Reform Act. This process is detailed in a previous blog post, however, in these circumstances, generally an estate will be distributed under a legislative “line of succession”, starting with the deceased’s spouse and moving down to children and more distant relatives. However, for the purpose of estate distribution, this line of succession only applies to married spouses, not common-law spouses.
Without an estate plan in place, a person runs the risk of their estate being distributed in a way that does not align with their true wishes.
Common Types of Estate Planning Tools
Below is a brief introduction to some of the most common estate planning tools in Canada.
Wills are the estate planning tool that most Canadians are familiar with, as they are the cornerstone of estate planning. A will is a legal document that outlines how a will-maker wants their assets to be dealt with after they pass away. Beyond assets, wills typically address:
- an executor (the person you have appointed to carry out your directions in the will);
- guardians for minor children;
- caretakers for pets; and
- preferences regarding funeral and burial arrangements.
Trusts are legal instruments that allow estate planners to put assets “in trust” for a beneficiary. While there are many different types of trusts, they are commonly used in estate planning to specify how an estate planner’s assets should be distributed after death.
Trusts and wills can appear similar as both instruments allow individuals to determine how their assets will be dealt with upon their passing. However, trusts can serve a much broader purpose than a will. For example, trusts can take effect during a trustee’s lifetime and be created for specific purposes, such as the care of a relative with special needs. Trusts are also popular tools to help minimize tax consequences or protect assets from creditors.
Powers of Attorney
Powers of attorney are legal documents that grant another person the authority to manage your money and property on your behalf during your lifetime. There are two primary types of powers of attorney:
- A general Power of Attorney allows a named attorney to act on someone else’s behalf for a specific period or for a specific task.
- An enduring Power of Attorney allows a named attorney to continue acting on someone’s behalf in the event that they become mentally incapable of managing their finances and property. A person can choose to let a power of attorney come into effect immediately or to specify that it only comes into effect if you become mentally incapable of managing their affairs.
Health Care Directives
Health care directives (or substitute decision-maker directives) are legal documents that grant another person the authority to make care and treatment decisions on someone’s behalf during their lifetime if you are incapable of making them on their own. Like powers of attorney, health care directives address issues that arise during someone’s lifetime.
Obtaining life insurance – and designating a beneficiary for your life insurance policy – is another way to provide for family members after you pass away. This can provide peace of mind if the unexpected happens and help support an individual’s family through potential financial losses following their passing.
Joint ownership can be an excellent estate planning tool to help family members (usually a spouse) access a person’s assets after they pass away. For example, joint ownership of a bank account ensures that a spouse can access funds in a bank account after their spouse’s passing without having to wait to settle the estate. Or, if someone owns property jointly with their spouse, they will continue to enjoy ownership of the property through the right of survivorship after their spouse passes away.
In some cases, estate planners may opt to gift certain assets to friends or family members before their passing. This strategy can help estate planners minimize the size of their estate and reduce potential estate tax liabilities.
Final Thoughts on Estate Planning Tools
Whether you are concerned about how your property or health care decisions will be managed in the event of incapacity or looking to minimize estate taxes, there are plenty of estate planning tools that can help you develop an estate planning strategy.
By using the estate planning tools above, you can ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, your loved ones are provided for after you pass away, and you are adequately looked after in the event of incapacity.
Contact the Estate Lawyers at Campbells LLP in Oakville for Trusted Guidance on Estate Planning
The skilled lawyers at Campbells LLP have been helping clients broach the topic of estate planning since 1999. Through careful discussions and trusted advice, clients can feel secure in their decisions when preparing their estate plan. Our lawyers advise on all aspects of estate law, including both estate planning and estate litigation. Contact us online or at (905) 828-2247 to speak with a member of our estate law team and understand how we can best serve you.