An Estate Planning Checklist

Estate Law Canada – Lynne Butler | December 24, 2010

What’s the difference between estate planning and getting a Will made? It’s approximately the same difference as going out in the middle of a -40 Alberta blizzard wearing a parka, mitts and boots, versus going out into that same freezing weather wearing nothing but the boots. The parts that are covered will be fine. The uncovered bits, not so much.

The elements of an estate plan, pared down to their essence, are:

1. A Will. Important issues are the choice of executor, the choice of a guardian for minor children, distribution of your assets to your beneficiaries according to your wishes, and the inclusion of powers for the executors and trustees.

2. A Continuing, Enduring or Durable Power of Attorney. Important issues are the choice of attorney to represent you, how or when the document is to come into effect, and controls on the attorney. May include addressing immediate needs due to incapacity.

3. A Health Care Directive. Again important is the choice of agent to represent you, and the clear expression of your wishes. For older individuals, may include discussion of various supported living arrangements to address limitations.

4. Title to various properties. Important decisions are joint ownership and tenancy in common, right of survivorship, tax effects, potential disputes, and effect on overall estate plan.

5. Insurance coverage. Major issues are ensuring liquidity to cover tax liability, creating new wealth for distribution and keeping up with changing lifestyle insurance needs.

6.  Beneficiary designations. Tax savings are important. Also important are obligations to a spouse, the impact on the overall estate plan and creditor-proofing. Affects RRSP, RRIF, TFSA, ESOP, LIRA, DRIP, pension and life insurance.

7. Business succession planning. Important issues are choice of family successor, other possible exit strategies, tax planning, future income and timing. Should tie in with shareholder’s or buy-sell agreement and company-owned life insurance.

8. Tax planning. Looking for ways to minimize taxes and maximize funds for distribution in the estate.

9. Trusts. Important issues are income-splitting for tax purposes, protection of handicapped adults, protection of children, and preserving assets to be inherited by a beneficiary at a later date.

10. Charitable giving. Important issues are giving back to the community, creating lasting legacies and creating tax credit.

11. Retirement planning. Includes discussion of dissipation or sale of current assets, business succession timelines, planning for incapacity and changing insurance needs.

12. RESP. Appoint a successor director of the plan.

13. Family dynamics. All of the items on this list are discussed in the light of the roles, abilities, shortcomings and personality of the various members of the family. Issues that may crop up are subsequent marriages, children from different marriages, separation agreements, divorce, common law arrangements, illegitimate children, disabled children, children vying for a place in the family business, belligerent or overbearing children, disputes between spouses or children, estranged family members, greedy or untrustworthy family members, and children with addictions.

As you can see, the items listed here overlap and loop back to each other. The idea is to make sure that everything works effectively together to achieve your goals. So use this checklist for your own planning and stop going out in just your boots.