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Estate Planning Strategies to Reduce Taxes After Death

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    Death and taxes are two certainties in life, and taxes are also a certainty in death.

    But when it comes to estate planning, one common mistake you can make is not having an effective plan on how to manage the taxes. Failing to do so might cause a heavy tax burden for your family and beneficiaries, who may end up getting a smaller share once all the taxes are settled.

    Tax Implications After Death

    Your estate will primarily incur two types of taxes after your demise: your final income tax return, and probate fees or estate administration taxes.

    Final Income Tax Return

    Your executor is responsible for paying outstanding liabilities, which includes paying the final tax return with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). A final tax return is mandatory for any deceased person and must be filed in the year of death. 

    On this final tax return, the executor must report the income earned by the deceased person between the first day of the year and the date of death. Any income earned after the death of death must be reported on the Trust Income Tax and Information Return (T3).

    Probate Fees or Administration Taxes

    If your estate requires probate, the fees associated with probate are often known as administration tax. Probate fees are based on the size of your estate and vary depending on the province you are in.

    For example, in Ontario, a new statute called the Estate Administration Tax Act (EATA) requires that you pay estate administration taxes on the value of the assets passing through the estate of the deceased, as part of the process of obtaining the certificate of appointment of estate trustee (the certificate that formally appoints the executor of an estate).

    Like your final income tax return, your executor is also responsible for paying probate fees to the court alongside any application costs.

    Estate and Tax Planning Strategies to Reduce Taxes After Death

    If you want to leave more money in your beneficiaries’ pockets, there are also several ways you can minimize your estate administration taxes in advance through estate planning. Here's quick overview of strategies we'll cover in this section:

    1. Avoiding probate and court filing fees
    2. Adding joint owners to assets
    3. Naming beneficiaries for financial assets and insurance policies
    4. Registering your estate with the Registry Act System
    5. Giving gifts while you're alive
    6. Creating trusts during your lifetime
    7. Having assets in different jurisdictions
    8. Making multiple wills
    9. Leaving gifts for charities in your will

    Avoid Probate

    Not all wills need to be probated in Canada. Your own will may not need to go through probate if you have a small estate, your financial institution(s) agree to waive a grant of probate, you are a First Nations member who is a resident of a reserve, or if you have multiple wills and another one of your wills does not require probate.

    Joint Ownership of Assets

    Placing assets in Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS), where two or more people can hold assets together, can help reduce your estate fees after you pass. 

    This is because assets owned jointly pass to the other owner without entering the estate, though, of course, exceptions may exist. 

    Beneficiary Designations

    By naming beneficiaries on investments, RRSPs, life insurance policies, and other similar financial assets, you ensure your beneficiaries receive these assets directly, bypassing your estate–and bypassing additional fees.

    Registry Act System

    Registering real estate under the Registry Act system (not Land Titles Act) helps you avoid taxes because it does not require a probated will to be administered.

    Inter Vivos Gifts

    Inter vivos means between the living, so inter vivos gifts are gifts of assets you can make while you are alive. While these gifts can help reduce the tax value of your estate when you pass, they are also irrevocable. 

    Inter Vivos Trust

    Likewise, an inter vivos trust is a trust you establish during your lifetime. Also referred to as a living trust, these allow trustors to set a duration for a trust involving the distribution of assets to the trust’s beneficiary during or after the trustor’s lifetime.

    Complex Trusts

    Alter-ego trusts, joint partner trusts, and other complex trusts can also be issued during your life to avoid estate taxes in the future, though they need legal expertise. 

    Asset Relocation

    Another option for reducing taxes after death is to move your assets into a jurisdiction outside your province.

    Multiple Wills

    As mentioned before, having multiple wills which separate your assets based on probate requirements can help you save taxes on assets which are not probated. People also sometimes create separate wills or dual wills for business assets as well. 

    Charitable Bequests

    Giving to charities you support when you pass away can also help reduce the tax burden placed on your estate.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    When considering estate planning taxes and how to manage them, here are some other questions you may have.

    How much can you inherit without paying taxes in Canada?

    There is no inheritance tax in Canada, so theoretically, there is no limit to how much you can inherit without paying taxes for it. But final tax income returns and other estate settlement fees shouldn’t be ignored, as monies owing are deducted from the estate before funds are distributed to beneficiaries.  

    Is estate planning tax-deductible in Canada?

    Estate planning is not tax-deductible in Canada, though the benefit of it to you and your loved ones, and the peace of mind it’ll give you, is worth it.

    What is the best trust to avoid estate tax?

    Any trust that is irrevocable, such as inter vivos trusts and many complex trusts, is shielded from estate taxes as the trust is no longer considered part of your estate.

    How to Start Estate Planning

    Remember, you don’t need to have a vast estate to start planning because not having a large estate does not exempt you from paying taxes. As mentioned, tax rates may vary between provinces and territories, so check first with the CRA on the prevailing estate laws so you can plan effectively.

    Which strategy do you think can benefit you the most? You can speak with your accountant about the best possible tax workaround that applies to your estate. But before that, make sure to prepare the basic documents that you will need in estate planning, starting with writing a will.

    Start your will for free today → ‍

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