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Estate planning refers to the process required to transfer and preserve your wealth in an orderly and effective manner, and a properly drafted will is the foundation of a strategic estate plan. From a tax perspective, your estate planning objectives include:

  • minimizing and deferring tax on your estate
  • minimizing taxes on your death so that most of your estate can be preserved for your heirs
  • moving any tax burden to your heirs, to be paid only upon the future sale of the assets.

There are various techniques to attain the above objectives. Some of these include:
arranging for assets to be transferred to family members in a lower tax bracket

  • establishing trusts for your children to maximize future tax savings
  • setting up estate freezes (generally for your children), thereby reducing the tax they pay in the future on the increased value of selected assets
  • making optimal use of the benefits of charitable donations, tax shelters, holding companies or dividend tax credits
  • taking advantage of special income tax options to minimize tax or payments on your present assets.

Stages of estate planning
Estate planning is an ongoing process, as your circumstances, needs and wishes change. Regardless of your age, the issue of estate planning, in conjunction with your will, is an essential element of life planning. There are different stages in a person’s life though, and consequently, certain issues may arise that require different estate planning strategies. Here are some of the key stages:

Young family
In this stage, you are just starting to accumulate assets and possibly raise a family. Preliminary planning is important. Do a financial status review, needs assessment and wish list to help with will preparation and estate planning.

  • Draw up a list of all your assets and liabilities, current income and expenses, and projected income and expenses over the next five years.
  • Outline a five-year plan in terms of what goals and needs you have during that time.
  • Assess your life and disability insurance needs and protection to make sure it is adequate for your present and projected needs.
  • Review your savings programs such as RRSPs and education-funding programs for your children.
  • Decide on how you would like your assets to be distributed in the event of your death. Draw up a list of who should receive what. (You and your spouse may want to make separate lists and then compare notes and come to an agreement.)
  • Select an executor and trustee of your will.
  • Decide on a guardian for your young children. This is obviously a very important decision, and great care should be taken in the selection.
  • Consult with professionals, such as a lawyer, accountant and trust company, on matters to do with wills, estate planning and trusts.

Mature family
In this stage, your priorities, needs and concerns are changing. Your children are adolescents or in their 20s, so the issue of the guardianship and education of your children is not as important a consideration now. You are probably in your peak earning years and have accumulated considerable assets. You may be separated, divorced, remarried, or living common-law. All these changing circumstances have considerable legal and estate planning implications.

  • Assess your financial status, and personal and life needs, goals, and priorities. This is an ongoing process. In projecting your future financial income for example, you could be receiving a large inheritance.
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