My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Best of The Blunt Bean Counter - How to use the BDO Estate Organizer

This summer I am posting the best of The Blunt Bean Counter blog while I work on my golf game. Today, I am re-posting a January 2019 blog I wrote on how to use the BDO estate organizer. I have written numerous times over the years urging you, my readers, to get your financial affairs in order, by stress-testing your finances in case you pass away suddenly. While clearly a morbid topic, the rationale for the discussion is this: if you do not get your affairs in order and you pass away suddenly, you leave your family a financial mess at a time of emotional distress, anxiety and confusion.

The organizer can assist you in writing your financial story and ensuring your financial information and wishes are documented for your family and trustees. I would suggest COVID-19 has caused many people to consider their mortality, and the pandemic may provide you some free time to undertake this task.

How to use the BDO Estate Organizer

Not to be morbid, but since Roma Luciw of The Globe and Mail has called me “morbid Mark,” I reiterate once again: if you do not communicate and document your financial affairs for your family or executors, you at best leave your family a messy estate at a time of distress and at worst cost your estate and family thousands of dollars.

Today I will walk you through completing the Organizer and some of the important issues that arise in completing the document.

Key Tips in Using the Organizer

Family Information (p.2)

The most important item in this section is citizenship. Many Canadian don’t realize this, but parts of your estate can trigger tax consequences if you are a citizen of another country. This typically applies to U.S. citizens, since the U.S. taxes based on citizenship; while most other countries tax based on residency. Although it should be noted, Canadians who are non-residents of the U.S., can be subject to U.S. Estate tax.

Perhaps the biggest issue for U.S. citizens is home ownership. As discussed in this blog post, the U.S. has a $250,000 or $500,000 principal residence exemption, depending upon your marital and citizenship status. The fact that a tax-free home sale in Canada can result in taxes in the U.S. is often very shocking to Canadians filing U.S. tax returns.

Your U.S. citizenship can trigger many other tax consequences — such as U.S. estate tax —based on differing laws south of the border. And of course, U.S. tax compliance should begin well before estate planning makes an appearance in your life. If you are a U.S. citizen or green card holder, you should be filing U.S. tax returns. If you are not filing, you should seek U.S. tax advice.

If you are a citizen of another country, you may want to determine if citizenship in that country would have any income tax consequences upon your passing.

In addition, depending upon the politics of your home country and your children’s familiarity with that country, you may wish to sell your foreign assets as you age to simplify your estate.

Important Documents (p.5)

My Will 

If you do not have a will, it's time to have one drafted. As discussed in this blog post, 65% of Canadians do not even have a will and 12% of wills are outdated. Yes, your read that correctly: only 3 of 10 Canadians have an up-to-date will. 

If you already have a will, you should review it to determine if there have been any significant life events since you last updated it. In addition, you will want to ensure all your beneficiary designations (RRSP and TFSA, for example) agree to your will and are up to date. Many people have inadvertently left significant assets to ex-spouses by not updating their designations.

There have been substantial changes to the tax laws in the last few years, which can affect the tax treatment of trusts created by will and provisions for disabled children. If you have created trusts in your will or have a disabled child, you may want to contact your accountant or lawyer to see if these changes necessitate any change to your will.

Some provinces allow for dual wills, one for assets subject to probate and one for assets not subject to probate.

Powers of Attorney

You should have two powers of attorney (POAs), one for your financial affairs and one for your health care.

POA’s for health care have evolved over the last few years for such matters as heroic measures and even assisted-death provisions. You may want to consider updating this document depending upon your personal and religious views on these issues.

Financial Information (p.6)

As noted earlier, you will want to ensure that the beneficiary designations for pension plans and registered plans are in line with your will and your intentions. Often these designations are out of date.

After completing the Financial Information: Liabilities section of the organizer, review and ensure you have enough insurance (see discussion below) or liquid assets to pay off any of these liabilities should you pass away. You may also wish to assess whether this is a good time to have a financial or retirement plan prepared or updated.

Insurance Information (p.11)

After completing this section, sit back and consider these three things: 

1. Do you have any unnecessary insurance policies you purchased long ago and never cancelled?

2. Do you have enough insurance based on how much you spend annually, the debt you hold and significant funding expenses you still need to incur, such as tuition for your children? 

3. If you have significant funds in your corporation (especially if you will have excess funds in your corporation you will not need in retirement), have you considered purchasing a corporate-funded insurance policy?

Employment Information(p.13)

Some issues to consider is this section are:

Ensure that you detail any stock options, deferred stock units, deferred profit-sharing plans or any other of these more complex plans. Heirs often face confusion with these plans when someone passes away, so the more clarity you can provide (e.g., dates, units, tax cost basis, purchase price), the easier it will be for your family to deal with these plans.

Most employers are very good at assisting the family after the death of a loved one, but you will put your family in the best position possible by providing as many details as you can.

Income Details (p.14)

Some issues to consider in this section are: 

1. Are you taking advantage of all income splitting opportunities? You should review this with your accountant, especially given the implementation of the Tax on Split Income (TOSI) rules.

2. Consider if your investment returns are in line with your expectations and whether you even know what your returns are. See this blog post for a discussion of this topic and some useful links.

Real Estate (p.15)

Prepare a free-form schedule that should include the following at a minimum: 

1. A notation of the year you last claimed the principal residence exemption (PRE) on the sale of your home. This will allow your executor and estate to tax plan upon death or going forward in respect of future PRE claims if you have, say, a house and cottage. See this blog post for the new reporting rules on PRE claims.

2. If you elected in 1994 to crystalize $100,000 of capital gains on property you still hold, attach a copy of your 1994 form T664 to this document. The government allowed one final election to utilize your capital gains exemption before phasing out the exemption on real estate and marketable securities in 1994.

Note: Qualified small business corporations (QSBCs) continue to be eligible for the capital gains exemption — see this blog post for details.

Financial Advisors (p.16)

Ensure you have introduced your spouse or significant other to all your financial advisors. It is much easier for a surviving spouse to deal with the aftermath of a passing when they already have a level of comfort with the advisors they will have to deal with. 

Executors (p.17)

You should review your executor appointments to ensure they are the correct people for the job.

If you have not informed your executors they have been named, you should inform them. You may want to inform the executor that you have completed the organizer so that they will know it exists and where they can find it.

If you do not have someone you can name as an executor or there is possible family conflict, consider naming an institution as an executor. 

Digital Information (p.18)

If you have digital assets of value (e.g., cryptocurrency, websites), ensure you have obtained tax and legal advice and have considered them in your will. See this blog post on the topic from estate lawyer Katy Basi.

Katy also guest posted this excellent piece on a 21st century issue: how to deal with reproductive assets in your will.

Funeral Arrangements (p.19)

This is truly a morbid topic, but ensure someone is aware of any pre-paid or funeral wishes.

Final Comments

This estate organizer is one heck of a homework assignment. But it is one of the most selfless things you can do for your family, especially if you have significant assets or complex financial affairs.

The content on this blog has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be seen as broad guidance only. The blog cannot be relied upon to cover specific situations and you should not act, or refrain from acting, upon the information contained therein without obtaining specific professional advice. Please contact BDO Canada LLP to discuss these matters in the context of your particular circumstances. BDO Canada LLP, its partners, employees and agents do not accept or assume any liability or duty of care for any loss arising from any action taken or not taken by anyone in reliance on the information on this blog or for any decision based on it.

Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation.

BDO Canada LLP, a Canadian limited liability partnership, is a member of BDO International Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, and forms part of the international BDO network of independent member firms. BDO is the brand name for the BDO network and for each of the BDO Member Firms.


  1. Hi Morbid Mark! I am always accused of being an "awfulizer" but I like your moniker better. We are in the process of reviewing our wills as our sons have now both achieved (legal) adult status (20 and 24 years of age) so we need to update our wills as they were contemplated when the kids were minors. Also, as my mother has aged, I realize I need to remove her as my attorney on my POA for personal care. One thing I did learn in going through this update was that I was incorrect in thinking that my kids needed to do POAs for personal care as I am no longer their guardian. However, in Ontario, if there is no POA for Personal Care, the Health Care Consent Act kicks in and would allow me to make medical decisions.
    P.S. my mom gave me the business card for the prearranged funeral service she has and she also keeps their business card on the side of her fridge. So I guess I should call her Morbid Mom.

  2. Ha Ha, I like awfulizer better than morbid Mark, I may borrow it sometime.

    Thx for the POA information, I thought the same as you.