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, October 31, 2022

Common Estate and Tax Planning Issues

Over the years, I have reviewed many individuals’ financial affairs. Most people have their affairs somewhat in order, but there are typically still some issues to be considered or holes to be filled. Today, I list some of the most common issues and gaps.

Estate Issues

The most common estate planning issues I have observed relate to wills, powers of attorney, estate documentation and insurance. I discuss these below.

Wills always seem to have multiple issues and errors of omission when I review them. These five are the most common:

1. No Secondary Will – Depending upon your province of residence, a secondary will can be used to reduce the probate taxes due upon your death. This would most typically apply to shares you own in private companies and other personal items. It is my understanding that Ontario and British Columbia are the two main provinces where secondary wills are used, so check-in with your advisor if you live in a province other than Ontario or B.C.

2. Old or Dead Executors - As many people do not update their wills on a regular basis, I have often found their executors have passed away or they are very old (if your children are not your executors). You may want to review your executor selection and ensure you have at least one “youngish” executor.

3. All the Children are Executors – Keeping with the executor theme, many people have all their children as executors. I suggest that if you can finesse this with your children, in some cases it is better to only have one or two of your financial savvy children as executors, to avoid the estate being bogged down. This is not always practical given family dynamics, but is more efficient and can often reduce sibling friction.

4. Individual Bequests are Missing – Estate lawyer Charles Ticker notes in his book “Bobby Gets Bubkes: Navigating the Sibling Estate Fight that one of the biggest issues children have post-mortem, is where a parent had promised a child a certain personal item, be it jewelry, art, purse etc. and it is not reflected in the will. Parents, make your will consistent with your promises.

5. Blended Family Issues – Blended family issues can be so complicated, there is sometimes “paralysis by analysis” and they are just ignored. In this blog post I wrote in June 2020, I note that estate planning is complicated enough in a first marriage; second or third marriages multiply the risks and complexity. You may want to read the wills and estate planning sections of this blog post on blended families.

Powers Of Attorney

The two most common issues I come across with Powers of Attorney "(POA) are:

1. They are often not done!

2. The personal healthcare POA is out of date and does not reflect the significant health care issues that should be considered from extraordinary health measures to mental capacity (see this blog post) to assisted death.

Estate not Documented

I have seen many estates with no documentation in respect to the assets that constitute the estate and where the assets are located. I wrote about this a couple weeks ago, so I will not re-iterate. Here is the link to the blog post.


Most people dislike paying insurance. However, parents often have family legacy assets they wish to keep in the family such as cottages, rental properties, family businesses etc. I have seen several instances where these legacy assets must be sold by the estate or to keep these assets in the family, excess taxes are paid as a work around solution. Often, life insurance, typically permanent insurance, such as Universal or Whole life would have made financial and tax sense and emotional sense (where the parent wanted a legacy asset to remain in the family).

I discuss many other uses of insurance for estate planning purposes in this blog post including the most popular, being life insurance to cover an estate tax liability on death.

Income Tax Issues

Capital Dividend Account

The capital dividend account (“CDA”) is a cumulative tax account that tracks certain amounts (most commonly the non-taxable portion of capital gains) that are not taxable to a Canadian Private Corporation and may be distributed tax-free to the company’s shareholders. See this detailed blog post I wrote on the subject.

Over the years, I have often seen this account not tracked or overlooked. A brief discussion of your corporation’s CDA balance should be part of your annual discussion with your accountant to ensure that you are not leaving any tax-free money on the table.

Charitable Donation Tax Efficiency

I have written several times (the last time being this blog) that many people do not maximize the tax benefits of their donations. If you plan to make a charitable donation and you own marketable securities with unrealized capital gains, it is far more tax-efficient to donate the securities in lieu of cash. This is because the capital gain on the security is not subject to tax when donated. For example, if you own shares of Bell Canada with a cost of $1,000 and a fair market value of $5,000, you would have to pay capital gains tax on the $4,000 capital gain when sold. However, if you donate the shares, the capital gain is deemed to be nil and you still get the donation tax credit.

Where you have a corporation and own marketable securities, it is even more tax-efficient to make a corporate donation, as the capital gain is eliminated and the capital gain gets added to the CDA account discussed above.

Unfunded TFSA

I find it very surprising how many people still have unfunded or partially funded Tax-Free Savings Accounts (“TFSAs”). These accounts allow you to grow your money tax-free and provide substantial flexibility in using and replenishing the account.

In the early days of TFSAs, the contribution limits were not large and people did not want the hassle of opening the account. However, as of Jan 1, 2022, the contribution limit for a TFSA is now $81,500. So, if you have not contributed, get going. If you have contributed haphazardly, check your balance with the CRA and get caught-up.

Capital Loss Utilization

I often see people pay tax on capital gains that is unnecessary, as they could have sold securities that had unrealized losses to reduce the gain and the related tax.

As 2022 has been a tough year in the markets, you may want to undertake some tax-loss selling before the end of the year. I will have my annual tax-loss selling blog in a couple weeks which is very detailed to assist in your tax-loss selling planning.

Estate Freeze

As per my blog Estate Freeze -A Tax Solution for the Succession of a Small Business undertaking an estate freeze in the right circumstances is often a great way to defer a families tax liability to the next generation. However, not everyone agrees as per this blog Are Estate Freezes the Wrong Solution for Family Business Succession?

I am a proponent of using an estate freeze where it fits a families needs. Over the last two years I have seen three estates that caused tax havoc for families that could easily have been minimized with an estate freeze several years ago.

Hopefully you and your advisors have already considered most of the issues discussed above. If not, you may wish to “clean-up” any holes in your planning and ensure the efficiency of your estate and tax planning.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation. Please note the blog post is time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

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