Transparency has become a powerful discussion point in recent years. A lack of corporate financial transparency has arguably been the cause of many modern major financial crises and corporate bankruptcies. Whether you agree with this view or not, transparency is a hot-button issue, both socially and politically. Lack of transparency can create an emotional, almost visceral reaction in those who view it as a deliberate attempt to hide the facts from those who are entitled to them. This reaction can, in turn, be upsetting and frustrating to those who are not attempting to hide anything, but for a variety of reasons legitimately believe that greater transparency is not necessary or appropriate in the circumstances.
One aspect of estate planning which is often not considered is how executors, trustees and attorneys should be compensated. Yet compensation claims are a frequent matter of contention and resentment, create disputes between executors, trustees, attorneys and beneficiaries, and can even result in litigation. Common scenarios include the executor, trustee or attorney claiming more than the beneficiaries believe they deserve, or the executor, trustee, attorney and beneficiaries not understanding what compensation is permissible and/or reasonable. Disputes can be minimized with advice and planning which address how the person who is going to do a very important job will be paid for their time and care.
When planning for the financial security of a family member with a disability, it is important to take into account his or her unique circumstances and needs. Available planning options sometimes place a large emphasis on ensuring that income support under the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) is not jeopardized. Where there are more than adequate financial resources to support a disabled family member, reliance on ODSP with its attendant restrictions may be unnecessary or even undesirable. Common planning options for persons with disabilities include Henson trusts, inheritance trusts, and Registered Disability Savings Plans (RDSP).
A common consideration when completing or updating your estate planning is often how best to protect assets in the event of marital breakdown--whether your own marriage, including a second marriage, or an intended beneficiary's (e.g., a child or grandchild). The need to protect certain assets may be even more pressing when the property is a home or cottage that has been in a family for generations, carrying strong emotional ties and significant memories. Protecting this property can be complicated, however, if it qualifies as a matrimonial home under Ontario's Family Law Act.
Many Canadians have purchased homes south of the border encouraged by a strong Canadian dollar and a buyer's market for U.S. real estate. In 2012, Canadians were the leading international buyers of U.S. real estate, accounting for 24% of sales to international buyers.
In our October 18, 2012 blog "Trusts - It's Not All About the Tax", I discussed a few non-tax reasons to consider in setting up a trust as part of estate and wealth planning. However, sometimes the goal is to minimize tax through income-splitting. Two methods of minimizing tax exposure are using a family trust and a spousal loan.
If you own a family cottage or other vacation property, it may not be just a financial asset but an emotional investment for you as well, and therefore proper planning for this special asset is especially important in order to meet all your future goals for it. The financial aspects of estate or succession planning for your vacation property should, of course, be addressed; for example, it is important to ensure there are sufficient cash or other liquid assets in your estate to pay the potentially significant tax liability on your death if there is a long-term increase in the value of the property. However, keeping your family vacation property from becoming subject to claims on marriage breakdown, including a child's, or other beneficiary's, can, in some cases, prove even more important.
Recent revisions to the Estate Administration Tax Act (Ontario) under which the Province charges tax of approximately 1.5% of the value of an estate when a will is probated by the court (colloquially "probate fees") should be of concern to everyone because of the new reporting, enforcement and penalty provisions in the Act.