Who cares for your pet after you pass?

About 15 years ago, I had a client with a terminal illness.

Her biggest concern wasn’t about her own health, but rather who was going to take care of her dog after she died.

I hadn’t really given that type of question a lot of thought until that day.

Today, one of the questions we ask clients is if they have any pets. For many of our clients, their pet is a member of the family. Your pet is dependent on you for its survival and well-being. A contingency plan should be in place if something were to happen to you. When we ask clients about who will take care of their pet(s) when they pass away, most have not considered the matter, let alone made any concrete plans.

Ideally, you have a family member or friend in mind who could care for your pet. To be sure, it is best to have this discussion with the individual to make sure they would be willing and able to care for your pet in the event something were to happen. You should ensure that the new owner is able to keep the pet. Allergies, being too busy, conflict with other pets, prohibition of pets in the new owner’s residence and lack of interest are a few complicating factors for you to consider.

Let us assume you have found the right individual to care for your pet(s). It is not possible for you to leave money to your pet in your will. A pet is considered property under the law. It is, however, possible to leave a pet to the named individual to care for. A simple method is to leave your pet to the named individual, which we will call the “caretaker,” within your will.

Normally a sentence would be added in this section of your will to deal with the contingency of the caretaker being unable or unwilling to care for your pet. One approach in this situation is to give your executor the power to select an appropriate person to take in the animals.

Another approach is to establish a more formal arrangement for your pet’s care. Some people refer to this as a Pet Trust.

Let’s say you have a dog named Marley. You could establish the “Marley Fund” in your will. Although you cannot leave money directly to Marley, you can establish a trust for Marley’s care.

In order to establish this type of trust, you must have a caretaker that you also name as the trustee. The Marley Fund would receive a sum of money payable to the trustee/caretaker provided that the trustee/caretaker uses it to look after Marley. Similar to up above, a sentence would be added in the Marley Fund section of your will to deal with the contingency of the trustee/caretaker you previous chose being unable, or unwilling, to care for your pet. Normally, you would give your executor the power to select an appropriate trustee/caretaker to accept the money from the Marley Fund and take responsibility for caring for Marley.

Naturally, the above paragraphs brings up the discussion of how much money should be left through your will for the care of your pet(s). Several media stories have talked about the ultra-wealth leaving millions of dollars for their pet(s) care to the trustee/caretaker. Those stories are certainly not the norm. In the majority of the wills I have reviewed with these clauses, the amounts are much more modest.

It should be relatively straight-forward to estimate a reasonable dollar amount to designate for the trustee/caretaker. The calculation could be based on your assessment of the life expectancy of your pet, age of the pet and an estimate of the annual costs.

Perhaps the largest annual costs for caring for pets are veterinarian costs if your pet needed specific medical care. Some of our clients have pet insurance for which they pay monthly insurance premiums. Similar to adult term insurance, the premiums are normally adjusted upward as the pet ages. The insurance approach can easily be budgeted out for future cash flows. Even when a pet is covered under insurance, small deductibles are still normally payable. The estimated annual cost of insurance and the deductibles could be part of the calculation.

Each pet is different. Grooming costs, equipment costs and medications will fluctuate. Estimating food and other costs for your pets should also be a relatively easy exercise. The budget could even include the costs of pet cremation and burial, as well as an extra amount for your caretaker/trustee for the time caring for your pet.

You could simply leave a flat dollar amount to the trust or create a methodology that is outlined along with the estimated remaining life of your pet. You could create a budget that says it costs roughly $2,000 a year for your pet. If you feel you would like to leave $2,000 for each estimated year of life left for your pet you would have to know your pet’s age and estimated lifespan. If your dog’s breed has an average lifespan of 12 years then you could build this formula into the calculation. The amount that you set aside for the caretaker for a three-year-old dog (nine years estimated remaining lifespan) would be greater then the amount you set aside for a ten year old dog (two years estimated remaining lifespan). If you use this type of methodology we would recommend you discuss this with the caretaker to make sure they are agreeable.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a portfolio manager and director of wealth management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week at www.timescolonist.com. Call 250.389.2138.

 

Memorandum to distribute personal and household effects

Your will is essentially a document that outlines what you want done with your assets after you pass away.

The term asset is very broad and can include everything from personal and household effects (“articles”) up to your principal residence.

The general structure of a Will typically starts with leaving specific bequests. This can be very general where you simply state that you would like a specific item, or amount of money, to go to one or a small number of specific individuals. This can also get more complex where you identify numerous bequests to kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, charities, etc.

After the specific bequests, there is a statement that determines the division of the residual of the estate. Common examples of residuals could be to a spouse, siblings, children or charity.

I have had clients who wanted to make sure that certain personal and household effects (“articles”) were given to specific individuals. An example could be a special painting that you want to go to your niece who is very artistic or a collection of records to go to a nephew who shared your love of music.

While the list of items that you would like to be given to specific individuals could get very long, it is possible to put all the specific bequests in your will. Additionally, if you want to add an item, change a bequest or have disposed of one of the listed items, you will have to revise your will. Although this is possible, it can be a lot of trouble to go through for smaller articles and there may be a cost associated with these revisions.

An alternative to itemizing every specific small asset in your will is to have a separate document to deal with the articles. I call this document a Personal and Household Effects Memorandum (memorandum). One of the nice parts about using a memorandum is that it can be updated without having to update the will. The will would refer to the memorandum and exclude the small articles.

The memorandum approach is very flexible. For example, let’s say you had some expensive antique furniture that you wanted to give to your close friend and you put this specific bequest into your will. After speaking with your close friend, you learn that she doesn’t have room for it or even want it. If you want to change this bequest to someone else, you will need to update your will or have a codicil (an addition or supplement that explains, modifies, or revokes a will or part of one) — both of which come at a cost.

With a side memorandum, you would simply change the article bequest to another person.

Another scenario is if you dispose of some of your articles. In this case, the memorandum can be updated without having to update the entire will. Having a memorandum also enables your will to focus on the larger assets and enables your executor to have a clear understanding of how you would like some of the smaller articles with sentimental value to be distributed.

When I have talked to clients about having a methodology to distribute the smaller articles in their house, I have heard different approaches. Many have not done anything the first time we talk about it. I have had clients tell me they have put stickers underneath or behind each item, with names of the individual to receive each item. Over time, these stickers can fall off causing confusion. Other methods that I have seen that works in some situations are to distribute items during your lifetime. In the most likely outcome, you may downsize or move into an assisted living accommodation. This may be the ideal opportunity to distribute some of your items.

I also prefer the memorandum approach because it provides clarity for your executor by itemizing each article that you would like to be given to specific individuals. It can sometimes be the smaller items that family have disagreements with afterward. The memorandum should hopefully minimize disagreements between family members over items of sentimental value and avoid unnecessary conflict.

I have explained to clients how I use a memorandum and refer to it in my will. My memorandum was created using a password protected Excel template. The columns include individual name, contact address, phone number and other notes. Although you may know where all the individuals who are receiving your personal articles reside, your executor may not know. It is helpful to list the address and phone number to assist your executor. The notes column is for additional comments that may include logistics, such as shipping or customs notes if the individuals are not nearby.

A benefit of the Excel spreadsheet Personal and Household Effects Memorandum is that it can be easily edited when items are bought, sold or disposed of without having to update the will. If your executor has the electronic copy, the list can be sorted by individual to make organizing the distribution easier. This comprehensive list of assets could be supplemented with photos/videos to add extra clarity for your executor and would also be useful to keep as a general record of all of your assets for insurance purposes.

The Excel spreadsheets should list all personal and household items of significance that are not specifically mentioned in the will. An up-to-date printed copy is always stored with my will, My will refers to this memorandum. I ensure the printed copy is signed, dated and also witnessed.

Just as I think it is important that a will be kept simple and straight forward, I think the memorandum should be kept to articles of importance, sentimental items and other significant items. Many household items have very little value and are not of any great significance. It is also possible that the individuals that you wish to come into possession of the articles do not want them. It could be that logistical issues or shipping costs of moving an item(s) to a named individual far exceeds the value of the article. Your will should give the power to the executor to handle these potential outcomes.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a portfolio manager and director of wealth management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week at timescolonist.com. Call 250-389-2138.

 

Helping your executor with your digital footprint

One of the first roles of an executor of a will is to gather and secure their client’s assets.

This process includes ensuring the principle residence is locked and all known assets are secured. The executor has a fiduciary responsibility to do this for the benefit of all beneficiaries. One of the challenges an executor faces is actually obtaining a complete list of all assets of the deceased.

Years ago, it was not uncommon for an executor to think they had a listing of all assets, only to discover additional assets at a later time. Sometimes reviewing bank statements might trigger the discovery of additional assets such as transfers to accounts not previously documented. Going through the regular mail was also a way to obtain recently issued account statements and gather current information on assets. Sometimes opening up the mail would also reveal a cheque that could lead to the discovery of additional assets.

In the days before investments were held in nominee name, clients would often hold physical share certificates. In other situations, a share certificate for a growth stock that doesn’t pay a dividend would be found in a pile of papers or up in the attic. Does it have value or is it defunct?

When a certificate is found by an executor, we can help out by doing a search. The search will determine if the company has value or not. Every year, I find myself doing fewer and fewer certificate searches. People who still have share certificates with value are encouraged to bring them to a wealth adviser to put them into nominee name, especially in order to make things easier for your executor. If you have a share certificate that you know is defunct, then it is best to shred them to avoid confusion or uncertainty later.

On the opposite side of the spectrum from share certificates are paperless options. Clients have the option at most financial institutions to either receive statements or to go paperless. It is also not uncommon to see clients having multiple small RRSP accounts spread all over town. Clients who have selected paperless should ensure they have a mechanism for your executor to obtain completeness. Writing everything in a book that your executor can find is a good starting point.

What is becoming more important is for individuals to discuss their digital footprint with the executor they have chosen. In my personal will, I make reference to a “digital memorandum.” This is a complete listing of my digital footprint. The memorandum is divided into a few different categories — retailers, financial, utilities, telecom, work, social media and other. The memorandum contains all the pertinent details, including the website, username and password.

This digital memorandum ensures your executor can print off your paperless bills, as bill payment is one of their responsibilities. Many bills, such as utility bills, are now primarily paperless. After all bills are paid, it is then prudent to authorize your executor to close down all appropriate accounts.

With more options to have access to services online, there are more passwords to remember. We all know the frustration when you go to a particular site and you cannot remember the username and password combination due to increased security and constant password updates. This is why it is important to update your records each time you update or change your username or password. Best practices for passwords would be to never write this information down. In my opinion, that is not practical from two standpoints. First, unless someone has an unbelievable memory I would think this would be nearly impossible. My digital memorandum has hundreds of different user names and passwords, with hundreds of different passwords to remember. I would think best practices would be to ensure that you do not have the same password for everything you access. Second, it doesn’t matter how good your memory is once you have passed away. Your executor would not know any of your account information unless you record it in a manner that they can access.

As mentioned earlier, a good starting point for this is by writing everything in one book. This can work, but it is also harder to keep organized with constant updates. If your hand writing is anything like mine, it can be difficult for your executor to decipher. Another option would be to maintain these records digitally in either a Word or Excel file. This can make it easier to read and easier to update without having to erase or scratch out old information. You would simply delete the old information and replace it with the updated information. The Excel or Word document should always be password protected on your computer. It may be a good idea to give your executor the password to first log into your computer, and also the directory where the digital memorandum is stored along with the password to unlock the Word or Excel file.

Once you have decided on your preferred method of maintaining and updating your information, it is important to keep an updated printed copy of the digital memorandum with your original will in a safe and secure location. This will help your executor with their duties and allow them to deal with your digital foot print.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a portfolio manager and director of wealth management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the Times Colonist. Call 250-389-2138.

 

Understanding what flows through your estate

At every stage of our client’s lives, we feel they should have an up to date will.

Unforeseen events can happen and planning is essential to ensure your assets and estate are distributed according to your wishes.

The term “estate” can be used different ways. For purposes of this article, we will refer to any assets that are divided according to your will as forming part of your estate.

Below we will illustrate the “estate” term using various options that a client has with respect to their investment accounts, both registered and non-registered.

Registered accounts

Examples of registered accounts are Registered Retirement Savings Plans, Registered Retirement Income Fund, Locked-In Retirement Account, Locked-In Income Fund and Tax Free Savings Account. When a client opens a registered account, one of the questions we ask them relate to who they would like to name as beneficiaries. A client can name an individual(s) or simply name the estate as beneficiary.

In the majority of cases, couples will name their spouse the beneficiary of RRSP/RRIF accounts to obtain the tax deferred roll-over to the surviving spouse on the first death. With a TFSA, benefits exist for naming your spouse as the full amount of the deceased’s TFSA can roll into the surviving spouses TFSA without using up the survivor’s contribution limit. When a person or persons are named beneficiary on a registered account it essentially bypasses a person’s estate.

Individuals also have the option of naming their “estate” the beneficiary on their registered accounts. When “estate” is named, it is extra important for clients to have a will. Essentially, your will divides all registered accounts where “estate” is named.

In reviewing a client’s will, we have at times noted conflicts with what the will says and who the named beneficiary is on a client’s account. Some clients will want to specifically put account numbers and types of accounts within a will. This is not necessary if you have named beneficiaries on the accounts. It also can add confusion in your will if you leave certain accounts to certain individuals within your will — the specific outcome may not be as desired as the account values will change over time. In the majority of cases, we encourage clients not to mention the types of accounts and account numbers within a will. We encourage clients to focus on having a detailed plan with respect to their overall estate.

Non-registered accounts

Common types of non-registered accounts include individual, joint tenancy, tenancy in common and corporate accounts. Couples typically like to have investment accounts held in joint tenancy. Most joint tenancy accounts will have both couples names and then “Joint With Right of Survivorship” or “JTWROS” after the names.

Typically, with a JTWROS for couples, on the first passing, nothing flows through the deceased’s estate. In other family situations (i.e. not a spouse) where accounts have been structure for estate planning purposes only this may not apply. The surviving spouse would essentially bring us in a copy of the death certificate and notarized copy of the will.

Once these documents are brought in, we would have a couple of documents for the surviving spouse to sign (i.e. Letter of Indemnity and new account documents). Typically, a new individual account is opened in the name of the surviving spouse and then the securities would be rolled over as they are, including the book values, into the new account.

When a person passes away with an individual account or holds a percentage of assets in a tenancy in common ownership within their account, this would flow into the person’s estate.

Probate and executor fees

There are no probate fees for estates under $25,000, 0.6 per cent on the portion of the estate from $25,000 to $50,000, in B.C. The maximum compensation is five per cent for executors in B.C.

With couples, we typically try to arrange joint tenancy on all assets to ensure probate can be avoided on the first passing. In many cases, couples name each other executors to eliminate or reduce the executor costs.

In some cases, such as complex family situations (i.e. second marriages, children from a previous relationship), it is not always possible to avoid probate and executor fees to achieve your primary goals. Your primary goals will trump other goals such as avoiding probate and executor costs. In some situations, it is best to structure things so that probate and executor fees may apply.

Certainly on the second passing, it becomes more difficult to avoid probate and other costs such as legal and accounting. In some cases we are able to set up family meetings to deal with complex situations or to do further estate planning after the first passing.

Charts and visuals

I often use charts when discussing estate planning. I find it can be useful to help clients understand and visualize the purpose of a will. I’ll start the process by drawing a bucket in the middle of a blank page. On the bottom of the bucket I will write the word Estate. On the top side of the bucket, I will write the word will. I then pause to make sure that the clients understands that the will only divides what goes into the bucket. Many things can be structured to avoid the bucket altogether (i.e accounts that have named beneficiaries and JTWROS accounts).

On the left hand side of the page, I will begin listing all the assets that the individual has. Examples of typical asset listed include an RRSP, TFSA, boat, vehicle, bank account, non-registered account, house and life insurance policy. In each one of these examples, we draw a line to see which part of your estate flows directly to the bucket and which part of your estate flows directly to a beneficiary or joint owner.

We also draw a faucet on the right hand side of the bucket. The faucet represents probate fees, potential executor fees, accounting fees, legal fees and other costs outlined in the meeting.

Primary estate goals

Minimizing probate fees and executor fees are typically in the secondary goal category. As much as clients would like to avoid unnecessary fees, it should never trump achieving your primary goals. During an estate planning meeting, the majority of the time is spent mapping out details of your primary and secondary goals. Primary goals could be specific directions with respect to income taxes, protecting assets, succession planning for a business, asset distribution and transition, providing for family and friends and charitable giving.

These estate planning discussions are done to hopefully ensure all is structured correctly. Once we know what you are trying to achieve then we can compare your goals, both primary and secondary, to your existing will to ensure the two are aligned. If they are not aligned, then we could, in conjunction with your other professional advisers (lawyer and accountant), provide options or suggestions. Another goal of these discussions is to ensure your estate is distributed in a timely manner and to manage expenses and taxes in an efficient way.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a portfolio manager and director, wealth management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the Times Colonist. Call 250-389-2138.

 

Updating your list of key contacts

We begin every meeting with our clients by reviewing a summary sheet of key macro items we believe are important for the client to either understand or communicate to us.

We provide new clients with a financial checklist to take home, fill out and return to us either by email, mail or at our next meeting. In many ways, it is similar to if you were visiting a medical professional for the first time. In order for the medical professional to best help you, they would need to know both your and your family’s health histories.

The purpose of this article is to outline some of the reasons why we ask for this information.

Accounting information

Do you prepare your own tax return or do you have someone prepare your taxes on your behalf? If you have an accountant, then at a minimum we obtain the name of the individual(s) you work with, the firm name, mailing address, phone number, fax number and email. We also like to know when the relationship began. If you do not have an accountant, then how is your return prepared (software package, paper version, family member)? We have all new clients complete a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) representative form as a starting point. With your consent, this enables us to get some background information and all carry-forward limits. We obtain alerts from CRA when our clients get new mail (Notices of Assessments, reassessments, review letters). Often we are able to review this before our clients receive it. If we are not able to assist the client directly, then we can point them in the correct direction.

For our corporate clients and incorporated medical professionals, it is important for us to speak at least annually, if not more frequently, with their accountants. We can provide the accounting firm with the information they require to expedite the preparation of corporate and trust returns. It also enables us to document the structure, shareholdings, and overall strategy with respect to tax sheltering, dividend payments and wages. This information needs to be consistent with all financial planning documents we prepare.

Legal information

One of the sections on our professional checklist requests details regarding the lawyer and notaries you work with. For our corporate and trust clients, they may have a different lawyer to help with the structure, records office and minute filings. All clients should have a notary or lawyer that helps prepare their personal legal documents. This is perhaps the area where we have to nudge clients along a bit as the natural tendency is often procrastination.

The benefit of us asking new clients to fill out the professional checklist, and asking existing clients to update or provide this information, is that it encourages people to dedicate time to get it done. The most basic of questions we ask is whether our clients have a will. We believe it is important to know when it was last updated, where the original(s) are kept and who the executor and alternate executors are? We also advise clients that we do not prepare wills and don’t require copies of our clients’ wills unless they have questions and concerns. When we have estate planning meetings, I will always want to know how our clients ultimately want their estate distributed. If the will does reflect their most current wishes, then I will work with their lawyer to ensure it is updated.

We also obtain details regarding power of attorney, including legal, bank, and financial information. Unlike wills, there is no registry for powers of attorney. We ensure that we document details that clients provide, and request that they confirm no changes at every meeting. In cases where clients are aging we will encourage them to bring the representatives that they trust in to meet with us prior to a situation where the client’s capacity can be questioned.

Often the legal section of our checklist is returned without the requested information or incomplete. In some cases, it may be because the client didn’t understand the question or that it is not applicable. Many people want to know about the different types of power of attorney and health care directives (i.e. representation agreement) available, but have never really talked to anyone about it.

Perhaps the most important part of this exercise is that it enables our clients to open up about personal situations that have been bothering them. After working with clients for a couple of decades, there are very few situations that we have not found solutions for if clients want to talk about it.

Banking information

When clients first open up accounts, they must provide a copy of a void cheque to ensure we have the correct details. In some cases, we have clients who have multiple bank accounts at different institutions. Many couples have joint accounts. Some clients choose to have individual accounts. Our elderly clients have, at times, had questions about setting children up as power of attorney on bank accounts and investment accounts or setting them up as joint owners. We try to both simplify our clients banking needs while at the same time ensuring they understand the pros and cons of each decision that they make.

Every investment account is linked to a bank account. It is possible to have different bank accounts linked to different investment accounts. That can get a bit confusing, especially as our clients are aging. We generally encourage closing unnecessary accounts and consolidating them into one Canadian chequing account. In this one account you can have all your deposits transferred in including CPP, OAS, RPP pensions, and withdrawals from your financial institution. Establishing a good relationship with one banking institution makes sense to have one point of contact. It makes cash-flow planning and taxation administration easier. Whenever our clients change their banking information they must let us know so we can update the applicable link to the investment account(s).

Insurance information

When clients come to the insurance section of the checklist, people often don’t have a clear understanding of what insurance coverage they have. Some may have had insurance they purchased years ago, but are fuzzy on all the details. Sometimes clients bring in policies that have lapsed, have been replaced, or converted. In other cases, they are fully in force. For existing in-force policies, we document all details, including why the insurance was initially put in place. We also obtain details of the cost of insurance and any periodic cash-flow needs to fund. In some cases, the insurance is fully paid up. In other situations, premiums are set to be paid monthly or annually normally. When we see monthly premium payments, we normally talk to the client about converting to annual as the cost of insurance is typically slightly lower. With annual payments we are also able to coordinate payments from a non-registered account to insurance companies on our client’s behalf. We ensure that cash flow is available to fund and we can make the payment direction, similarly to us making installment payments to CRA.

In some cases, our clients have no insurance and they do not need insurance. In other cases, our clients have young families, or have significant debt loads, partnership agreements, compliance with separation agreement clauses, etc. When there is an obvious need we will outline how risks can be managed in the scope of an overall financial plan.

Asking questions about insurance and obtaining details of all in force policies enables us to understand the full picture. One of the side benefits of gathering all insurance details is that it is required information to complete a comprehensive financial plan. Within a financial plan, a section covers insurance. Insurance can often help provide solutions to concerns, protection, taxation benefits, and estate maximization and ensuring asset transfers after taxes have been paid.

Family information

For every client, we request that they provide us some background of their family dynamic, usually via a family tree, starting with details on their parents. If their parents are deceased, then we request that they provide their age at the point of their death. This type of information is useful from a genetic footprint standpoint. In situations where parents are still living it opens up many discussions. Are your parents currently dependent on you or will they need assistance as they age? In some cases, we will encourage our clients to bring their parents in and we can assist them with any questions. When parents are living, there will likely either be some form of future cost (i.e. extended care, funeral costs) or future inheritance. This information is useful when mapping out future cash flow needs and financial plans.

Obtaining details about siblings is also important, as they, too, can provide information from a genetic standpoint. We have many situations where we can set up siblings and our clients on joint family accounts if the situation is right. When siblings open up accounts, it provides more options for estate planning with parents, such as in-kind distributions. Siblings can also be an option with respect to executor and powers of attorney depending on proximity, age and knowledge level.

Information on children and grandchildren is also important to know. For younger children and grandchildren, the discussion can initially focus on setting up Registered Education Savings Plans. We will often discuss with our clients what type of assistance, if any, they want to provide to any minor children once they become adults. In some cases we have clients that feel they have no obligation to assist their children after they leave them. Some feel they feel an obligation to fund education costs only. Others want to extend the assistance to helping their children purchase their first home. Every client is different and we try to get an initial understanding of where they are within this wide spectrum.

When family members combine accounts at one institution, it is referred to as “house-holding.” As overall asset levels rise and reach certain thresholds, then fees as a percentage can decline for all family members.

We also want to obtain details outside of a family tree if non-family beneficiaries are listed on life-insurance policies and registered accounts. At times, we have had beneficiaries that live overseas and have been challenging to reach. Making sure we have up-to-date addresses and phone numbers of key individuals that are part of your estate plan.

Finally, many of our clients have pets that are an integral part of their family and have concerns about what will happen to them as part of their estate. We can provide solutions that give pet owners options and peace of mind.

Other information

With extended families and complicated family situations we ask our clients to provide marriage contracts, prenuptial agreements or any information that gives us a complete understanding. We also ask clients to provide any additional details that they feel we should know. Stated another way, are there any specific concerns that are bothering them?

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a portfolio manager and director of wealth management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the Times Colonist. Call 250-389-2138.

 

Inheritance enhances retirement and estate plan

Over the years we have helped new clients and existing clients deal with inheritances. In the majority of cases the inheritances are coming from parents. These can be done upon the parent’s passing away but are also done while they are alive in more and more cases. In other cases we have clients receiving inheritances from uncles/aunts, siblings, friends, and other individuals.

The greater the inheritance the more critical it is to get some professional advice. One positive part of receiving an inheritance in Canada is the money is not taxed. Following are some topics we would discuss when a client receives an inheritance.

Paying off debt

We like the idea of paying off debt, especially personal mortgages, credit cards, and lines of credit that are not tax deductible.

To begin with, we obtain a summary of all loans, current rates, and repayment penalties, if any.

If only some debt is repaid, then the highest non-deductible interest rate debt should be paid off first. If fees or penalties apply, it is important to obtain an understanding of these and your wealth adviser should be able to map out the best options.

If you still would like to invest some, or all, of your cash then you’re best to take a new loan out for the specific purpose of investing.

The interest expense incurred from the money borrowed is generally tax deductible if the purpose of the use of the borrowed funds is to earn income in non-registered accounts.

Increased income

One of the results of receiving an inheritance is that your annual taxable income is likely to increase. If you purchase GICs and bonds, you will have to factor in the interest income received. If you purchase equities, you will have tax efficient dividend income to report and some deferral options.

We provide an estimate of what the income will be once the investments are selected and calculate an estimated income tax liability if the funds are invested in a non-registered account.

Type of non-registered account

If you feel a non-registered account is your best option you should determine the type of account.

If you are single the choice is easy; an individual account. If you are married or in a common-law relationship, you may consider to open an individual account and keep the funds only in your name. Alternatively, you may open a joint-with-right-of-survivorship (JTWROS) account with your spouse or common-law partner.

The person who received the inheritance would be primary on the account. If a non-registered account is already opened then we have a discussion regarding the risk of commingling funds in the event of a marriage breakdown.

This discussion has many other components to talk about including tax, income splitting, and estate wishes. Consulting a family law attorney may be required in cases of marital breakdowns.

Topping up RRSPs

One way to defer some of the above income is to deposit funds into a tax sheltered Registered Retirement Savings Plan, if contribution room exists.

The greater your income, the better this option is. If your income is at or below the lowest tax bracket then there may be other options you would want to consider.

The determining factor is your future income expectations. As an example: John received $250,000 as an inheritance. He is using $150,000 to pay off all debt and would like to invest the remaining $100,000. John has accumulated a $140,000 RRSP deduction limit, as he has never contributed the maximum each year. John plans to work for the next five years and earns approximately $80,000 in T4 income.

One option we may suggest to John is to contribute the $100,000 into his RRSP and claim $20,000 a year as a deduction over the next five years assuming that there is no extra cash flow for additional contributions. One of the main benefits of putting funds in the RRSP (and not claiming the full deduction right away) is that all income is tax sheltered.

Tax Free Savings Account

Any income earned within the TFSA is tax free, if you have never set up a TFSA, the cumulated TFSA contribution limit for 2019 is $63,500. It may be worthwhile to understand the advantage of this type of account and top up to the maximum limit. Starting in 2019, the annual limit is $6,000, indexed to inflation thereafter.

If you have both non-registered account and TFSA, then we would recommend you to transfer your assets (up to the maximum limit) from the non-registered account into the TFSA, to take advantage of the tax-free feature.

Skipping a generation

Sometimes the people receiving the inheritance do not need the funds themselves. In these situations we often map out a strategy that will skip to the next generation. Sometimes this will help younger generations pay off mortgages, purchase a home, or build up retirement savings

Structure of accounts

Many Canadians only have RRSP or TFSA accounts. Often when significant funds are received (inheritance, sell of a business, life insurance proceeds), people open their first non-registered account.

One thing that we see is people buying GICs and bonds where the interest income is fully taxable in a non-registered account while leaving the equity investments which have tax-efficient dividend income within their RRSP. When this happens, the structure of investments is backwards.

There are many benefits of consolidating investments at one institution, including lower fees and more account options. It is beneficial to deposit the inheritance cash into a non-registered account at the same institution as the RRSP. If this is done then the structure can be corrected.

We are able to do a series of trades that will correct the overall structure will ensure that interest income on fixed income is tax sheltered within the RRSP. By holding Canadian equities in the non-registered account, you will receive the benefit of the dividend tax credit, and taxation of capital gains and losses.

Updated documents

Obtain the appropriate forms to update your investment accounts, Powers of Attorney, beneficiaries and ownership. We always encourage people to update their Will and other legal documents (if necessary).

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a Portfolio Manager and Director, Wealth Management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the Times Colonist. Call 250-389-2138.

 

Act today to minimize a massive final tax bill

Taxpayers, naturally, are fixated on trying to minimize tax in the current year. This is a classic scenario of someone not being able to see the forest for the trees. The forest is your ultimate final tax liability. The trees are the current year taxes. The final tax bill in Canada consists of any income up to the time of death, accrued gains are deemed to be realized at the same time and estate administration tax (probate fees).

Annually, in early June we will look at our client’s tax returns and see the level of taxable income and tax payable they incurred in the current year. When the current tax payable is too low we may schedule an estate planning meeting.

The estate planning meeting typically starts off by a rough tax calculation of what your final tax liability would be today, based on your current assets, if you were to pass away. If you have not gone through this exercise, then it is worth doing. In some cases, the government stands to inherit a significant portion of your net worth if not structured appropriately. The conversation is setting the framework for a more detailed analysis done as part of the financial planning process.

Throughout our working lives we commonly reduce our annual tax bill by making Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) contributions. An important item for people to understand is the tax consequences when withdrawals are made and also the tax consequences upon death.

Withdrawals from registered accounts are generally considered taxable income in the year the payments are made. Over time your RRSP account may have generated different types of income including dividend income, interest income and capital gains. All of this income would have been deferred. All RRSP and Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) withdrawals are considered ordinary income taxed at your full marginal tax rate regardless of the original type of income.

When a registered account owner dies, the total value of their registered account is included in the owner’s final tax return. The final tax return is often referred to as a terminal tax return. The proceeds will be taxed at the owner’s marginal tax rate. The highest marginal tax rate (British Columbia and federal) is currently 49.8 per cent. An individual that has $800,000 in an RRSP/RRIF account may have to pay $398,400 of that amount to Canada Revenue Agency in income taxes. If the RRSP names the estate as beneficiary, then an estate administration tax or probate fee of approximately $11,200 would apply. Accounting, legal, and executor costs can result in less than half being directed to your beneficiaries and more than half going to taxes and other fees.

These taxes must be paid out of the estate. CRA considers you to have cashed in all of your registered accounts in the year of death. Paying over 50 per cent of your retirement savings to CRA is not something investors strive for. There are a few situations where this tax liability can be deferred or possibly reduced.

Spouse

Registered assets can be transferred from the deceased to their spouse or common law spouse on a tax-free rollover basis provided they are named as beneficiary. The rollover would be transferred into the spouse’s registered account provided they have one. If the spouse does not have a registered account, they are able to establish one. The registered assets are brought into income on the spouse’s return and offset by a tax receipt for the same amount. This rollover allows the funds to continue growing on a tax-deferred basis. The rollover does not affect the spouse’s RRSP contribution room.

If your spouse is specifically named the beneficiary of your RRIF account, then you should consider designating your spouse as a “successor annuitant.” As a successor annuitant, the surviving spouse will receive the remaining RRIF payment(s) if applicable and obtain immediate ownership of the registered account on death. These assets will bypass the deceased’s estate and reduce probate fees. You should discuss all estate settlement issues with your Wealth Advisor and financial institution to obtain a complete understanding.

Minor child or grandchild

Registered assets may be passed onto a financially dependent child or grandchild provided you have named them the beneficiary of your registered account. In order to be financially dependent, the child or grandchild’s income must not exceed the basic personal exemption amount. A child that is under 18 must ensure that the full amount is paid out by the time that child turns 18.

Financially dependent child

A child of any age that is financially dependent on you can receive the proceeds of your registered account as a refund of premiums. This essentially means that the tax will be paid at the child’s marginal tax rate, likely to be considerably lower than your marginal tax rate on the terminal tax return.

Rollover to Registered Disability Savings Plan

In 2010, positive changes occurred to help parents and grandparents who have a financially dependent disabled child or grandchild. Essentially this enables the RRSP accounts of parents and grandparents (referred to as the annuitant) to be rolled over to the RDSP beneficiary. The estate benefit is that up to $200,000 of the annuitant’s RRSP can be transferred to the beneficiary’s RDSP. Care should be taken to make sure the transfer qualifies under current tax rules and thresholds. The end goal is to minimize tax and hopefully your beneficiaries receive a larger inheritance. We recommend you speak with a Wealth Advisor if you are considering naming a disabled child or grandchild the beneficiary of your registered account.

Rollover to Registered Retirement Savings Plan

The RDSP is my favourite option for rollover, but what happens if the RRSP/RRIF is greater than $200,000 (the maximum rollover for the RDSP)? Another good option to explore if the child is dependent on you by reason of physical or mental infirmity is the tax free rollover of the registered account (i.e. RRIF) into the disabled child’s own registered account (i.e. RRSP). With disabled children there are no immediate tax consequences and there is no requirement to purchase an annuity. You may want to discuss the practical issues relating to having your registered account rolled into registered account in the name of a disabled child.

Other planning options for children with disabilities

A combination of the RDSP and RRSP rollover is normally sufficient if the annuitant has a small to medium sized RRSP/RRIF account. Other planning options are available if you have a sizable RRSP and are worried about disabilities payments from the government.

Beneficiaries

Care should be taken when you select the beneficiary or beneficiaries of your registered accounts. If you name a beneficiary that does not qualify for one of the preferential tax treatments listed above, then it could cause some problems for the other beneficiaries of your estate. An example may be naming your brother as the beneficiary of your RRSP and your children as beneficiaries of the balance of your estate. In this example, the brother would receive the full RRSP assets and the tax bill would have to be paid by the estate, reducing the amount your children would receive.

Important points

Every individual situation is different and we encourage individuals to obtain professional advice. Below we have listed a few general ideas and techniques that you may want to consider in your attempt to reduce a large tax bill:

  • Pension credit — you should determine if you are able to utilize the pension tax credit of $2,000. If you are 65 or older, then certain withdrawals from registered accounts may qualify for this credit. Rolling a portion of your RRSP into RRIF would allow you to create qualifying income. For couples this credit may be claimed twice – effectively allowing some couples to withdraw up to $4,000 per year from their RRIF account(s) tax-free (provided they do not have other qualifying pension income).
  • Single or widowed — single and widowed individuals will incur more risk with respect to the likelihood of paying a large tax bill. Single and widowed individuals should understand the tax consequences of them dying as no tax deferrals are available.
  • Charitable giving — one of the most effective ways to reduce taxes in your year of death is through charitable giving. Those with charitable intentions should meet with their professional advisors to assess the overall tax bill after planned charitable donations are taken into account.
  • Life insurance — one commonly used strategy is for individuals to purchase life insurance to cover this future tax liability. The tax liability created upon death coincides conveniently with the life insurance proceeds. This would enable individuals to name specific beneficiaries on their registered account without the other beneficiaries of the estate having to cover the tax liability.
  • Estate as beneficiary — if you name your estate the beneficiary of your registered account then probate fees will apply. An up-to-date will provides guidance on the distribution of your estate.
  • Life expectancy — Individuals who live a long healthy life will likely be able to diminish their registered accounts over time as planned. Ensuring your lifestyle is suitable to a longer life expectancy is the easiest way to defer and minimize tax.

A wealth adviser should be able to generate a financial plan to review with you and your accountant. The financial plan should outline the tax your estate would have to pay if you were to die today. This will begin a conversation that may allow you to create a strategy that reduces the impact of final taxes on your estate and throughout your lifetime.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a Portfolio Manager and Director, Wealth Management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the Times Colonist. Call 250-389-2138.

 

Online access and paperless options becoming more mainstream

Computers, phones and tablets have all become mainstream in today’s modern households. The thirst for current knowledge in a busy mobile world has never been greater. More than ten years ago, businesses began introducing new online options for clients to get financial information. Although some were slow to adopt this technology change, most clients today desire to have online access to both their bank and investment accounts.

The term online access has caused some confusion, especially when financial firms have both online access through a website (the web) and login access through an application (the app) for a tablet and smart phone. What you can access and do on both of these online platforms are different. We recommend that clients create an account and get comfortable with both to obtain all available information on their accounts. I think the hesitation early on was due to peoples’ comfort level in regard to technology and security issues.

There are many benefits to setting up online access. One of the main reasons people like online access is the ability to set up “paperless” options. With most financial firms, this is done through the website version. Going paperless is an optional choice, or an added benefit, that clients have once they have online access on the web. Let us look at some of the benefits of online access and paperless delivery.

Security

I mentioned that some people may be hesitant to go online for security reasons. Financial firms have spent enormous capital to ensure appropriate security is available for their clients. Some people could easily argue that with mail delivery being a manual process that the arrival of your mail at your home is not 100 per cent guaranteed. When you receive other people’s mail you may wonder if anyone has received yours. Many people feel that it is more secure to go paperless and not have your financial information sent by regular mail.

Customization

Clients have the ability to select and customize what documents they wish to receive by paper delivery or by paperless delivery. The three broad categories are statements (monthly statements), confirmation slips (sent after each trade) and tax documents. Clients must elect paperless or paper delivery on each account. For example, a client could elect paperless delivery on the TFSA and RRSP account but wish to have paper delivery on the taxable or cash account. It is normally less confusing for clients if they either go all paperless delivery or all paper delivery.

Timeliness

Another benefit of online access and paperless delivery is that you would be able to access your statements sooner. With paperless delivery you would receive a notification by email that your financial information is available online and you could immediately log in and view this information. With paper delivery, the statements would have to be printed by your financial firm and mailed to you. When Canada Post was going on strike, many clients converted to paperless documents to ensure they continued to get their financial information in a timely manner.

Tax documents

Many clients today like the idea of logging onto a secure website and printing off their tax documents. We also recommend that clients create “My Account” with CRA and print the slips automatically sent to them as a completeness check. Once you have set-up “My Account” with the CRA you can take advantage of their sign-in partner service. This allows you to sign into “My Account” with the CRA using the same sign-in information you use for your online access at your financial institution. This is one less password you will have to remember. If you have online access, you would be able to compile all tax slips provided you have paperless delivery and online accounts set up by March 31. If you have paperless tax documents, the latest your accountant should receive your tax documents is April 1st every year. Even if you are travelling you can access your documents and send these through to your accountant — remember to use secure email.

Environment

Paperless documents also has the added benefit of being good for the environment. Financial firms reduce printing costs, mailing/delivery costs and do their part for the environment by reducing the amount of paper they use. Clients viewing the information online can do so in a secure manner. They do not have to print the statements and worry about storing the financial information securely or shredding old documents. When clients select paperless delivery, they can go online and go back several years to look up financial information whenever they need to. It is easy to find and stays secure in the meantime.

Power of Attorney (POA) — monitor parents

In many situations, we are dealing with two or more generations in a family. When our clients are aging, we will typically have a discussion with them about steps they can do today in the event they become unable to make financial decisions. If they have reliable and responsible children, we will often suggest a family meeting where one of their adult children is introduced to us. We have a discussion about financial information for aging clients or clients suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. We like to have this conversation while our aging clients still have capacity and the ability to set up a financial power of attorney. Financial information can be confusing and create anxiety in some cases. Establishing a power of attorney, to monitor your situation can reduce this significantly. What works really well is to set up the account delivery as paperless and provide full online access to the power of attorney.

Power of Attorney (POA) — monitor children

We are often asked if we will help our clients children get started on the right path with investing. When the accounts are set up we can easily add the parent on as a power of attorney. A parent may want to gift money to their children and the POA on the account enables them to keep an eye on the child’s financial progress. Guiding your children on how to deal with money can be as important as guiding them toward a good education and profession. Children naturally do not know the different ways to invest or the different types of investment accounts.

Transfers between accounts

If you have online access set up with your bank and financial firm, it creates an added benefit of viewing both. Online access enables you to transfer funds from a bank account into your investment account. This can be done quickly and efficiently, without the need of writing physical cheques.

Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a portfolio manager and director of wealth management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week in the Times Colonist. Call 250-389-2138.