I come across many people when doing retirement planning who are familiar with the term “estate taxes”. They have heard the term on TV or read it in an article. I am asked if we have anything like that here in Canada. We do not. There is no such thing as estate tax in Canada but we do have something called PROBATE.
What is PROBATE and what will it cost me?
Probate is the requirement that your will be legally approved by the courts in the province or territory that you live in. The Executor that you appointed is also confirmed at that time. As for the costs, it depends on what province or territory you live in. For instance, in Alberta your probate fees will vary depending on what the value of your estate is. It could be as low as $25 for estates under $10,000 and up to $400 for estates of $250,000 or more. Probate fees in Alberta are not extremely expensive.
In other provinces the costs are significantly higher. Ontario has an increasing scale that starts at $5 for each $1,000 up to $50,000 then $15 for each $1,000 that exceeds $50,000. In Ontario, if you had an estate of $250,000 your probate cost exceeds $3000. Much higher than say Alberta or Quebec.
Usually you will have to go through probate. You won’t have a choice. Financial institutions will require probate to make sure the will is valid. There are steps you can do though to help minimize probate and to ensure that when you pass away most if not all your estate goes to whom or where you want it to go.
Make sure you name a beneficiary on items such as Life Insurance, RRSPs, RRIFs, other Non Registered assets at Insurance Companies. By naming a beneficiary, this ensures these monies flow outside your estate therefore avoiding probate.
Related Article: Designating Beneficiaries for RRSPs and RRIFs
For retirees with significant amounts of money, give some of it away. By doing so it is out of your hands and into the hands of a person who will be able to put that money to good use. Pay down a mortgage, pay off debt etc. Once it the asset is out of your hands, when you pass away it is not part of your estate.
Joint Ownership can be a way to avoid probate fees but be careful, there can be some drawbacks. There is Joint Ownership with Right of Survivorship and Joint Tenants in Common. Joint Ownership with a spouse on bank accounts, the home, non registered accounts is good ideas. Joint Ownership with children can have a negative impact before or after death depending on the family dynamics. Make sure you do your research.
Related article: Joint ownership of bank accounts and investment accounts
Trusts can also help in minimizing your estate. Testamentary Trusts are used at the time of death and can be the great tool for estate planning.
Dying without a Will
Your will is your game plan. The will is your way of being able to control matters from the grave. Dying without a will could possibly see your estate divided among those who you did not intend to receive the money or receive the money that soon. For example, if you pass away, you are not married or in common law and have a child and you have no will. Your estate will go to your child. What if your child is a minor? A spender? Or has addictions? It is always important to have a will done so that your wishes are carried out as you would like, not as the government would like.
Related article: 12 consequences of dying without a will
All in all, don’t fret about probate fees. Sometimes we make a bigger deal about it than necessary. However, take time to know what the costs are and what you can do to minimize those costs.