There are a few tactics whereby you can reduce the need for an estate to be probated by the government:
• Defer possible probate by holding assets jointly. Probate fees may be charged when that asset is transferred later through the will of the second spouse.
• Establish a person as a beneficiary on your life insurance policies independent of the estate. This way, all monies pass to the heirs tax-free. If the estate needs probating, this portion of the assets will not be included in the estate, as the death benefit will flow directly to the heirs circumventing scrutiny. Life insurance strategies are excellent financial tools to circumvent probate on larger wealth transfers to heirs. Family wealth can be positioned to pass through life insurance policies, delivering tax-free benefits without probate. Any tax due on policy investments will be taxed to the estate of the deceased policy owner. This method has frequently been used to transfer inter-generational estate wealth in the millions. Your advisor can keep you up to date on potential taxes in the estate.
• Name your beneficiaries on your registered investments such as RRSPs and RRIFs. Insurance products may allow you to side-step probate in this way. To protect themselves, banks and trust companies will probably require probate or a letter of indemnity from the estate’s lawyer if the assets are significant. If your spouse is your beneficiary, consider a secondary beneficiary should your spouse die at the same time you do.
• Consider setting up a spousal testamentary trust in your will to avoid double probate. When the second spouse dies, the assets can be distributed via the trust directives as opposed to a will.
• With your spouse, set up mutually-owned property as ‘joint tenants with rights of survivorship’ to transfer these assets automatically outside of the will.
Once a will has been probated paid the estate administrative tax (EAT), the executor can start transferring assets as directed by the will. Some assets can be transferred easily within a short period of time. Others have to wait until the estate expenses have been paid, including any final income taxes due to Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), after which they will issue a tax clearance certificate.