Death and taxes may be certain, but for those willing to look, there are several ways to minimize the final tax hit.
That’s where tax planning comes in, particularly for your estate, says Douglas Gray, co-author of The Canadian Guide to Will and Estate Planning. There are steps you can take now that will significantly reduce the amount of tax that leaves your estate upon your death.

Mr. Gray cautions, however, not to try implementing your estate planning strategies without professional help.

While it’s fine to read up on the subject in order to identify strategies that might work in a given situation, “this is not something that anyone should take on as a do-it-yourself-project,” he warns.

Here are some other things to consider when planning to minimize the tax hit on your estate:

Consider Your Spouse

Have your will written in such a way that if your spouse survives you, assets such as real estate, the family business and unregistered investments will pass outright to your spouse or in trust, so that there will be a deferral of the taxable capital gains that would otherwise be triggered upon your death.

Avoid Probate Fees

There are several ways to minimize or avoid provincial estate administration taxes.  Joint ownership of certain assets with your spouse is one method.

Also if you are age 65 or older, you can set up what’s known as an “alter ego trust” or a “joint partner trust” to hold legal title to certain assets that you own.

Use Your Registered Retirement Saving Plan (RRSP)

Arrange with your estate administrators to consider whether it would be beneficial to make an RRSP contribution in the year of your death if you die before your spouse. This would reduce the income tax otherwise payable in our final income tax return.

Freeze Your Estate

If you are a business owner or if you own commercial real estate, consider doing an estate freeze in favor of your children as a way of limiting the amount of future capital gains tax arising on your death.

Claim Medical Expenses

Survivors might be able to claim medical expenses and even a disability tax credit in a deceased’s final tax return if the person was confined to bed for a substantial period before dying.

Set Up Trusts

Testamentary trusts receive favorable income tax treatment and provide an opportunity for income splitting. You can set them up for your children or grandchildren in your will.

Reduce Capital Gains

If you are a business owner, take advantage of a special $750,000.00 capital gains exemption.  This exemption will reduce or eliminate the capital gains that would otherwise arise on your death, if the ownership of your business is to be sold or passed down to one or more of your children.

Use Tax Exemptions

If you have your own home or vacation properties, make sure that you or your executions take advantage of the “principle residence exemption” to reduce or eliminate the capital gains that arise on your death.

Donate Cash

Consider mentioning specific charities in your will.  Such donations reduce taxes payable in your final tax return.

Donate Stocks

Consider making charitable “donations in kind” in the form of publicly traded stocks that have gone up in value, instead of cash. You’ll get the same tax credit as for cash donations, plus the capital gains taxation on the public company shares is eliminated.

This article was taken and edited for content from the April 25, 2011 edition of the Globe & Mail

The Leslie Group is a full service employee benefits consulting firm that is committed to providing the best advice required to manage your employee benefit program. The Leslie Group can be reached at 416-510-8966.