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Careful estate planning can untangle an estate from costly government inspections or the application of their administrative taxes and/or fees. Probate fees are calculated on assets, regardless of liabilities, at predetermined rates by the government. Methods of reducing the need for probate can save you money.
‘Estate’ is the legal term. When used in connection with probate proceedings, the term encompasses the total property that is owned by a deceased person prior to the distribution of that property in accordance with the terms of a will, or when there is no will, by the laws of inheritance in the jurisdiction of residence.
When an individual dies, his or her last will and testament is read. Because financial matters need tending to, your will should outline how you want your assets divided, your debts paid, and where applicable, define the management of these assets using established trusts for your heirs.
Family members may read a will if it is in their possession. Next, the will must go to the executor, who then assesses it, to see if it needs to be probated. Probate is a court assessment that may require government approval to settle your estate and transfer the ownership of your assets.
Probate is generally necessary in cases when:
• A bank, trust company or financial institution insists on the will being probated to prove that the executor has the authority to act.
• The assets include shares owned in a private company.
• The executor needs to sue an individual owing the estate money.
• Creditors are owed money from the estate.
• A will’s terminology is unclear, ambiguous or certain provisions are not stated. (For example, if there is no provision to pass assets to another heir where a spouse has predeceased you).
• A will is improperly witnessed.
Is probating an estate expensive?
It is a significant job for the executor to probate a will. The original will must be submitted with an inventory listing the estate’s assets recorded at their fair market value to the court in the jurisdiction where the deceased last lived. There may be increased fees if a lawyer is retained to cross-examine the asset list or if the executor charges a percentage of the asset base to do the work.
Life Insurance can solve estate tax problems. If you have not paid taxes on your capital gains which have accrued in a business or on an investment asset, or on a cottage, you may face estate taxes that are not affordable for the estate which may minimize the heirs assets or make it impossible to retain an asset such as a cottage. By planning for probate, you can use life insurance to pay off potential estate taxes due in the estate.
Note: In Ontario, the Estate Administrative Tax (EAT) will assume the process of probate. In Quebec, probate is not needed when a notary under seal prepared the will.
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