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There are two main areas in which people can arrange their affairs to allow their estates to be more easily administered by their estate trustee (formerly called executor). The first deals with information and instructions that should be recorded. The second deals with the registration of assets.

What information should I provide?

A person should put the following information in an easily accessible location:

  • the location of the original will;
  • a list of all bank accounts, bonds, stocks, term certificates, RRSPs, additional investment instruments and other assets;
  • a list of all insurance policies and their beneficiaries;
  • a list of all pensions, annuities, RIFFs;
  • a list of all employment death benefits;
  • the location of any safety deposit boxes;
  • a list of all debts and liabilities;
  • one’s birth certificate and marriage certificate

For all the above, the location of all relevant documents and contact persons also should be clearly noted. This information should be regularly reviewed and revised. Some people make copies of the information and send it to the estate trustee.

If such information is not recorded it is possible that the estate trustee may never locate all the assets and benefits of the deceased. There are over fifty million dollars on deposit with the Bank of Canada in unclaimed accounts. With no records left behind the estate trustee is forced to spend time and perhaps money trying to locate the assets. There will be work and extra costs if later on or after the administration of the estate, the assets and liabilities are found. There might be penalties and interest charges for unpaid taxes. It is also emotionally hard and frustrating for the estate trustee to try to reconstruct the deceased’s financial affairs.

What instructions should I leave?

One should leave clear instructions to the estate trustee and family about one’s funeral and burial arrangements. This can be done by a written memorandum left with the will, but it is also best to advise the estate trustee of those wishes beforehand. Do not assume that others know or will agree with your ideas. If one wishes to donate body organs then the proper paperwork must be completed. This includes an organ donor card or the completion of the organ donor section on the driver’s license. Again the estate trustee and family should be advised beforehand of those instructions. This gives the best possibility that all the instructions are followed and no different arrangements are carried out. It also reduces arguments among the family about what should be done.

A will allows the parent with custody to name who would have custodianship of minor children. This designation is not binding on a court, but will prevail before a court changes it. It is important again that the estate trustee, family and the person or persons appointed custodians are aware beforehand of the designation. This allows for less confusion and less arguments over the children if death occurs suddenly.

How should I register my assets?

It is possible sometimes to arrange one’s assets so that on death they pass easily, quickly and with little expense to the beneficiaries. It is not necessary always to have a will approved by the Court and obtain from the Court a “Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee with a Will” . Applying for the certificate of appointment is really only necessary where the institution holding the asset (such as bank in the case of a savings account) will not allow the estate trustee to deal with the asset without the certificate of appointment. Obtaining the Certificate of Appointment of an Estate Trustee results in greater legal fees and court fees. It may slightly prolong the administration of the estate. It is therefore desirable to arrange one’s financial affairs to avoid the necessity of applying to the Court. Depending on the assets this can be done in several ways.

First, especially for a husband and wife on good terms, the assets should be registered in joint ownership. This means that on death the ownership automatically goes to the surviving joint owner. A certificate of appointment is not necessary for that asset. As the court fee is determined by the value of the estate, that estate value does not include jointly owned assets even if the certificate of appointment of an estate trustee is necessary for other assets or considerations.

Second, if possible all insurance policies and RRSPs should have somebody named as beneficiary. This results in those assets going directly to the beneficiaries, thereby reducing the assets to be included in the application for certificate of appointment of an estate trustee with a will. It is also easier for a spouse to have an RRSP automatically “rolled over” on death so that it does not go through the estate to be “rolled over”

Third, as most stock companies require proof of a certificate of appointment it is advisable that those stocks be registered in joint names or if they have minimal value that they be sold. This, of course, is an investment decision but often a person dies holding a lot of old stock certificates that are worth little or nothing at all. Their value should be determined during one’s lifetime. I believe that joint ownership with one’s spouse is a good idea, but not with one’s children or other beneficiaries. One should keep control of one’s assets until death as we never know what the future may bring.

Conclusion

There are, therefore, several ways of better preparing the administration of one’s estate. The information procedures should always be used, whereas the registration of assets should be analyzed for each individual case.