Free Estate Planning Checklist

Lisa HandleyBlog, FEP-3, Financial & Estate Planning, Wills

Free Estate Planning Checklist

Fifty-one percent of Canadians do not have a will; now that is an alarming statistic*.  Without a proper estate plan, over 50% of some assets could disappear to tax, and that isn’t the costliest aspect of having no plan in place.

If you die without a will, a government-mandated formula will dictate how your assets are distributed. If you die without proactively planning your estate, you will likely pay significantly more tax than you need to.  This could easily create unplanned or unwanted consequences impacting your family. One of the benefits of this global pandemic has been a significant rise in people updating their wills and estate plans. 

Here is an estate planning checklist, with some relevant considerations:

  • Does my will reflect my current family, financial situation and current intentions? 
  • Have I identified the objectives I wish to achieve through my will and estate plan? 
  • Do I know how much the CRA will get from my estate? Have I put plans in place to limit the amount to what I want them to receive? 
  • Will my current plans expose my family to unintended dangers? 
  • Are my plans reasonably secure?

Current Reality


Most people feel their will is current, but it is amazing how quickly five or even ten years can pass without a review of your estate plan. New births, deaths, marriages, divorces, relocations, purchase or sale of assets, health changes within your family, executors and beneficiaries can have a significant impact on your plans and their ability to come to fruition.

Often people struggle to clarify their estate intentions because they do not know when they will be invoked. Our assets, family situation and corresponding intentions often vary significantly based on whether our plans are carried out in 30 days or not for 30 years. 

So how do you make plans? 

We advise our clients to base their plans on the expectation that those plans will be invoked within the next three years. Then we review their plans with them every three years. They will not likely need revisions at every review but when they do, updates are made. This approach makes decision making easier and ensures their plans are always reasonably current.


Almost every will our team has ever reviewed divides the entire estate equally between children. We have found that when clients are given additional options, they prefer to expand their beneficiaries beyond children. We all want to bless our children with an inheritance but there is a tipping point when this blessing becomes a curse. I’ve written a previous blog that outlines how to avoid this curse; it can be found here.

We encourage our clients to think about what they wish their estate to accomplish for their children. Typically, clients want to help children with a house purchase, help pay off the child’s mortgage, help to fund grandchildren’s education, etc. Listing their objectives and putting a price tag on each allows our team to help them quantify an optimal inheritance for their children. After children have been blessed, clients often want to make a final gift to worthy causes they have supported all their lives. These gifts are rewarding for the client, but it also reduces the income tax in their estate, so it’s a double win! 


This topic grabs everyone’s attention. The bad news is without proper plans in place, your estate could pay over 50% income tax on the value of your Registered Retirement Savings Plans,  Registered Retirement 


Income Funds, and taxable capital gains on private businesses, cottage or other real estate beyond your personal residence. This is typically often $100,000’s in tax! The good news is you can drastically reduce your tax bill with proactive planning.

Unintended Dangers

Depending on the size of your estate, the inheritance you leave could unintentionally rob your children/grandchildren of their work ethic, purpose, sense of accomplishment and/or fund an addiction. In addition, without proper plans in place you are leaving a mess for your family and exposing them to the potential of lifetime relational damage as they fight over what is left.


If you are uncertain about the impact your plans will have on your family, it would be very wise to meet with a Family Wealth Advisor to have them guide you through a Financial & Estate Planning process. This could easily be one of the best investments you ever make. They will identify the size of your estate, your potential tax liability, unique challenges you may face and help you clarify your wishes for your relationships and your assets. They will also help you reduce your tax liability and minimize other risks in your estate. This process should ensure both spouses are well prepared to be the surviving spouse. Once you have your estate plan in place you should have a lawyer craft your will(s) and Power of Attorney to help ensure your intentions will be carried out as you wish.

If you do not have a will you are walking around with a ticking time bomb. A bomb that when it goes off is going to be extremely costly to your family at a relational and financial level. A well-designed estate plan will drastically reduce your risk and expense. If you are not comfortable with how you answered the Estate Planning Checklist above, contact us today.

*AngusReid Institute, Survey published January 23, 2018

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