Estate Planning for the Internet Age: Keeping Your Online Assets Secure

As paper continues to be replaced by plastic and more purchases than ever are made on the internet, families must increasingly plan for the future by taking a hard look at their “digital assets” and how best to protect them.

Online shopping and banking has become the norm in 2017 — Amazon is the nation’s ninth-largest retailer, according to the National Retail Federation, and a late 2015 survey from Bankrate showed that four in 10 account holders hadn’t visited a physical branch of their bank in the last six months, a trend that will only trail upward in the years to come.

Despite this shift into the digital sphere, many Americans tend not to consider the connection between their online presence and their estate. It’s a mistake that can have consequences for the loved ones who are left to sort through their affairs; the 2017 Identity Fraud Study released by Javelin Strategy & Research in February found that 15.4 million U.S. consumers lost more than $16 billion to fraud in 2016, and account-takeover losses increased more than 60 percent between 2015 and last year.

Much of that fraud now occurs without access to a physical bank card or checkbook, from ransomware and data breaches involving entire stores and hospital systems to the email phishing scams and cyberattacks that made last year a record year for fraud both on and off the net.

The problem becomes even more complicated when stolen data can’t be recovered because its owner is deceased. Online accounts that people might never consider in their estate planning can become a headache when hacked — your iTunes account is linked to your checking account, after all. Ensuring that your personal information is safe in the Information Age means covering your bases and making your accounts accessible to the right people.

While planning for the distribution of your estate after your death is never fun, it is the first and most important step to making sure your assets are used as you see fit after you’re gone. For most, that means divvying up property, giving power over for bank accounts and bequeathing the key to a safety deposit box. In 2017, it should also mean giving out passwords and setting out language in your will that establishes set guidelines for managing your online presence.

While a growing number of governments are enacting laws that clarify the rules for executors managing virtual accounts, the fact that most online accounts are governed by a terms-of-service agreement and subject to the privacy laws of the territory in which they’re headquartered means people should seek legal advice regarding their PayPal account just as they would about their house or car. Many of the most popular websites are based outside Canada, creating the potential for a conflict in laws that should be taken into consideration during the estate planning process.

Tools offered by a service that allow secondary access to an account are an easy way for people to ensure that their loved ones have access after their death. A prime example of this is Facebook’s legacy contact feature — a person can establish a legacy contact who has permission to manage his or her account after their death by taking a few minutes to change their account settings.

If these tools aren’t available on the platform or aren’t utilized, control of a decedent’s online accounts are governed by what is laid out in his or her will. Failing that, an account’s service agreement dictates what happens to the account, and generally, access is limited to the person who agreed to the service.

Imagine it: months after someone’s passing, a fraudster gains access to their still-active Amazon account, spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars before their grieving family realizes what has happened. It’s a scenario that can be avoided with the proper planning and foresight, and a consideration that shouldn’t be overlooked in the estate planning process.

Factoring in Your Health When Completing Estate Planning

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” – Benjamin Franklin

Considering your long-term health care needs is an important element of estate planning that is often overlooked. Factoring in the cost of an enduring illness or multiple illnesses and setting aside enough money for adequate care are only a few of the health-related estate expenses that can incur in old age. Taking the time to carefully think about the quality of life you expect and the directives you would like family and doctors to follow can give you peace of mind today and ensure your wishes are followed – not only that, this kind of preparation makes sense financially.

So, what does it mean to adequately prepare for potential health issues when it comes to estate planning?  And how exactly does one do that?  Hopefully, these points below provide useful guidance.


1.  Start Early

Thinking about how your health will be in the future, especially far into the future, can seem counterproductive, after all, who knows how healthy one will be ten or twenty years from now? 

We, of course, all hope to live vibrant lives as we age.  However, the reality is that many of us will have health issues as we grow older.  Some of these may impact our ability to make sound financial decisions.  Consider, for example, that rates of early onset Alzheimer’s and dementia are both on the rise, with more people under the age of 65 being diagnosed each year. It’s estimated that by 2050, more than 16 million Americans aged 65 and over will suffer from Alzheimer’s.  It is also the 6th leading cause of death, attributed to more deaths than breast and prostate cancer combined.

Planning early is especially important when it comes to dementia and Alzheimer’s because both diseases slowly strip a patient of their memory and faculty, two factors that are instrumental in estate planning.

2.  Set Aside Enough

We are all aware that health care can be expensive, especially when considering the cost of medication, nursing homes, care centers and retirement communities.  While most estate plans do cover some of these costs, they often fail to include the cost of inflation and/or increased cost of living.

How much money you’ll need for health-related expenses generally depends on when you retire, how long you live, your state of health, and the cost of medical care in your area. With the cost of health care steadily rising, including enough funds to cover the roughly 5 percent annual inflation rate will prepare you to handle the increased cost of care in the future.

Factoring in variables like cost of living increases, increases in health care costs, and similar factors also highlights just how important it is to work with estate planning professionals who are well versed in addressing these points.

3.  Plan To Live Longer

Here’s the good news: global life expectancy is on the rise and currently is at 71.4 years.  In North America, however, age expectancy is 81 and climbing annually. While living longer is great news for all of us, it does put increased strain on our finances, especially during our golden years.

Setting aside enough funds to last the rest of your life is crucial to maintaining quality of life and being able to afford any health related expenses that arise. This can be achieved by figuring out monthly expenses, projected health costs, life expectancy and the rate of inflation. Don’t forget to leave some cushion room for unforeseeable expenses.

The One New Year’s Resolution That Usually Works

We all know the drill by now: we make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, reduce spending, or finally finish that novel – We fail miserably, feel bad about ourselves, then down a tub of double-chocolate ice cream.  It is enough to make us give up on making any New Year’s resolutions at all.

Before you put off making New Year’s resolutions forever, please note that studies have shown that making financial New Year’s resolutions does, in fact, help you get your fiscal house in order.  Of those who achieved, or almost achieved their resolution this year, 56% said their finances improved. Of those who fell short of their resolutions, only 34% reported better financial circumstances.

Financial resolutions are actually relatively easy to achieve. If you are following a diet or exercise regime, you have to get up every morning and resolve all over again, but with something like an automated RRSP monthly direct deposit, you need only set it up once at the beginning of the year and then it becomes part of your lifestyle.

The top three financial resolutions are: save more, spend less and pay off debt. The underlying concerns that drive those financial resolutions are unexpected expenses, the economy and having enough money for retirement.

Financial pledges will not mean a thing if you do not have a firm strategy in place. So how do you go from resolution to achieving your goal?  It comes down to forming an action plan.

If it’s a few seconds to midnight on New Year’s Eve and you are just coming up with a resolution then chances are high that you will fail.  To achieve your goals requires preparation. You have to be serious about the endeavour.

Deliberately design your life so that you are more likely to succeed – do not rely on willpower alone.  Make realistic and attainable goals – then publicly declare them so that others will encourage and help you along the way.  Make sure you reward yourself for your achievements.

Track your progress.  Avoid environments which will cause you to fail (for example – if you are trying to lose weight, don’t walk past your favourite dessert place).  Allow yourself the occasional slip but have a strategy in place to get you back on track.

After about three months, your new routine will kick in and your behaviour will adjust accordingly. Resolutions are difficult to keep at the best of times so hopefully building in a financial motive will pave the way to your success.

Suddenly You Realize What You Need

Einstein entered my law office and told me about his 89-year-old Uncle Andy.

“Andy fell again and was rushed by ambulance to the hospital,” Einstein said. Einstein rushed to see his uncle at the hospital. While Einstein was there, Julie, a hospital case worker, spoke to him. “Who would make treatment decisions for your uncle?” she asked.

Einstein said, “Andy lived alone since his wife died two years ago. She went to all of Andy’s doctor appointments because Andy was forgetting things.”

“Who has your uncle’s power of attorney for personal care?” Julie asked.

“What’s that?” Einstein asked.

Julie explained, “It is a legal document that says who can handle Andy’s health care decisions.”

“But what about his house? It’s empty. We can’t leave it like that,” Einstein said.

Power of Attorney for Property

Julie said, “That’s a different document. It is called a power of attorney for property or finances. The hospital is only interested in who can make treatment decisions for your uncle. He seems confused after his surgery. He cannot be allowed to go home. He will need to go into a rehab program and perhaps a nursing home.”

“But my sisters… they promised!” Einstein said. “They told Andy he would never have to go into a home.”

“I understand,” Julie said, “but did your uncle have a plan for his care? Can he pay a personal care worker to come into his house to help him? Can he afford to stay in his house and pay for care?”

“I don’t know how much money my uncle has.”

“Well, that makes it difficult,” Julie said. “How can you prepare a budget if you don’t know if he can afford the house and personal care? Can you find out what is in his bank account? Did he have a financial advisor?”

“Yes but they can’t talk to me because of privacy laws,” Einstein said. “It is a lot of B.S. because I am only trying to help.”

Julie said, “But the advisor does not know that and the privacy laws…”

“I know but it still seems stupid. I want to use Andy’s own money for Andy,” Einstein said.

Einstein Needed Legal Advice

Einstein was in my law office to see how I could help.

“My sisters are coming back from Florida next week,” he told me. “I don’t know what to tell them. We don’t think Andy has a power of attorney.”

“Well,” I said “you will need to search his house. Check with any lawyer he had and ask his advisors. If there is no power of attorney, you need a court to help you.”

“That will take hours of work,” Einstein said. “Who is going to do that? I have to get back to my job. I am on a sales trip next week.”

“But you want to find Andy’s power of attorney if he had one,” I said. “It is a lot easier if Andy did have one.”

Otherwise someone must be appointed as your uncle’s guardian. You and your sisters will have to decide who wants that job. You all need to consent to be appointed as your uncle’s legal guardian.

The court can make you Andy’s guardian to make his personal care and financial decisions. The court will want to know your management plan for Andy’s assets. You need to be very clear about what happens to his house if it has to be sold.

Your uncle will need to be assessed to confirm he cannot make his own financial or health care decisions. Those assessments cost around $500-$1,500. You may also have to post a bond so the money does not disappear. Can you be bonded?

We have time to figure this out. There are no court appointments available for two months.”

Einstein Was Overwhelmed

Now I asked, “Did your uncle ever express any preference about his last wishes?”

“What do you mean?” Einstein asked.

“Well, has Andy ever discussed funeral arrangements? Do you know if he’s religious? Does he wish to be kept alive as long as there is a chance of recovery? Have you ever discussed DNR?”

Einstein asked, “What’s that?”

“DNR — do-not-resuscitate instructions — so a hospital knows what to do in an emergency,” I said.

“This is a big headache and too much trouble.”

Einstein asked me these other questions:

  • What is this going to cost and who pays for all this?
  • How long will it take?
  • Why didn’t my uncle do this for himself?
  • Why did he leave all his affairs in such a mess?
  • Why are we stuck with his problem?
  • Why are powers of attorney not recorded somewhere?

Einstein Answers His Questions

I said to Einstein, “Do you own a home?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Do you have a will?”


“Do you have any powers of attorney?”


“Well,” I said, “then you are in the same boat as your uncle. Nobody would know if you had powers of attorney or where to find them. It’s not too late for you. You can do something about it now.”

Suddenly, Einstein realized the importance of proper estate planning.

It is never too early to be prepared.

About Edward Olkovich

Ed Olkovich is a nationally recognized estate expert. He is a Certified Specialist in Ontario estates and trusts law. His law firm’s website is The Home of Happy Executors. Visit Ed’s blog for more free valuable estate information. © 2016

Choose the Right Executors to Protect Your Money

Here’s why people never make wills and how you fix it.

Many people do not know who to name as their executor. They cannot envision who would handle their affairs. I ask clients in my law office why they didn’t make a will sooner. Many say, “I could not find the right executor.”

Without any trustworthy family members, many people don’t make a will. They don’t know how to choose the right executor. They are not sure what their executor must do and how to pay them.

Well, if you are in that boat, here’s good news. I can help you with my insider’s tips.

I am launching a series of blog post at – The Home of Happy Executors. I cover steps for you to get the right executor. At the end of the series, you can get this free guide.

Choosing Executors Wisely by Edward Olkovich 2016 (c) Mr Wills Inc. - Guide Cover

How to Choose the Right Executors

Here are the topics I cover in the series to Choose Executors Wisely:

1. Why Choosing Executors is Important

2. What Executors Do

3. The Checklist for Executor Choices

4. How to Find Your Right Executor

5. Tips to Choose Your Executor

What is the Big Deal about Executors?

I’ve seen firsthand how bad executors create disasters. It happens even in the best families. I’ve written about this since I wrote my first Complete Idiot’s Guide® book in 1997.

You name someone as your executor in your will. Executors control when your family receives their inheritance. What happens if you choose the wrong executor?

Executors who are dishonest, incompetent or lazy can ruin your family’s inheritance. My advice is: Don’t put a fox into the hen house.

Court battles with bad executors can add years of waste and delay.

The wrong executor steals your money and ruins families. Once they are in charge, it’s hard to get rid of a bad one. I’ll tell you about one called Tony.

Courts Reluctantly Remove Executors

Tony was his Uncle George’s executor. Tony arranged his uncle’s funeral with an expensive reception. He bought a plot and an expensive headstone. This was despite everyone’s protests. Uncle George’s sister, Alice, said, “My brother wanted to be cremated in a simple service”.

“Too bad,” Tony said to Alice. “He never told me that. I am the executor and I make all the decisions. I don’t like cremation and I don’t have to check anything with you.”

Tony held George’s wake at his golf club. Tony’s golf buddies toasted George at the estate’s expense. The tab for the food and bar was over $6,000. Alice and other relatives did not bother to attend.

Can Judges Remove Executors of a Will?

Only a judge can get rid of a bad executor. Someone must go to court. Can your family afford lawyers? Can they prove that Tony was harming the estate by:

  • committing fraud
  • stealing estate money
  • wasting estate dollars
  • mistreating beneficiaries (whom Tony disliked)
  • being incompetent
  • putting George’s money in danger
  • failing to distribute assets

Such allegations are difficult to prove. A judge may not intervene unless there is serious misconduct.
Tony did not get removed as executor. He also did not tell anyone what he did next.

He took $300,000 from his George’s estate and invested in his company’s new invention – the perfect putter.

Too bad Tony’s company went broke. Tony then told his family (after paying his legal fees) there was nothing left. He never distributed George’s estate.

Tony’s behavior is regrettably common. Some executors abuse their positions.

How can you avoid these problems?

Sometimes it is as simple as naming a new executor.

You don’t need to be a millionaire to have your money wasted.

Legal expenses can eat up your estate. Your hard-earned money gets squandered.

Have You Got Wrong Estate Executor?

Should you always name family as your executor? You may want to re-consider such decisions if, for example, your children:

  • don’t get along
  • are receiving social assistance
  • are stepchildren from a subsequent relationship
  • have been married several times
  • struggle with financial difficulties
  • cannot be trusted
  • live out of the country

The right executor avoids conflicts, comforts your family and controls costs. Make sure you have the right executors. Don’t force loved ones into a court battle to remove bad executors.

What Happens if You Chose the Wrong Executor?

What can happen after you are gone?

Your family can challenge your decision in court. They can show a court reasons why your chosen executor should be disqualified. The trick with someone like Tony may be to try and stop him.

This legal action can keep your estate frozen – bills won’t be paid and investment decisions will be deferred – until your family can agree on appointing a new and neutral executor (i.e. a lawyer, accountant or trust company).

Easy Steps to Choose Executors Wisely

I have spoken to public and professional audiences across Canada. Choosing executors is always confusing. Advice is not always independent or free.

People want to know if they can name their spouse as executor. Is that a conflict of interest? You will get answers to this question and much more in Choosing Executors Wisely.

About Edward Olkovich

Ed Olkovich is a nationally recognized estate expert. He is a Certified Specialist in Ontario estates and trusts law. His law firm’s website is — The Home of Happy Executors. Visit Ed’s blog,, for more free valuable estate information. (c) 2016

How can small business deal with today’s currency fluctuations?

Mal Spooner is a veteran fund manager and currently teaches at the Humber College School of Business.
Mal Spooner is a veteran fund manager and currently teaches at the Humber College School of Business.

Right now it’s no secret that selling merchandise to Americans is pretty lucrative.  We also know that it hasn’t always been this way.  A relative of mine who sells lighting products to customers the U.S. is a case in point.

My brother-in-law built a very successful business with his wife from the ground up.  Their decision to sell to markets in the US worked fine, but the real boost to sales occurred when their son joined the business and talked them into selling on the Internet.  Online sales boomed, but of course so did their company’s vulnerability to exchange rate risk.

A few years ago, he was struggling to make his usual margins (which are not that big at the best of times) when the CAD/USD exchange rate approached par.  In other words, a C$ was pretty much equal to the US$.  Cross-border shoppers from the Canadian side of the border were in heaven (myself included), whereas exporters were beginning to panic.  After all, their costs were still in Canadian dollars, which was an advantage when they received sales revenue in a much stronger $US.  Converting back into Canadian currency provided a substantial bonus to their profits and quality of life.

Things are great once again, but how can a smaller business owner(s) plan ahead to make sure that currency risk doesn’t threaten their livelihood?

The graph below illustrates the impact currency can have on a business.  Imagine a fictional Canadian company that began selling a specialty cheese to the U.S. marketplace in June of 2006. The sale price stays the same (due to competitive pressures) at US$ 2.50.  Costs are steady in C$ 1.98 range.  Sales made in US dollars must be converted back to Canadian dollars.  
USD-CAD sales and profits
It is easy to see how just the exchange rate can wreak havoc on a businesses revenues and profitability.  Is it possible to anticipate or prevent this volatility?  When companies are accustomed to very large orders, it is possible to contact your bank and make arrangements to use the currency forward markets in order to ‘hedge’ your profits.  For instance, if one expects to have to convert a significant amount of foreign currency into one’s domestic currency once the order is delivered, you can arrange to lock in the forward exchange rate today, thereby knowing exactly what your margin is (and will be).

However, the orders for most small businesses aren’t large enough to make hedging a viable option. Can you plan for currency fluctuations?  Experts agree that there is no robust way to forecast exchange rates.  Experts have been frustrated trying to predict exchange rates for years, and the forward markets/futures markets are not very good predictors of the exchange rate that will actually occur in 3 to six months.

One approach that has been around (seems like forever) is the purchasing power parity theory.  The price of a consumer product (same materials, can be sourced locally or at same prices) should be the same in different countries, once adjusting for the exchange rate.  Below, the table compares the price of the rather ubiquitous iPhone in Canada, Europe and Asia.  The price of the iPhone 6s 16GB (unlocked) in the U.S. is about $699, and should be more or less the same in Nanjing, China (their currency (is the remninbi or RMB) adjusting for the exchange rate as it is in Berlin Germany (euros).  As you can see from the table, this is not the case (the prices and exchange rates are not 100% accurate due to rounding).

iPhone intl pricing

Because Germans and the Chinese have to pay an even bigger price, it suggests the the USD is overvalued relative to those currencies.  The Canadian dollar on the other hand, based on this overly simple approach is actually still a bit overvalued compared to our neighbour to the south even at these depressed levels.  Of course, our proximity to the US might simply give Canadians a great deal on iPhones not available in other countries.

We should therefore expect the USD to depreciate relative to both the EUR and RMB in due course – the forces of supply and demand (for products, services and therefore currencies) should cause disparate prices to equilibrate.  The mobile device in theory should cost the same to the consumer no matter where he/she lives.  Should the USD decline significantly (perhaps even compared to the Canadian dollar) then the margin on good and services businesses in those countries are earning today with decline.

When sales are in another currency

The problem, is that historically purchasing power parity is also a poor predictor of exchange rates. The game of international finance is extremely complex.  Not only are exchange rates determined by differing interest rates in countries, balance of payments, trade balance, inflation rates and perceived country risks, the rates are also influenced by expectations associated with these variables and more.  The bottom line for smaller businesses is that when it comes to foreign exchange risk – they are completely exposed.

So what can be done?  Planning.  It is tempting to become overly optimistic when exchange rates have drifted in your favour, encouraging further investment to facilitate more sales in the stronger currency.  Buying equipment, hiring permanent labour and leasing more space introduces higher fixed costs that might dampen or destroy profitability when the tide turns the other way.  It is important to consider ‘what if’ scenarios frequently – and especially before laying out more capital. For entrepreneurs the biggest mistake is to take for granted that the status quo will continue.  All of a sudden, you might be buying yourself a bigger house, a fancier car and sending the kids to private school – all based on current income which is linked to the current prosperity of your business.

Currency instability is a fact of life, and the best way to be prepared is to expect the inevitable. Rather than rush to spend more on expanding the business put aside a ‘safety’ cushion during good times that can be drawn upon during bad times.  If your commitment to the US, European or other markets is firm, then park the cushion into currencies you are vulnerable too.  For example, invest your cushion in US dollar denominated assets – U.S. Treasury bills will provide a natural hedge for your sales.  Similarly, if a significant volume of your sales are in Europe and the company borrows funds for operations, borrow some funds in euros as a hedge – then if the euro appreciates you’re able to pay those obligations in the same stronger currency thanks you your euro receivables.

It is widely believed today that the USD is likely to depreciate relative to a number of other currencies, and perhaps imminently.  Today might indeed be the ideal time to begin considering ‘what if’ scenarios and the actions you can take to plan ahead.



Practical Reasons People Do Not Make Their Own Wills

Danny had questions about wills when he called my law office. My practical answer may help you decide how to make your own will.

Danny: I have to make a will and don’t know how. All my friends of my age say it’s easy. I have gone online and found so many websites. They offer will making services and free forms. Is it true I can make a will by myself? Will it be legal?

Ed: I should clear up the common misconception about making your will by yourself. There are more practical factors to consider when making a will.

The simple answer is that there is no legal requirement for you to make a will with a lawyer, Danny. But most people prefer to invest in a lawyer-prepared will.

There are many reasons why you may never get around to doing it yourself. I am not trying to sell you a will. Let me email you more reasons that you can share with your friends.

Here is the gist of the email I sent Danny.

1. Time – you are busy with your job and family. They take all of your time. You do not have extra time to do the research needed to make your own will. If it was a priority, you would have done it by now. That is the issue. It takes time to do things right.

You never know what an online source produces is guaranteed right for you. Who is qualified to prepare a valid will? Sure, they can ask you a standard checklist of basic questions such as:

  • Are you married or single?
  • What province do you live in?
  • Do you own a house?

But more importantly, can you ask anyone questions?

Here are things that are important to you like:

  • How do I make sure my children will have money to go to school?
  • Who should be my executor if I have no one I trust?
  • How can I save taxes?
  • What obligations do I have to my spouse or common law partner?
  • Can I do whatever I want with my money?

You can read my blog post to answer this last question, Honey is it Truly only Your Money?

2. Paperwork – most people make mistakes filling out simple forms. Making a will and having it properly signed is important. Mistakes you or your witnesses make can mean your will may not be legal.

If you make a will mistake, who knows about it? Usually nobody, until you are gone, that is. It is then too late for you to fix it. Your beneficiaries may then need to hire lawyers. Your relatives and their lawyers will need to see a judge. It will cost thousands to try and repair any mistakes. Some will mistakes can’t be repaired.

That would leave you without a will. Wasn’t that what you wanted to avoid in the first place?

Most people do not want to die without a will. You do not want to force your relatives to hire lawyers and go to court. Dying intestate or without a will passes all your estate burdens to them. Without an executor in your will no one has the power to pay your bills.

3. Advice – most people do not understand their legal obligations. When you make a will you deal with complex laws that change daily. These include family law, property, estate and tax laws.

You may think your situation is simple. But I find people want and need help when making important decisions.
Deciding who should be your executor or guardian for minor children is a complex decision. Most people need help understanding all their options. Only a lawyer can provide legal advice.

Using an online form to prepare your will does not help you with your specific questions or circumstances.
There other factors you need to consider as well, Danny.

Investing in a professional prepared will provides protection. Here are benefits to consider:

4. Security – knowing a professional has prepared your will. This gives you added comfort. You don’t have to worry about the what-ifs and if you’ve made a mistake.

5. Making an investment – will lawyers are available almost every price range. A lawyer-prepared will is an investment. Like insurance, it saves you money down the road. Spread the cost of a lawyer-prepared will over the years. The protection and comfort you receive costs pennies a day.

6. Comfort and peace of mind – your loved ones and property will be protected. You will need guidance from a professional if you:

  • own a business
  • share ownership of more than one property
  • are in a second marriage or common law relationship
  • have assets in more than one province
  • have minor children
  • your beneficiaries have special needs
  • charities count on your financial support
  • have a cherished pet to provide for

Make sure you get the right estate planning advice to make a will. Don’t leave it to chance or until you have the time to do it yourself. Get it done right.

Danny, resolve to invest your time in finding the right lawyer to help you. Then invest in a professionally-prepared will.

Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, C.S.) is a nationally recognized estate expert. He is a Toronto estate lawyer and Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts Law. Edward has practiced law since 1978 and has written numerous estate books. Visit his blog,, for more free valuable information. (c) 2016

Will Letter of Instruction

Written by Steve Nyvik, BBA, MBA ,CIM, CFP, R.F.P.
Financial Planner and Portfolio Manager, Lycos Asset Management Inc.

A Will Letter of Instruction helps your Executor in carrying out their duties – like organ donation, burial verses cremation, and funeral service details, reporting and paying your taxes, making the application for probate, paying your bills, and distributing your remaining assets. Your Executor is also the person who will have to defend your wishes in court or decisions they make where you have not left specific instructions. You can make their job so much easier and reduce much stress if you provide them with the information they’ll need. Leaving written information behind will help your loved ones who might not remember everything during such a traumatic time.

Below is my Will Letter of Instruction Template (you might even include all fields and put “not applicable” which is helpful information).



To Be Read Upon My Death:


(Legal First Name) (Legal Middle Name) (Legal Last Name)


To my Executor(s):


(Executor(s) of My Will)


1. Financial Information: Attached to this letter you will find:

  • a Balance Sheet that summarizes everything I own and all liabilities I have.
  • A Budget Cashflow that summarizes what we generally receive in cash each month and our expenses. This is also augmented with information as to how bills are paid.
  • Bank and Investment Statements of Account for all of my bank accounts, investment accounts and retirement accounts (RRSPs, RRIFs). For my chequing and savings type accounts, please note the following:
  Name and address of Financial Institution Account # Online account password(Put “N/A” if

Not Applicable)

ATM Machine Card Code Location of Bank Card Account has a statement or passbook?
1 StatementPassbook


2 StatementPassbook


3 StatementPassbook


4 StatementPassbook



2. End of life

Please note the following documents:

Document Type I have / do not have

such a document

Document Location
Do Not Resuscitate Order Yes  / No _____________________________________
Representation Agreement Yes  / No _____________________________________
Enduring Power of Attorney Yes  / No _____________________________________
Medical Insurance Card _____________________________________
Funeral Pre-Needs Agreement / Advanced Funeral Plan Yes  / No _____________________________________


2. If I should I suffer an accident or illness such that the prospects for my recovery are unclear or doubtful:

  • If I have not completed a Representation Agreement, then:

It is my wish that the following person(s) (understanding that this is simply a wish and not a legally enforceable appointment) _________________________________ be consulted on decisions such as:

  • life-saving measures, like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (chest compressions, drugs, electric shocks and artificial breathing aimed at reviving a person who is on the point of dying),
  • on treatments (like a major surgery removing the gallbladder or part of the colon) that might prolong the process of my dying, on artificial feedings or mechanical breathing, and
  • on pain medications that could dull my consciousness and indirectly shorten my life.
  • If I I do not have “Do Not Resuscitate Order” in place, then:

It is my wish that _________________________________ contact my doctor to discuss such arrangements.

3. Organ Donation

(i)   When it is determined that I am brain dead, I wish to donate  / not donate  my organs.  Such a donation could save a life or vastly improve the life of someone who’s suffering.

(ii)  I have  / have not  completed a registration form with the British Columbia Transplant Agency to donate my organs.

(iii)  My Organ Donation Card can be found at: ____________________________________________

4. Will Information

(i)    My Last Will and Testament was executed on _________________ (Day / Month / Year)

  • I have / have not  made a Codicil to this Will.
  • I have / have not  included a side-letter to clarify the reasons for my planned distribution or for dealing with specific bequests.
  • An original copy of my Will, any Codicils and any side-letters can be found in my:

A) home filing cabinet ,

B) office filing cabinet ,

C) home safe ,

D) office safe ,

E) safety deposit box ,

F) lawyer’s office ,

G) accountant’s office ,

H) financial planner’s office ,

I) Other (Specify): ______________

5. Important Records

My important records can be found at my:

A) home filing cabinet ,

B) office filing cabinet ,

C) home safe ,

D) office safe ,

E) safety deposit box ,

F) lawyer’s office ,

G) accountant’s office ,

H) financial planner’s office ,

I) Other (Specify): ______________

6. Safety Deposit Box

I do  /do not  have a safety deposit box.  It can be found at _______________________________

and the key can be found _____________________________________________________________.

The following people have signature authority on the box:___________________________________.

7. Safe

I do  / do not  have a personal safe.  The combination is: ________________________________

The safe can be found: _______________________________________________________________

8. Care of Minor Children – Directions to Guardians

  • Wishes concerning their education



  • Wishes concerning their religious upbringing



  • Other wishes / things to note



9. Final Wishes

On my death, my final wishes are as follows:

(i) Where arrangements have been made

  • I have / have not  made all of my funeral arrangements.

Contact the following person with respect to my Advanced Funeral Plan:


(Funeral Service Director Name)        (Firm / Funeral Provider)           (Telephone Number)

  • I have / have not  pre-paid any funeral costs.

Pre-paid costs made include:  burial costs , plot , my casket  / my urn , my plot marker (tombstone) .

(ii) Where arrangements have not been made

  • I wish / do not wish  for my burial and funeral to conform with the requirements of my religious background.  If so, please contact prior to death Minister/Rabbi:


(Name of Minister / Rabbi)          (Church /Temple Name)                   (Telephone Number)

  • I do / do not  want to be cremated.  Should I wish to be cremated, my remains are to be dealt with as follows:



  • I have / have not  prepaid any funeral related costs.

Pre-paid costs made include:  burial costs , burial plot , my casket  / my urn , my plot marker (tombstone) .

Information can be found at:


If I have purchased my burial / cremation plot, note the following:

Location of deed: __________________________________________________________

Name of cemetery / resting place:  _____________________________________________

Section Name / # _____________________________________, Plot # _______________

  • I have a deceased spouse , parent , child , and I wish to be buried next to such person if I check here .

This person’s name is: ______________________________ and he/she is buried at: _______________________________________

  • The Minister/Rabbi I wish to perform my service is: ________________________________

Name of Church / Synagogue: _________________________________________________

Address:                    ________________________________________________________

Phone:                        ________________________________________________________

  • It is my desire that my funeral arrangements be handled in the following manner:



Funeral Director:       ________________________________________________________

Funeral Home:           ________________________________________________________

Address:                    ________________________________________________________

Phone:                        ________________________________________________________

Special Requests:                                                 ___________________________________



Obituary Reading:                                               ___________________________________

Tombstone Engraving:                                        ___________________________________

Engraving translation (if not in English)             ___________________________________

In lieu of flowers please ask for donations to:    ___________________________________

Other special requests:                                         ___________________________________

  • I would like the following people to be my pallbearers:

_________________________________        _________________________________

_________________________________        _________________________________

_________________________________        _________________________________

10. Documents

The following papers and executed documents can be found in the following locations:

Document Type I have / have not such document Document Location
Pre-Nuptial or Post-Nuptial Agreements Yes  / No _____________________________________
Divorce Decree or Settlement Yes  / No _____________________________________The decree or settlement requires

/ does not require  that certain payments be made in the event of my incapacity or after my death

Life Insurance Change of Beneficiary Designation Form Yes  / No _____________________________________
Income Tax Returns & Data (Past & Present) _____________________________________
Automobile Papers (Ownership and Insurance) Yes  / No _____________________________________
Real Estate Papers
(Home, cottage, other)
Yes  / No _____________________________________
Social Insurance Number Card Yes  / No _____________________________________
Passport Yes  / No _____________________________________
Credit Cards _____________________________________
Any hidden possessions / money? (think about what happens if house is sold) Yes  / No _____________________________________
A list of computer access codes, key passwords, or instructions on how to find them. Yes  / No _____________________________________
Other: _____________________ _____________________________________
  1. Other: _____________________

11. People to contact:

(i) Family and Friends:

Name:                       _________________________ Name:                       _________________________
Relationship to me: _________________________ Relationship to me: _________________________
Address:                   _________________________ Address:                   _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________
Phone:                      _________________________ Phone:                      _________________________
Email:                       _________________________ Email:                       _________________________
Comments:               _________________________ Comments:               _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________
Name:                       _________________________ Name:                       _________________________
Relationship to me: _________________________ Relationship to me: _________________________
Address:                   _________________________ Address:                   _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________
Phone:                      _________________________ Phone:                      _________________________
Email:                       _________________________ Email:                       _________________________
Comments:               _________________________ Comments:               _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________
Name:                       _________________________ Name:                       _________________________
Relationship to me: _________________________ Relationship to me: _________________________
Address:                   _________________________ Address:                   _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________
Phone:                      _________________________ Phone:                      _________________________
Email:                       _________________________ Email:                       _________________________
Comments:               _________________________ Comments:               _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________

12. Key Contacts:

Investment Advisor / Financial Planner:Financial Planner and Investment Advisor Name:         Steve Nyvik, MBA, CIM, CFP, R.F.P. Life Insurance Agent:  (for life insurance claim) 

Agent’s Name:         Steve Nyvik, MBA, CIM, CFP, R.F.P.

Firm Name:              Lycos Asset Management Inc. Firm Name:              _________________________Address:                   _________________________


Phone:                      (778) 878-6643Email:              Phone:                      _________________________Email:                       _________________________
Comments:               _________________________ Comments:               _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________
Wills & Estate Lawyer(for probating Will)Lawyer’s Name:       _________________________ Tax Accountant(for preparation of tax returns)Accountant’s Name:                                 _________________________
Firm Name:              _________________________ Firm Name:              _________________________
Address:                   _________________________ Address:                   _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________
Phone:                      _________________________Email:                       _________________________ Phone:                      _________________________Email:                       _________________________
Comments:               _________________________ Comments:               _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________
Banker(for bank accounts, mortgage & safety deposit box) 

Banker’s Name:       _________________________

Employer(for company disability, life insurance pensions, profit sharing, stock and option plans and death benefits)Boss’s Name:           _________________________
Firm Name:              _________________________ Firm Name:              _________________________
Address:                   _________________________ Address:                   _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________
Phone:                      _________________________Email:                       _________________________ Phone:                      _________________________Email:                       _________________________
Comments:               _________________________ Comments:               _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________

Key Contacts CONTINUED:

Representative Agreement(for Medical and Personal Care Decisions)


Representative’s Name: _________________________

Enduring Power of Attorney:(for financial decisions)


Attorney’s Name:    _________________________

Firm Name:              _________________________ Firm Name:              _________________________
Address:                   _________________________ Address:                   _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________
Phone:                      _________________________Email:                       _________________________ Phone:                      _________________________Email:                       _________________________
Comments:               _________________________ Comments:               _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________
Family Doctor:(for medical issues – like DNR, capacity assessment)


Doctor’s Name:        _________________________

Guardian for my children(You should appoint a guardian in your Will for your children in case you and your spouse do not survive their minority [under age 19 in British Columbia]). 

Guardian’s Name:    _________________________

Firm Name:              _________________________                                  _________________________
Address:                   _________________________ Address:                   _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________
Phone:                      _________________________Email:                       _________________________ Phone:                      _________________________Email:                       _________________________
Comments:               _________________________ Comments:               _________________________
                                 _________________________                                  _________________________

13. My citizenship and benefits information:

Citizenships:I am  / am not  a Canadian citizen.

I am  / am not  a United States citizen.

I am  / am not  a citizen of another country.  Specify country: ________________________

I am  / am not  entitled to military benefits.  Specify: _________________________________I have  / have not  worked in a foreign country.  My identity # is _______________________

I am  / am not  entitled to governmental benefits.  Specify: ____________________________

I have  / have not  a US Social Security #.  It is #_____________________________I have  / have not  a US Taxpayer Identification #.  It is #_____________________________

14. On my death, there is an entitlement to life insurance death benefits , survivor pensions , term annuities or joint survivor annuities . See details below:

(i) Life Insurance

Name of Insurance Company

Policy Number Owner Beneficiaries Death Benefit ($) Employer Paid Premium LOCATION OF THE POLICY

Yes  / No

Yes  / No

Yes  / No

Yes  / No

Yes  / No

Yes  / No

(ii) Pension Plans

Name of Pension Plan Survivor Benefit
(Amount per month for my survivor)
Pension Guaranteed Payments (to what date) Is pension bridged for OAS/CPP?(If yes, what’s the reduced amount at your age 65?)
Yes  / No 




Yes  / No 




Yes  / No 




(iii) Annuities

Name of Insurance Company What is the source of the annuity capital? Type of Annuity Pension Guaranteed Payments?(to what date)


Not Sure

Other: _________

(i) Life Only(ii) Joint Life

(iii) Life & # of years guarant’d

(iv) Other



Not Sure

Other: _________

(i) Life Only(ii) Joint Life

(iii) Life & # of years guarant’d

(iv) Other

15. Trusts

  • I have / have not  settled a Trust.  If I did settle a Trust, the purpose of the Trust is for


and the trust document can be found: ___________________________________________

  • I am / am not  currently the Trustee for a trust.  If I am a Trustee, the Trust instrument

can be found: _________________________________________________________.

  • I am / am not  a beneficiary of a trust.  If I am a beneficiary, the Trust instrument can

be found: ________________________________________________.

  • Upon my death, my heirs will / will not  receive a distribution or benefits from a trust.


16. My Marital Information:

My current Marital Status is: (check all that apply)

  (i)  Legally married / Common-Law          Spouse’s name: _____________________________

(and living together)

There is a marriage contract

/ a pre-nup agreement  / no agreement


(ii)       Divorced                                          Former spouse’s name: ________________________

Date of Divorce: _______________ (Day / Month / Year)

Former spouse remarried?  Yes     No

Any payment obligations (maintenance/support orders) remaining under the agreement/decree?

Yes      No                   Not Sure

Former spouse still alive?

Yes      No                   Not Sure

(iii)       Separated                                         Spouse’s Name: ____________________________

Date of Separation: _____________ (Day / Month / Year)

Is there a separation agreement?

Yes       No

I have  / potentially have  / do not have  any financial obligations remaining.

(iv)       Single                                       

(viii)     Other                                               Specify: ___________________________________

Were you previously in a Common Law relationship?     Yes       NoIf yes, when did it previously end:     _______ years ago

Is there a separation agreement?                                       Yes       No

I have  / potentially have  / do not have  any financial obligations remaining.

17. Joint Property Ownership Intentions

For any assets you own with others as Joint Tenants (with right of survivorship), without the documentation of your intentions, this can create uncertainty as to whether the assets were intended to be a gift to your Joint Tenant or if held in-trust for your estate (i.e. the bank account was joint so someone can help you pay your bills).  This uncertainty can cause friction between family members and potentially large legal bills.  Court rulings on cases where the intentions have not been formally stated are inconsistent – in some cases the presumption of gift was applied and in others a presumption of resulting Trust with funds belonging to the estate was applied.A notarized “side letter” or Will codicil is recommended so that your intentions are formally documented to help avoid these problems.  In the absence of such a letter, this table is intended to help the Executor know your intentions as to how each jointly owned asset is intended to be distributed.
  Property Description(also identify location) Names of Joint Owners


Joint Bank Account #1 Gift to surviving ownersTo pass through Will
Joint Bank Account #2 Gift to surviving ownersTo pass through Will
Joint Investments Account #1 Gift to surviving ownersTo pass through Will
Joint Investments Account #2 Gift to surviving ownersTo pass through Will
Jointly owned
Real Estate #1
Gift to surviving ownersTo pass through Will
Joint owned
Real Estate #2
Gift to surviving ownersTo pass through Will
Joint owned
Real Estate #3
Gift to surviving ownersTo pass through Will
Other Jointly Owned Asset #1 Gift to surviving ownersTo pass through Will
Other Jointly Owned Asset #2 Gift to surviving ownersTo pass through Will
Other Jointly Owned Asset #2 Gift to surviving ownersTo pass through Will
Other Jointly Owned Asset #3 Gift to surviving ownersTo pass through Will
Other Jointly Owned Asset #4 Gift to surviving ownersTo pass through Will

18. Personal and Family History (For Obituary)

I have  / have not  written my obituary.  It is located at _________________________________

Here are some things to know about me:

What I like to be called: ________________________  My nickname: _________________________

I was born in __________________________ on __________  ____  ________.

City, Country                                Month       Day     Year

I was raised in _________________________

City, Country

My spouse’s name: ______________________________ He/She is alive  /died before me

Some thoughts about my spouse: _______________________________________________________


My parents were               ____________________________ and _____________________________

(Father: Full Name)                                         (Mother: Full Name)

My grandparents were      ____________________________ and _____________________________

(Grandfather: Full Name)                               (Grandmother: Full Name)

I have no children .

My children are:    _____________________________________ Born _____________________

_____________________________________ Born _____________________

_____________________________________ Born _____________________

_____________________________________ Born _____________________

My profession was: _________________________________________________________________

I went to School at: __________________________________________________________________


(Name of School, Year Graduated, Diploma/Degree)

I have  / do not have  detailed information on my family’s history.  It is located at:


Information I would like in my obituary:





19. Distribution of Personal Possessions

20. Specific Bequests of Personal Property not addressed through my Will

My wishes are as follows with regard to specific personal possessions that are not specified in my Will or by Codicil (these wishes are NOT legally enforceable but merely suggestions for my Executor(s) and Trustee(s)):

  Recipient(spouse, child, friend, etc.) Gift Location

21. Reasons for Specific Gifts / Significance of Gifts











22. All other Personal Possessions not addressed through My Will or in (A) above

For my remaining personal possessions (those not specified in my Will AND not specified above), I would suggest to you that they be distributed as follows (eg. all to my spouse, hold a family auction, my beneficiaries draw straws):






23. Reasons for the Planned Distribution of Overall Estate:












_______________________________________      _________________________________
SIGNATURE                                                                                      DATE

When Life Insurance Can Make Sense

“… a foolish man builds his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came,
and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
– Matthew 7:24-27

 Written by Steve Nyvik, BBA, MBA ,CIM, CFP, R.F.P.
Financial Planner and Portfolio Manager, Lycos Asset Management Inc.

When building an investment portfolio, it is important to build on a solid foundation.  For this reason, it is important to consider the implications of the death, disability or illness of the family breadwinner, property loss, theft or damage, and liability claims.  That way, if a disaster does happen, the family doesn’t get wiped out in the process.

For this article, we’ll discuss the issue of life insurance.  Personally I’m not a big fan of life insurance.  I consider it an expense you shouldn’t pay for unless you clearly need the protection.  I’d like to take you through what I consider are the exceptions to where life insurance can make sense.

1. Protection of the life of the family breadwinner

For a family with young children and few financial resources, the death of the family breadwinner can leave the surviving spouse and kids without means to support themselves.  So, getting enough insurance cheaply is generally the goal.  One source for cheap insurance may be your employment group insurance.  If the cost per dollar of insurance is lower than that of buying private insurance, then you might top up your group coverage.

We’ll also check to see if your employer pays any part of the insurance cost as this “taints” the proceeds making them taxable.  Here we’ll explore whether it’s better for you to pay the entire life insurance premium (and have your employer pay more of the cost of other benefits) so that the life insurance proceeds will be tax-free.  We might also look at private term insurance to top-up your coverage if needed as the limits on group insurance may not be adequate enough for your needs.

Where you own a business

If you own a business, term insurance for which your business is the owner and beneficiary can make great sense.  Although the life insurance premium is normally not deductible, you are paying the insurance premiums that have been subjected to just the company tax rate (The small business tax rate for British Columbia is 13.5% combined).  As such, you might be able to buy up to 30% more insurance for the same money compared to buying the insurance personally from after-tax employment or dividend income.

The company owned life insurance death benefit is paid to your company on your death tax-free.  The death benefit (less the tax cost which is ‘nil’) is credited to the Capital Dividend Account.  This amount can then be paid out as a tax-free ‘capital dividend’ to your family.

Note that the company owned life insurance is an asset of your company and the death benefit can be subjected to your creditors.  Should you be in a position where you are able to retain some company income, an investment holding company can make sense as a way to remove surplus hands from exposure to potential creditors.

2. Insuring an annuity

Insurance on a life annuity to replace the capital on death can make sense.  Let’s look at annuities and then see how insurance can work together with it.

A) What is an annuity?

An annuity is a contract providing you with periodic cash receipts (usually paid monthly, quarterly or annually) in exchange for an up-front lump sum payment.  There are two types of annuities:

  • those that pay for only a specific period of time (term certain annuities), and
  • those that pay as long as you live (life annuities).

A life annuity bought from personal monies (non-RRSP/RRIF or non-company money) qualifies as a Prescribed Annuity which is entitled to beneficial taxation as only part of the income is taxable.

Let’s say you’re a 65-year old man and you have $250,000 to invest.  You want to invest this money to provide you with regular income to meet your living needs.

One possibility (see “Option 1” on Schedule 1) is to buy a corporate bond that earns 4.5%.  At the 40% tax bracket, your after-tax return is 2.7%.

Another choice (see “Option 2” on Schedule 1) is to buy a Prescribed Annuity for $250,000.  The annuity will pay you $19,996 each year no matter how long you live.  And as a Prescribed Annuity, only $5,431 of each year’s receipts is subject to income tax (i.e. 72.8% of the total receipts is a tax-free return of capital).  So at the 40% tax bracket, you’ll end up with $17,793 in your pocket each year.  A bond would have to pay interest at a rate of 11.86% to give you the same amount of income after-tax.

There are two reasons why you receive this big boost in yield.  First, you lose access to the capital – you’re only entitled to the monthly cash receipts.  This makes sense because the insurance company must invest those monies for the long term to generate excess returns to pay you your guaranteed return.

Second, on death, the cash receipts terminate leaving no annuity capital for your loved ones.

B) That’s where life insurance comes in

Where you want the annuity capital for your loved ones when you’ve passed away, you can do this through buying life insurance.  With life insurance, the annuity capital will be paid as a death benefit to your loved ones when you’ve passed away.  But to provide this return of annuity capital on death, part of the annuity cash receipts is used to pay life insurance premiums.

Schedule 1:                 Comparing the Returns of Bonds to Annuities

Option 1

Option 2 Option 3

Option 4


Prescribed Annuity Insured Annuity

Charitable Insured Annuity

Investment Amount


$250,000 $250,000


Less: up-front insurance premium



Net Amount of Bond/Annuity Purchase


$250,000 $249,344


Interest Rate


Gross Annual Income


$19,966 $19,913


Taxable Portion


$5,431 $5,416


Income Tax (40%)


($2,172) ($2,167)


Add: Charitable Credit


After-Tax Income


$17,793 $17,747


Less: Annual Insurance Premium



Net Annual Income Receipts


$17,793 $9,875


After-Tax Cash Yield


7.12% 3.95%


Pre-Tax Yield


11.86% 6.58%


Note:      The annuity is a life only annuity with 0 guaranteed years of payments based on a 65 year old male.  The life insurance is a Term to 100 policy for a non-smoker male age 65 at a cost of $656 per month.  This is an illustration only and does not constitute an offer to buy an annuity or life insurance.

This return of annuity capital is shown under the third alternative (see “Option 3” on Schedule 1).  For a 65 year old non-smoking man, $250,000 of term-to-100 life insurance is purchased costing $656 per month.  (Note that with insurance you pay the first premium up-front).  That leaves $249,344 to buy the Prescribed Annuity.  The annuity will pay $19,913 each year of which $5,416 is taxable income.  When taxes of $2,167 and the full-year’s insurance premium of $7,872 are paid, you end up each year with $9,875 in your pocket.  A bond would have to pay interest at a rate of 6.58% to give you the same amount of income after-tax.

One of the neat things about an Insured Annuity is that if your spouse dies before you, you can discontinue the term insurance.  As a result, your net after-tax receipts increase from $9,875 to $17,747; that’s 7.1% after-tax.  A bond would have to yield 11.83% to provide the same return.

If you need income and are charitably inclined, you can boost your income and also provide a nice endowment to your favorite charity.  Under this option (see “Option 4” on Schedule 1) your insurance premiums payments become charitable donations (as the charity owns the insurance) for which you’ll be entitled to the charitable credit.  Assuming you have more than $200 annually in other donations, the charitable credit on the $7,872 insurance premiums will be $3,440 (based on the highest tax bracket rate of 43.7%).  Here you’ll end up with $13,315 after-tax in your pocket each year as long as you live – almost double the after-tax income of the corporate bond of Option 1.  A bond would have to yield 8.88% to provide the same return.  By your age 84, you’ve gotten your capital back and you’re still receiving $13,315 a year.  On your death your favorite charity receives $250,000.

3. Maximizing pension income

Let’s say you’re married and you participate in your employer’s defined benefit pension plan – this is a pension that provides a guaranteed amount of pension income based on your average salary and years of service.  At retirement, you’ll have to make a decision on the type of survivor benefit you wish to provide for your spouse on your death.  The problem is that the cost of a survivor pension can be very hefty.  We’ve seen these costs range as high as 20% to 35% of the unreduced (life only) pension.

Under a pension maximization strategy, you maximize your pension income by taking the life only pension only if you can buy a survivor pension at a cheaper cost elsewhere.

To see how this works, let’s assume that a life only pension (the unreduced and non-guaranteed pension) you’d receive would be $4,000 per month until you die at which time your spouse gets nothing.

You want to provide a pension to continue for your spouse after your death.  Your company offers you a 100% Joint and Last Survivor Pension.  Here this pension pays you $3,000 a month (instead of $4,000) as long as you live.  And when you die, it pays $3,000 a month (= 100% of your $3,000 pension) as long as your spouse lives.

Under a pension maximization strategy, you elect to take the life only pension of $4,000 per month if you can provide a survivor pension of $3,000 per month at a cost of less than $1,000 per month.

Let’s say we can buy an insurance policy (like a Term to 100 policy) that provides for the same $3,000 a month survivor pension at a cost of $300 per month after tax (or $500 before tax at the 40% tax bracket).  As a result, you’ll end up with $6,000 more a year in pension income.  And if your spouse dies before you, you could cancel the insurance policy and end up with $12,000 more each year of pension income.

The reason why this strategy can work is that your employer is determining your pension options based on a life expectancy table for a group of people at your retirement age – it is not based on your particular health.  So, if you’re healthy you might be able to lock-in a cost of insurance that’s cheaper than your future group rate.

4. Business insurance

There are three common situations where one might buy life insurance related to a business:

A) Key man insurance

The purpose of taking out key man insurance is to compensate the employer for the loss of income resulting from the loss of the service of a key employee in the event of their death.  For the life insurance component of the policy, it is normally term insurance over the employee’s expected employment.  (The policy might also include coverage in the event of the key person’s sickness or injury.)

Life insurance might also be provided as a remuneration retention tool as part of a group benefits package for your employees.  Although there are requirements as to the number of employees required for a group to be established and that all full-time employees may need to participate, it can represent a cost effective way of providing benefits by you that an employee might not otherwise be able to obtain on their own.  For example, an employee might not be insurable and qualify for private insurance.  Alternatively, private benefits – like extended healthcare, tend to be available to lower coverage limits or not be as comprehensive as group benefits.

B) Buy-Sell insurance

In the event of your death, a Buy-Sell Agreement funded with life insurance provides insurance proceeds to your business partner who is contractually obligated to buy out your interest in the business on your death at a guaranteed price by a guaranteed date.

Similarly, in the event of your business partner’s death, a Buy-Sell Agreement funded with life insurance (which some refer to as “Buy-Sell insurance”) provides you the proceeds to buy out your deceased partner’s business interest.  The last thing you might want is to be in business with your deceased partner’s spouse or kids.

A Buy-Sell Agreement that’s fully funded with life insurance provides an opportunity to reduce the capital gains tax liability on the deemed disposition of your shares.  For example, if your shares pass to your surviving spouse on your death and vest in their hands, you’d want your surviving spouse to have an option to redeem your shares at a pre-established fair value that’s fully funded by life insurance.  The redemption can be structured as a return of capital (for which the company is required to declare a capital dividend equal to the fair market value) and no capital gains tax might result on your shares.  If you have no spouse, there will be some amount of capital gains tax given the Stop Loss rules that limit the amount of dividend to a 50% capital dividend (with the balance a taxable dividend); however, the savings still makes good sense.

C) Maximizing your company value on your death

If you own private company shares, on the last to die of you and your spouse, these shares are deemed disposed at market value resulting in capital gains taxes.  Taxes are payable a second time where company assets are disposed of (creating taxable capital gains) and distributed to shareholders (which might be in the form of dividends subject to tax).  So, your company investments are subjected to tax twice – once at your death and then again when realized and distributed.

If your company has surplus assets, it may be possible to reduce these taxes where the company owns an insurance policy on the life of the shareholder.  Here surplus company assets are used to pay insurance costs which reduces the pool of surplus assets.  What this does is convert surplus assets to a death benefit that can be excluded in valuing the company for tax purposes.  Most or all of this death benefit is credited to the Capital Dividend Account that can then be paid to your heirs tax-free.

The result is that through insurance you may be able to reduce capital gains taxes at death.  And this reduction in taxes can be greater than a plan to simply redeem company shares at death.

The Next Step

If you think insurance can be of value to you or if you’d like us to review your existing insurance policies, please call our financial planner, Steve Nyvik.

Executor Checklist

Written by Steve Nyvik, BBA, MBA ,CIM, CFP, R.F.P.
Financial Planner and Portfolio Manager, Lycos Asset Management Inc.


Below is a checklist of some of the key duties and responsibilities of an Executor to wind up the affairs of a deceased person.

PART 1:  BEFORE DEATH – “Pre-Planning”

Should a friend or loved one wish to appoint you as their Executor, the more preparation you do prior to their death, the easier it will be for you to carry out your duties.  You should sit down with your friend / loved one to understand their financial affairs, the family situation and get guidance on any potential conflicts and issues.  If you can, you should get written information on the following:

  • his/her financial situation – what he/she owns and owes and monthly income and living needs,
  • how property is titled,
  • any insurance policies (employment group life insurance and private insurance),
  • any special valuable assets – what they are worth, where they are located
  • pension information – what survivor pensions might be received and how much
  • bank account statements,
  • investment statements,
  • key persons contact info – family and friends, pastor/priest/rabbi, funeral director, estate lawyer, investment advisor, insurance agent, tax accountant

In addition, you’ll want to enquire about the following:

1. Care of loved ones

To help your friend/loved one, you’ll want to make sure that someone they trust is appointed their representative under a Representation Agreement.  This agreement empowers the representative with authority to make personal care and healthcare decisions on his/her behalf.  This can be helpful to ease issues during the last part of their life.

2. Access to Funds to pay bills and meet living needs of Dependent Persons

Prior to death, you’ll want to make sure that loved ones have an ability to pay bills and withdraw funds to support dependent loved ones.  There should be bank accounts or brokerage accounts with sufficient funds to meet needs.  For accounts solely in their name, there should be an Enduring Power of Attorney to access monies.  For joint accounts, the joint owner will have access to monies.

On death, bank accounts and brokerage accounts registered only in the name of the deceased will become frozen.  As the Executor, you want to make sure that on death there’s at least one year’s worth of funds available to meet last expenses and the needs of loved ones.  If there’s life insurance that is “in force”, the death benefit will be paid to the named beneficiary but it can take a few months before this occurs.

3. Documents

As the Executor, you’ll want to get the following documents:

  • Will and any Codicils
    Your appointment as Executor will likely come through the Will.  As such, you want to get hold of a copy (and know where the originals are located) of the Will and any Codicils (these are amendments to the Will).  These documents are the basis of the deceased instructions to you on settling their estate.
  • Organ donation
    The intention of your friend/loved one may or may not be registered with the BC Transplant Society.  If not registered, you need to confirm with your friend/loved one their intentions.  As the appointed Executor, you’ll be the person with authority to make such decisions.
  • Funeral Arrangements
    As the Executor, you’ll be the person with authority to make the funeral arrangements.  You’ll need to know what planning has been done with a Funeral Director and with the Priest/Pastor/Rabbi.  You should also know whether any arrangements made were pre-paid or not.  If pre-paid, you’ll need to get hold of the contract.  And you should learn whether your friend/loved one requires that their end of life be handled according to their spiritual beliefs and to find out exactly what this means.
  • Will Letter of Instruction
    This instruction letter provides you with information not included in the Will to help you carry out your duties – like organ donation, burial verses cremation, funeral service details, location of documents, instructions on children’s needs and wishes for them, and distributing assets not dealt with through the Will.  This document can also include side letters that explain the reasons of the Will distribution to help defend the Will.

4. Meeting with Priest/Pastor/Rabbi

You might ask your friend / loved near the end of their life, whether they wish to meet with their priest/pastor/rabbi.  A priest might, for example, take their confession, administer the Sacrament of Healing, or give communion.  At that time, you might also learn about any religious requirements concerning their impending death.  There might be a wish to pray for your friend / loved one prior to death and issues concerning cremation.  If the funeral is to occur at the church, you’ll be meeting with the priest to discuss the funeral service details.

5. Pictures and Celebration of Life

You might ask your friend/loved one if he/she has prepared a “celebration of life” or their life story.  You might give your friend / loved one a template to help gather the main details or work together with their family (spouse or children).  At the same time you might inquire about pictures.


PART 2:  NEAR DEATH OR AFTER DEATH – “Implementation”

If you received in advance of death the information in Part 1, then you’re in pretty good shape.  The immediate concerns at death will likely be the organ donation and funeral arrangements.

1. Being a Detective

If you didn’t prepare in advance, then you need to need to play detective and gather information (refer to Part 1).

If an original copy of the Will hasn’t been given to you, then you have to search for it.  Many people keep the original Will in their home, with their lawyer or Notary Public, in a Safety Deposit Box, or in a home safe.  If you suspect it is in a Safety Deposit Box, try to find the keys and tell the branch manager of the financial institution that you are the Executor and are looking for the original Will.  If you can’t find the key, the box can be drilled open for a charge.  In your search, see if there’s an inventory list of all assets and liabilities.

The Will may have instructions about the person’s wishes for organ donation, burial or cremation, and/or funeral or memorial/funeral service.  If these things are not in the Will, you might look for a funeral plan arrangement – if the deceased was a member of the Memorial Society, a Funeral Arrangement Form is on file with them.  Also check the Driver’s License to see if there is any sticker indicating organ donation intention.  See if the deceased had any papers from a Funeral Director.

If you can’t find the Will, check with the Wills Registry at Vital Statistics.  If a Wills Notice was prepared, they will be able to tell you where the Will is located (i.e. most likely it will tell you the name of the lawyer or notary).  You need this certificate when you apply to the court for probate.

If the Wills Registry has no registration of any Will and you cannot find a Will, the law presumes that the deceased destroyed the Will with the intention of revoking it.  This presumption could be rebutted.  If a Will is presumed to be revoked or if the deceased never had a Will then the deceased is presumed by our laws to have died intestate and the provincial legislation will govern the distribution of the assets of the estate.  An application by the next of kin would need to be made to court for what is called the “letters of administration.”  Here the closest kin becomes the Administrator of the estate.

Look also through mail and files for bank statements and investment account statements (and account documentation as to beneficiary designations for RRSPs/RRIFs and Tax Free Savings Accounts).

2. Organ Donation

Check the BC Transplant Society website ( and enter their BC CareCard number to check the registry as to whether organ donation intentions were made on death to help save a life or materially improve the life of a person who is suffering.

As the Executor, you can confirm whether organ donation wishes have been registered or indicate the intentions of the deceased and complete the necessary forms at the hospital.

3. Funeral Arrangements

If the deceased completed the Will Letter of Instruction, then you’ll know their wishes, who is the Funeral Director, and whether there were any pre-paid funeral or cemetery plans purchased.

I there was no Will Letter of Instruction, hopefully your conversation will have alerted you to any pre-paid funeral or cemetery plans or whether he/she had met with a Funeral Director and completed an “arrangement form”.  If you didn’t learn about this, then you may have to play detective and speak with surviving family as to whether they met with a Funeral Director, his/her wishes and where he/she kept their documents.

Here you are looking for:

  • a pre-paid funeral or cemetery plan contract,
  • completed Funeral Arrangement Form, or
  • the Will or other written information indicating burial or cremation and funeral service wishes.

If other family members had previously died, you might find out who was the Funeral Director and enquire with him/her.

Knowing the financial situation of the deceased and their wishes, you can then put together a dignified funeral through contacting the Funeral Director and the Priest/Pastor/Rabbi.  Note that you are not required to follow any funeral arrangements that the deceased might have made.  The surviving spouse and family members might wish to come with you.  As the Executor, you’ll likely be the one signing the contract with the Funeral Director and paying the invoice.  You might then also go with the surviving spouse and meet with the priest / pastor / rabbi to make the funeral service arrangements.  In setting the date of the funeral service, consider time needed for out-of-town guests to arrive.

The Funeral Director will help you in ordering copies of the death certificate (you might order say 5 copies), as most organizations that you will deal with will require an original copy or certified true copy of the death certificate.  You’ll need copies for dealing with bank accounts, investment accounts, vehicles, real estate property, and life insurance claims.

Contact all family, friends and loved ones to inform them of the funeral details.  While contacting anyone who is a beneficiary, it may be helpful to obtain their full legal names, telephone numbers, email addresses, and their home addresses.

4. Meeting with the Bank

Take the funeral bill, original copy of the death certificate, and the deceased’s bank card and bank account statements to the bank where the deceased kept an account.  If deceased had accounts solely in his/her name, you will need to open up estate account with the bank.  For small bank account balances, the bank may be willing to transfer the balance to your bank account if you are both the Executor and sole beneficiary and sign a guarantee and indemnify the bank.  For larger balances, the bank will likely only provide access for funeral expenses to be paid.  Any additional monies in the account will likely require a probated Will to obtain access.

5. Meeting with the Estate Lawyer

With the financial information you’ve put together and copies of documents – such as the Will, any Codicils, Will Letter of Instruction, and side letters, you are now in a position to meet with the lawyer and determine whether probate will be necessary.  If probate is needed, you might then determine if you’ll make the application yourself or if you need the services of the lawyer.  Should you need the lawyer’s services, you should negotiate the lawyer’s fees, confirm what the lawyer will do (like whether they will be preparing the probate application), what you need to do, what interim financial support the estate can provide to dependents, and how to manage any contentious issues or potentially disgruntled beneficiaries.

6. Family Dependents and Care for Family Animals

The Grant of Letters Probate legally allows the Executor to deal with the assets of the deceased, but this takes time (expect it to take half a year or longer if there are any challenges to the Will).

Knowing the financial situation of any dependent family members and having met with the bank and estate lawyer, you might be in a position to appreciate what amount of interim financial support, if any, is required.  Your discussion with the deceased, Will Letter of Instruction, Will, and discussion with family members should hopefully enlighten you as to who will take care of any family animals.

For immediate funds one should turn to any assets that pass outside of the estate which are not frozen such as joint bank accounts, properties held in joint tenancy or assets passing to a designated beneficiary.  If the deceased had a life insurance policy, the designated beneficiary can immediately apply to have the benefits of the insurance policy paid directly to that beneficiary.  But again this can take more than a month (or several months) before receiving a cheque.

If there are no funds immediately available and the banks are unwilling to make alternate arrangements to help the survivors, you may have to arrange a loan for the survivor until the estate assets can be distributed.

7. Safeguarding Estate Assets

The Executor is responsible for the protection of all assets under the estate including real estate.  This includes theft, fire, loss and any other destruction.  If the Executor fails to preserve the assets he or she can be held liable.  You’ll need to meet with the property insurance agent and ensure there’s adequate property insurance as most insurance policies are cancelled automatically if a house is vacant for more than 30 days – ask about a “vacancy permit”.  And you’ll need to secure and safeguard assets against theft.  Here you might consider:

  • changing the locks on the apartment or house;
  • taking possession of any cash or jewellery;
  • putting any valuables into storage;
  • redirecting mail, canceling credit cards and subscriptions;
  • transferring of ownership registrations – like any automobiles and real estate;
  • collecting amounts owed to the estate;
  • opening an estate bank account and depositing income and proceeds from the realization of estate assets;
  • maintain residences, cottage, farm or other property, including the supervision of repairs;
  • if there’s a business, you should refer to the Shareholder Agreement or Buy Sell Agreement to determine what the estate is entitled to. If there’s no agreement, then you may need to visit the business and take any steps needed to stabilize the business;
  • for any rented premises, arrange for cleaning and the moving of furniture and personal property and provide notice.

8. If deceased owned a business, arrange for continuation & proper management of business

Where the deceased owned a business, in your document search, you should look for a Buy-Sell Agreement or Shareholders Agreement to determine what happens with the business on death and what amounts the estate or loved ones are entitled to.  Without any such document, you need to meet with key persons (directors, officers, key employees) in the business and, where necessary, take control and stabilize the business to ensure proper management and care while you get the deceased’s affairs in order before options are evaluated on its sale or windup.  You may need to become appointed a director and/or officer of the company as part of the requirements for you to provide competent management and supervision.

9. Apply for death benefits

Notify deceased’s employer (you are looking to find out if the deceased had group life insurance benefits as well as collect any unpaid wages) and complete claim forms – you will need Death certificate to do this.

Where there is a life insurance policy, contact the insurance agent, informing agent of death and providing agent with death certificate.

Also apply for Canada Pension Plan Death Benefit and the CPP Survivor’s Benefits.  If the deceased was receiving any other pension, contact the Pension Plan Administrator.

10. Meeting with the Investment Advisor

In order to file a Final Return, you’ll need to get the investment information from the deceased’s investment advisor.  You might call him or her in advance to notify them of the date of death and the materials you’ll need from Jan 1 to date of death.

For personal investment accounts, joint investment accounts, Alter Ego Trusts, and Joint Partner Trusts (where the deceased was the surviving spouse), you’ll need for each type of account a summary of:

  • income amounts (interest, Canadian dividends, foreign dividends),
  • realized capital gains or losses on investments disposed,
  • withholding taxes, and
  • investment management fees paid from personal and joint investment accounts.

You’ll also need for each a portfolio summary as at the Date of Death that indicates the fair market value and tax cost of all assets.

For RRSPs and RRIFs, you’ll need a portfolio summary as at the date of death.  These amounts will become income for the final return.

The advisor will need a copy of the death certificate.

The investment advisor might prepare estate account documents so that you will be listed as the Executor with authority over the non-joint investment accounts.  If you are the beneficiary of an RRSP, RRIF, or Tax Free Savings Account, your advisor might prepare a letter of direction for your signature so that you might arrange the transfer when desired.  However, note that the RRSP and RRIF remain technically tax deferred for up to one year from the date of death so you might not rush to transfer these amounts until needed.  If you are not the designated beneficiary of the RRSPs, RRIFs and Tax Free Savings Accounts, then you should ask the investment advisor to provide you with copies of the designated beneficiary forms paying attention to the date the designations were made.  Here you are looking to confirm that last date that the beneficiary designations were made between the beneficiary designation forms and the Will (assuming the Will either revoked or made new beneficiary designations).

11. Meeting with the Tax Accountant

As the Executor, you are required to file a Final Income Tax Return on behalf of the deceased.  In addition to this, there may also be three additional tax returns that might be filed:  (i) Return for rights or things, (ii) Return for a partner or proprietor, and (iii) Return for income from a Testamentary Trust or Estate.

It is helpful for the tax accountant to receive a copy of the death certificate, a copy of the Last Will, and the materials you obtained from the investment advisor.  The tax accountant will also need to know about other items that impact the final return – like employment income, pensions (gross pension and withholding tax), and other income tax items.  You might review the deceased’s prior year return to help figure out what other information the tax accountant might need.  You should negotiate in advance the cost for preparing these returns.  You might also ask about other filings or tax planning opportunities.  For example, it might be possible to make contributions to RRSPs and Tax Free Savings Accounts.  You might also enquire about the cost to prepare the Canada Revenue Agency Clearance Certificate for the Estate (if there is no Trust to continue on afterwards).  The clearance certificate from certifies from the CRA that all taxes, interest and penalties have been paid.  This removes any personal obligation from you to pay any subsequent tax amounts and gives you confidence to distribute the remaining estate assets to the beneficiaries.



Although there is much more to the entire process, this checklist gives you a sense of some of the duties and steps you’ll need to take.  Working with a financial planner and other professionals can greatly reduce the stress and complexity of the entire process.

Where we fit in

For our clients, we support the duties of the Executor and guide them along the way through their duties.  Where there is no other logical Executor to act, then I am (in my personal capacity) am willing to act as the Executor.  Where I am simply supporting a named Executor, there is no charge for my services for my clients.  Where I am to act as an Executor or Trustee, we make sure that you receive very good value for our cost which is about 50% less than the cost charged by a bank trust officer.

Our interest is to make sure that your goals are carried out in accordance to your wishes as we hope that not only will you be happy with our services, but also your children and future generations.