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Practical tips on completing your will and estate plan

Practical tips on completing your will and estate plan

Synopsis
3 Minute Read

Entrepreneurs spend a lifetime building a successful business. So why do so many avoid planning for what will happen when they’re gone?

Business Advisor

Entrepreneurs are great at building their businesses. They make personal sacrifices to serve their customers, care for their employees, and to ensure their own financial security. Yet, when it comes time to consider their own mortality, many entrepreneurs avoid the topic.

Hopefully, the following case study inspires you to get a head start on this essential task.

Overcoming the barriers to preparedness

During a check-in with Paul, a long-time client, I brought up the topic of wills and estate planning as something he might want to consider.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he tells me. “This can wait.”

Many of us cling to the idea that we control our fate. We want to believe we'll pass comfortably at a ripe old age and have the chance to cross everything off our to-do list.

But how long can Paul afford to put off getting started? What if something happens in the meanwhile? He could get sick — or get in a car accident. Countless unplanned and unforeseen events could keep him away from the business for weeks, months, or even permanently.

Planning for such an emergency isn’t about accepting the inevitable or relinquishing control of your fate. It’s about being proactive and helping your family and employees deal with a sudden situation if and when you can’t be there to guide them.

As the old saying goes, it’s far better for Paul — you, or anyone — to have a will and estate plan that he doesn’t immediately need than to need one and not have it.

Start small

Paul was clearly reticent to confront his mortality. But that’s not the only reason he was procrastinating. Consolidating one’s entire life into a concise and actionable plan is also a daunting task.

I often recommend that clients break the process down into smaller pieces. Begin with your emergency plan: What are the necessary steps for your family and employees to ensure the bills get paid and the business can continue operating in your immediate absence? Put everything you can think of onto paper in a step-by-step list of instructions.

Once that’s out of the way, you can consider the longer-term objectives: How long do you want to work, who will take over, what do you need to retire comfortably, and how will it be funded?

Death and taxes

Try as we might, these are two things we can’t avoid. However, we can take steps to ensure our final plans are as tax-efficient as possible. Though — at the risk of getting repetitive — this is generally easier the earlier we begin.

There are at least three advisors you’ll want to reach out to throughout your journey:

Your tax advisor can inform you about the implications of your will and estate plan. You may be able to transfer ownership of your business to the next generation under new Bill C-208, but you must meet certain conditions to qualify. Ideally, you would transition over several years to ensure your successor has the skills needed and can benefit from your mentorship.

Your lawyer will help you document your wishes. They should have experience in this area of practice and be knowledgeable about estates and the transfer of property to beneficiaries. Be sure to ask whether they recommend a secondary will to deal with business assets, as this could help you avoid probate fees.

Your accountant / business advisor can facilitate meetings with family and other relevant stakeholders to discuss your plans before you sign any agreements or documents. You can clarify your wishes, and everyone else can voice their concerns in an open and constructive forum. It also buys time to reassess, reconsider, and confirm your plans.

Take control

Life is fluid. The wills and estate plans an entrepreneur creates in their 40s and 50s often look quite different from the ones they prepare in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. That's normal. But it's far easier to update these documents as circumstances change than prepare them in a rush — and they're far likelier to reflect your true intentions, too.

Communication is the key. Being proactive, clear in what you want, and willing to listen to others will ensure you can create a solution that includes everyone.

Paul was 77 when we met at the request of his banker. He owns a successful farming operation; he also loves what he does and likes to be the boss. He has more than half a century of business and personal assets to sort through and doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

The irony is that without a plan, Paul has less — not more — control of his future.

His son is now 53 and still waiting for a plan to be finalized. The bank is concerned about the ensuing chaos if Paul passes away or gets sick or injured without a plan. Try as we might, we’re still trying to convince him these small steps will mean better peace of mind for everyone involved.

Don’t be like Paul. Commit to getting started today. Your family and employees will be glad you did!

Contact us

To learn more about wills and estate planning, contact Steve Moore, CPA, CA.

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