It is said that in this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes. Modern estate planning aims to assist individuals to navigate both of these unpleasant certainties. Preparing double wills is an estate planning technique which minimizes the amount of probate fees (estate administration taxes) payable on death by your estate.
Double Wills – Primary (Public Asset Will) and Secondary (Private Asset Will)
Depending on the nature of a person’s assets, it is often beneficial to have a “primary” Will to deal with real property and assets held in financial institutions (public assets) and a “secondary” Will to deal with assets held in a private corporation, personal effects, vehicles, the proceeds of life insurance policies payable to the estate and any other asset which does not require probate to pass to a beneficiary (private assets).
Probate is required in select circumstances, and when it is required for the estate trustee to effectively deal with one asset in a will then all assets governed by that will must be probated. In that event, the estate will be required to pay the estate administration tax on the combined value of all assets governed by the will. Savvy individuals can avoid this problem through the use of multiple wills and proper drafting.
The use of multiple wills received judicial approval in Ontario in Granovsky Estate v. Ontario, 1998 CanLII 14913 (ON SC). Therein the court considered the testator’s use of two wills: a ‘Primary Will’ and a ‘Secondary Will’. The Secondary Will exclusively governed the testator’s private company shares, amounts owing to the testator from said companies, and assets held in trust for the testator by said companies. In other words, the secondary estate consisted solely of those assets that the estate trustee could deal without needing probate. Whereas the Primary Will governed all of the testator’s other assets, for which probate was required. The court in Granovsky found that there was no prohibition in the applicable legislation which could prevent a testator from having both a primary and secondary will – a testator may plan his or her estate as she or he sees fit. Notably, the court held that there was no requirement to submit the Secondary Will to probate or pay the estate administration tax on the value of the assets governed by the Secondary Will.
Following Granovsky, Ontario has witnessed a marked increase in the popularity of multiple wills as a method for effective estate planning. Complimentary to the reduced tax liability are the added benefits of ease of administration of one’s estate and privacy, as a probated will is a public document. These combined benefits make preparing multiple wills a prudent investment for the common sense business owner.
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