Your Estate Plan – Getting Started

Written by the Mackenzie Tax and Estate team

Few people are comfortable thinking about their own deaths, which can make estate planning difficult. Having an estate plan won’t prevent the inevitable, but it can reduce unnecessary distress for your heirs, in the event of your death or incapacity.

Careful planning can help your estate avoid long, painful delays. It can also minimize the taxes collected by the government and ensure that your final wishes are met.

Every Canadian adult, regardless of financial situation, should have an up-to-date estate plan that outlines the following:

  • Who is responsible for distributing your assets.
  • Who gets what and when they get it.
  • Who will take care of your dependent children.
  • Who will manage any trust accounts under your will.
  • Who will make financial and medical decisions if you are incapacitated.

To take control of your estate, we suggest the following five steps: 

  1. Determine your estate planning goals.
  2. Consider which estate planning tools fit your situation best.
  3. Start raising estate-planning issues with your family.
  4. Choose the people you would like to speak for you.
  5. Keep your estate plan up to date.

Depending on the complexity of your estate, you may require the services of a lawyer, a financial advisor, an accountant, an insurance agent and/or a trust officer.

Developing a complete estate requires much more than a will. Depending on your personal situation, you may wish to consider a combination of the following:


The core document in your estate plan that identifies an executor, distributes your assets and names a guardian for your dependent children.


This may be established to take care of assets you don’t want transferred immediately after your death or to manage investments for beneficiaries who are incapable of doing so themselves.

Life insurance

Can help ensure that your heirs receive the maximum inheritance from your estate, as estate assets may be depleted by funeral expenses or final taxes.

Power of attorney for property

Allows a trusted family member or friend to make financial decisions for you should you become incapacitated, but only while you’re alive.

Substitute decision making for health and personal care

Allows a trusted family member or friend to make health and personal care decisions based on your stated preferences if you’re unable to express them yourself. This may include continuing life support and similar important decisions.

Organ donor cards

An official statement of whether you would like your organs to be donated to someone who would benefit from a transplant. You will also need to discuss this with your family, as doctors may need their consent as well.

Funeral arrangements

Helps decide how you would like to be remembered, as well as the disposition of your remains.

Business succession plan

Decides what will happen with a business you own in part or whole. There are complex rules regarding selling a business or passing it to heirs.

Tax planning

In Canada there are no “estate taxes” — taxes owed on the entire value of an estate. However, your estate may be subject to probate or income taxes. These are paid out of your estate, reducing what your heirs receive. Probate cost and income taxes should be considered when planning your estate. 

This should not be construed as legal, tax or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for information purposes only. The tax information provided in this document is general in nature and each client should consult with their own tax advisor, accountant and We have endeavored to ensure the accuracy of the information provided at the time that it was written, however, should the information in this document be incorrect or incomplete or should the law or its interpretation change after the date of this document, the advice provided may be incorrect or inappropriate. There should be no expectation that the information will be updated, supplemented or revised whether as a result of new information, changing circumstances, future events or otherwise. We are not responsible for errors contained in this document or to anyone who relies on the information contained in this document. Please consult your own legal and tax advisor