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Wills and estate planning

How to plan for your estate if you own a business Add to ...

Get expert help for estate planning when a business is involved, as the issues can be complex.

If you are a business owner, your estate plan should cover both your personal and business assets. Estate planning for business owners is more complicated because it needs to address issues, such as:

  • larger and more complex estates,
  • business succession, and
  • complicated tax issues.

Seven estate questions for business owners

  1. Do you have a buy-sell agreement with any co-owners of your business?
  2. Is the buy-sell agreement funded by life insurance?
  3. Do you have an emergency plan if you are incapacitated or die before transferring your ownership interest?
  4. Have you appointed a successor or established a process for selecting a successor for your business?
  5. If you are leaving the business to one family member, have you made arrangements to leave other family members assets of equal value?
  6. If your business is a qualified small business corporation, have you taken steps to take advantage of your $750,000 lifetime capital gains exemption on your shares of the business?
  7. Have you taken other steps to minimize the potential tax liability related to your business that your heirs or estate may face upon your death?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you may need to address a potential estate planning issue.​

Professional advice is essential: There are many ways to address estate and succession plan issues involving a business – and the strategies are complex. Get professional advice from your lawyer, accountant or other business adviser before taking any action.

Planning example: estate freeze

Your estate may be saddled with a large capital gains tax bill if your business has grown in value over the years. This could leave your family and estate with a potentially large financial burden.

An estate freeze – where the value of your business interests is frozen as of a certain date – is a common strategy to address this issue. There are many ways to do an estate freeze, but it often work as follows:

  1. Business shares are restructured so that the shares with future growth potential are transferred to someone else, typically your children. This means that the future growth is taxed in their hands, usually far in the future.
  2. You receive a new class of shares that allows you to maintain control of the business. However, the share value is frozen so that your estate is only responsible for capital gains accrued to the transfer date – and not any future gains.
  3. By freezing the tax liability now, your estate won’t face a potentially much higher tax liability in the future after your death. Any subsequent growth becomes part of the estate of the new owners.


Content in this section is provided in partnership with Investor Education Fund, a non-profit organization founded and supported by the Ontario Securities Commission that provides unbiased and independent financial tools to help Canadians make better money decisions. To find out more, go to: GetSmarterAboutMoney.ca

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