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Estate preservation and the peace of mind it gives have become more important than ever at a time when traditional portfolios have been hit hard by market downturns and low interest rates, says Pam McKenzie, Associate Product Manager, Manulife Investments.

A guaranteed death benefit of at least 100 per cent of all deposits (proportionally reduced by withdrawals) is at the heart of GIF Select EstatePlus™, a segregated fund contract offered by Manulife Investments. The aim of EstatePlus is to accumulate and protect a financial legacy.

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EstatePlus provides a Death Benefit Guarantee that resets every three years, if the market value rises higher than the previous guarantee. If the market drops, there is no change to the guarantee. The final reset occurs when the annuitant turns age 80.

"The key benefit we focus on is the ability to reset your Death Benefit Guarantee every three years, so if your market value climbs and is worth more than your deposit value, your Death Benefit Guarantee is automatically reset to that new market value," Ms. McKenzie says.

"Your beneficiaries will receive 100 per cent of the deposits, proportionally reduced by withdrawals, or the current market value, if greater. Say you've invested $100,000. The market value dropped to $90,000. We'll guarantee your beneficiaries $100,000 at death."

"If your market value drops, the amount that is guaranteed to go to your beneficiaries won't change and your previous guarantee remains in place," says Michelle Ostermann, Assistant Vice-President, Guaranteed Investment Products, Manulife Investments.

As an insurance contract, EstatePlus has several other key benefits.

At death, the proceeds can pass directly to designated beneficiaries, without the cost and delay of probate – a judicial determination of a will's validity. "It's a privilege afforded to the insurance industry," Ms. McKenzie explains. "Insurance is designed so that you're able to designate the beneficiary inside the insurance contract, so at death the money goes, usually with only a few days of processing, straight to the beneficiary. It isn't considered part of the estate and doesn't have to go through all the traditional estate processes, which includes the levying of a probate fee." In Saskatchewan, insurance policies with a named beneficiary are identified on the application for probate despite the fact that they do not flow through the estate and are not subject to probate fees. Probate is not applicable in Quebec.

Flexibility is another key feature, Ms. McKenzie says. Contract holders may wish to withdraw a portion of their assets at any given time to provide a supplementary income stream. Or they may need the funds for an emergency. The funds are not locked away although withdrawal fees may apply. "We don't restrict you from accessing your assets at any time. You can fund-switch, too. Let's say you're not pleased with the performance of a particular fund, you can move it to another available fund that you think is more appealing."

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There are 40 investment funds offered, mostly balanced funds. "They're quite diverse," Ms. Ostermann says. "They range from 20 per cent equity to 65 per cent equity. They have some domestic and foreign content. They cover pretty well all asset classes and the majority of risk levels, so we've got quite a selection, depending on your risk tolerance."

As an insurance contract, EstatePlus has the potential to protect assets from creditors, a helpful feature for small business owners who wish to protect their personal assets from professional liability, Ms. McKenzie says.

The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company is the issuer of the Manulife GIF Select insurance contract which offers the EstatePlus Series and the guarantor of any guarantee provisions therein. Age restrictions and other conditions may apply. Any amount that is allocated to a segregated fund is invested at the risk of the contractholder and may increase or decrease in value. Manulife, Manulife Investments, the  Manulife Investments For Your Future logo, the Block Design, Strong Reliable Trustworthy Forward-thinking and EstatePlus are trademarks of The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company and are used by it, and by its affiliates under licence.

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