Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Estate Information Return

Ontario releases new Estate Information Return

Effective January 1, 2015, estate trustees (i.e., executors) in Ontario have additional duties, with Ontario’s release of its Estate Information Return.   Part of the probate process, this new return must be filed within 90 calendar days after a certificate of appointment of estate trustee is issued.  This return is not required where an application for probate was made prior to January 1, 2015.

On the Estate Information Return, the estate trustee will need to provide information on the Fair Market Value of the assets forming part of the estate for estate administration tax (i.e., probate fee) purposes.

In the FAQ, Ontario has confirmed that certain assets are excluded from the value of the estate for purposes of the tax.   Excluded assets include “RRSPs, RRIFs, TFSAs and life insurance policies where there is a living named beneficiary”. (Please see the 8th point in the section entitled, "Value of estate assets" in the FAQ)

The return, as well as the Guide for completing it, can be accessed from the Ontario Ministry of Finance’s web-site.

Also, in 2012, when the proposed changes had been tabled, we prepared a summary of the changes to the Estate Administration Tax Act in Probate Process – Ontario (7193).  Here, you will also find an example of how the legislation has impacted estate executors’ responsibilities.

More than ever, it’s the right time to discuss segregated funds’ advantages, which include estate bypass when a named beneficiary is designated.   Contact your sales office for more details.

Information provided by Standard Life

Your Legacy

Your legacy is more than a bank balance. It's the impact you make on your community and your family. Here are six tips for turning a nice thought into a powerful reality:

1) Get Organized - Ensure your personal information - bank account and investment contract numbers, insurance policies, tax information, etc. - are up to date and stored somewhere safe and accessible by your advisor, attorney, beneficiaries or family members.

2) Check your Will - Make sure you have a will and it reflects your current intentions. Do the same with any power of attorney or other legal documents. If you don't have a will, or need to change it, contact me or someone you trust to obtain the name of an estate lawyer ho can help draft yours.

3)  Name Names - Select an executor for your estate and ensure that all beneficiary designations complement those outlined within your will.   

4) Consolidate your Finances - Streamline your investments and bank accounts to simplify administration. Having joint accounts makes it easier to ensure resources are readily available.

5)  Minimize Taxes - Consider investments and strategies that allow your estate to bypass probate and minimize the tax bill for the next generation.

6) Discuss your Plans with your Family - Keeping them informed can help them understand your decisions.    

Over time, situations change.  Your children become adults, tax laws change, your executor ages.  It is important to review your plans every few years to ensure that they are still appropriate. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Review of financial markets

I would like to wish you a happy, healthy new year. This post will provide you with a brief update on financial markets and my thoughts on what may lie ahead.

The global economy in aggregate continued to strengthen in 2014, although the improvement, as has been the case through most of the current recovery, was uneven. After shrinking in the first quarter, the U.S. economy grew at a much stronger rate than expected in the second half of the year. While not as robust, Canada’s economy also registered encouraging signs of improvement during 2014. In other regions, geopolitical events such as conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East, slower growth in China and the risk of deflation in Europe affected financial markets. Overall, the global expansion moved cautiously forward.

Global financial markets also started the year on a hesitant note, but benefited from improving economic trends and strong corporate profits through the spring and summer months. Most equity indexes were positive through the end of the third quarter, but volatile conditions surfaced in the fourth quarter as investors began to focus on the slowing pace of growth in emerging markets, particularly China. Concerns about oversupply in the energy market caused a sharp drop in the price of oil and other commodities, which was felt broadly across many markets and sectors. The price per barrel of crude dropped to less than US$50 at the start of 2015, the lowest since 2009.

Canada’s commodity-heavy S&P/TSX Composite Index was particularly volatile in the fourth quarter, staging a series of sharp declines and rebounds. The Canadian index finished the three-month period with a loss of 1.5%, but registered a respectable gain of 10.6% for the year. The falling price of oil, which is a major Canadian export product, also caused the Canadian dollar to lose value relative to the U.S. dollar. The loonie finished the year about 8% lower at 86.2 cents U.S.

The MSCI World Index, which measures large and mid-cap equities across 23 developed markets, gained 5.5% for the year in U.S. dollar terms. Accounting for the Canadian dollar’s decline, however, this gain was magnified to 15.1% for Canadian investors. The performance of the World Index reflected generally weaker results in emerging and developed markets outside North America and the robust gains for U.S. equities. The benchmark S&P 500 Index benefited from strong U.S. economic trends, growing consumer and business confidence and healthy corporate profits, adding 13.7% in 2014. Again, Canadian investors in U.S. stocks benefited from the decline in the value of our own currency, with the U.S. market up 24% in Canadian dollar terms.
Turning to fixed-income markets, the moderate pace of global economic activity in 2014 meant that monetary policy remained highly accommodative to growth. Although the U.S. Federal Reserve officially ended the asset purchase programs it had used to stimulate the economy since 2009, central banks in Europe, China and Japan took steps to keep interest rates low, their currencies weak and their export markets competitive. Bonds performed well in this environment. The FTSE TMX Canada Universe Bond Index, a measure of Canadian government and investment-grade corporate bonds, added 2.7% in the fourth quarter for a gain of nearly 8.8% for the year.

As we head into 2015, the global economy continues to slowly expand. Although interest rates remain low, there are some indications that rates, at least in North America, could begin to move higher in the coming year, which could be a headwind for fixed-income investments. Nearly six years after the financial crisis, equities have delivered generally positive results, but markets are cyclical, and it is always difficult to predict their direction in any given year. While the sharp drop in oil prices has weighed on the Canadian equity market in particular, it is important to remember that asset classes, industry sectors and geographic markets often move in divergent directions. Lower oil prices, for example, can be positive for other sectors as they strengthen consumer confidence and reduce costs for manufacturers, transportation companies and related industries.

In my view, recent market events support the case for maintaining a portfolio that is well diversified across asset classes, geographies and industry sectors. Diversification will help to maximize returns for your portfolio, while mitigating risks as they occur, including currency and interest rate movements.

I hope you find this overview helpful. We work hard to develop the portfolio that best reflects your long-term financial goals and tolerance for risk. Should you have questions about your investments or any other issue, please feel free to give me a call. I wish you all the best in 2015.

The information in this post is derived from various sources, including CI Investments, Signature Global Asset Management, Cambridge Global Asset Management, Globe and Mail, National Post, Bloomberg, Yahoo Canada Finance, and Trading Economics. Index information was provided by TD Newcrest and PC Bond, and all quoted equity index returns are on a total return basis (including dividends). This material is provided for general information and is subject to change without notice. Every effort has been made to compile this material from reliable sources; however, no warranty can be made as to its accuracy or completeness. Before acting on any of the above, please contact me for individual financial advice based on your personal circumstances.