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Planning your estate

Who will inherit your estate? Is your strategy tax-efficient? Did you take any measures to make your heirs' lives easier when the time comes? And have you given any thought to making a planned gift to a charitable organization?

Desjardins can help you make succession liquidation easier and ensure proper planning for key factors involved in the transfer of your wealth and assets (such as the tax implications for survivors).

The content of this section is purely informational. Its goal is not to provide specific guidance, and the examples provided may not necessarily apply to your circumstances. Desjardins recommends you seek the advice of an advisor or other professional before taking action.


Estate planning assistance is available to Desjardins members who would like the caisse's help throughout the estate planning process.

The service is offered by your caisse advisor or financial planner.

  • Includes a legal help line providing
    • access to legal experts
    • legal information to better understand the steps involved, your obligations and the sometimes complex terminology surrounding estate planning
  • Offers the support of your caisse's financial security advisor to help you determine your life insurance needs
  • If needed, guides you toward a community foundation that can help you with any donations or bequests to charitable organizations
  • Makes available to you:
    • a comprehensive information guide
    • useful web references on estate planning


  • Informs you about the importance of estate planning
  • Gives you the support of a team of experts
  • Leads you through all the steps required for effective estate planning
  • Makes the estate administration process easier
  • Helps you save time and reduce estate administration expenses


Desjardins Private Management offers comprehensive estate planning services to people who, because of the complex nature of their estate, would like to have the estate planning process handled by a skilled team of experts.

  • Includes an overall assessment of your financial circumstances and goals
  • Provides you with a multidisciplinary team made up of legal officers, tax experts, accountants, investment managers and other professionals
  • Overseen by a specialized financial planner who coordinates activities and ensures personal follow-up
  • Fees determined by agreement

Learn more about Desjardins Private Management


  • Ensures all aspects of estate planning are covered
  • Gives you the support of a team of experts
  • Makes the estate planning process easier
  • Helps you save time and reduce estate expenses
  • Competitive fees


Upon your death, income tax returns must be filed in your name.

These must include your:

  • employment and business income
  • investment income (interest, dividends, etc.)

In addition, since, from a tax standpoint, it is considered that the deceased person has

  • withdrawn all funds from registered retirement plans (RRSPs, RRIFs, etc.) and
  • sold all capital property (cottage, income properties) at fair market value, the value of all registered retirement plans

the profits and losses resulting from the presumed sale of any capital property must be included in the deceased’s income tax returns.

Because of these tax rules, the deceased's tax burden can be as high as 50% of taxable income.

Nevertheless, there are steps that can be taken to reduce or defer estate taxes. All it takes is a little planning.

Steps to reduce the tax consequences of death

Steps to reduce the tax consequences of death

Transfer your RRSPs and RRIFs

Transfer your RRSPs or RRIFs to your spouse or dependent handicapped child. This type of transfer is not taxed.

Transfers to minor children in your care are also a good solution. They will be taxed, but at a lower rate.

You could also purchase an annuity, which can be paid to them until they turn 18 and spread the taxes due over the duration of the annuity.

However, if an RRSP or RRIF is left to children who are not dependents, it will have to be added to your income.

Transfer your primary residence

Capital gains on the sale of a primary residence are not taxable for the owner. Leave your primary residence to the person who will continue to live in it after your death, such as your surviving spouse. By doing so, it retains its status as a primary residence.

You may also bequeath your primary residence in usufruct, (the use of an asset by someone other than the owner) to allow, for example, your surviving spouse to continue to live there while your children retain ownership. In this way your heirs can eventually sell the residence without paying taxes.

Transfer other assets

Bequeath other assets to your spouse directly or through a trust. This way, taxes on capital gains are deferred until the surviving spouse disposes of them or dies. The gains will be calculated in view of the fact that that they were acquired by the surviving spouse at your tax cost.

Assets held outside the country

To ensure a smooth devolution of property, it's important to prepare a second will in compliance with the country's laws and in the language used there. If you own property in the U.S., for example, it is recommended that you make a will in English that applies only to these assets and that complies with the laws of the state in which the assets are located.

Dying without a will

Everyone should have a will. When there is no will, the deceased's assets are summarily divided among family members in accordance with the law.

If you leave this world without a will:

  • your common-law spouse is excluded from the estate
  • your assets are divided according to the Civil Code of Québec
  • your heirs are determined according to this law
  • a large portion of your assets could end up going to the taxman

For example, if you and your common-law spouse own a house together and one of you dies, the surviving spouse retains ownership of one-half of the house and the other half goes to the deceased's heirs as prescribed by the law. Is this what you really want?

It is best if you decide for yourself which assets will be left to your spouse, your children and other people.

Before you decide to whom and how to leave your possessions, take a Personal Inventory of Assets and Important Documents (PDF, 78 KB).

Types of wills

A will is a unilateral, revocable legal act established in one of the forms provided for by law, by which the testator disposes of all or part of his property. The will does not become effective until his death.

In Quebec, there are 3 types of legally-recognized wills:

  • The holograph will, written by hand and signed by the testator, requires no witnesses but is easily contested.
  • The will made in the presence of witnesses may be typed or written by the testator or a third party. It is signed before 2 witnesses of full age.
  • The notarial will, is made before a notary and usually only one witness. It is recorded in the Register of Wills of the Chambre des notaires and the original is kept by the notary.

Only a notarial will does not have to be probated by the courts and it is the most difficult to contest. Furthermore, since the notary has the document and it is listed in the Register of Wills, it is almost impossible for the will to be lost or stolen.

What to include in your will

The contents of your will must be tailored to your particular circumstances. Take into account:

  • your current family situation
  • your marital status
  • your family's needs
  • the value of your estate
  • the type of assets in your estate
  • what you have in mind for your estate

You may also want to:

  • make sure you have enough liquidity to pay off outstanding debts and any estate taxes
  • determine who will take care of minor children
  • do your best to avoid family squabbling

Upon your death, family members will be grateful to you for being proactive and making sure no detail was left out during estate planning.

Changing or replacing a will

You should revise your will any time your personal situation changes, such as when you buy a home, have a child, or come into a substantial or unexpected sum of money.

Wills can be revoked at any time. There are 2 ways to go about it:

  • You can change your existing will by adding clauses or replacing them by means of another testamentary document called a "codicil". To be valid, the change must satisfy the same requirements or conditions as the will. It is filed with the will.
  • Draw up a new will. The new will should contain a clause declaring that the previous will is revoked.

If you have assets outside the country, it's in your best interest to write a second will that disposes of these assets only.

To learn more
See A second will if you have assets in the United States.

A second will if you have assets in the United States

If have holdings in the U.S. (e.g.: a condo in Florida or a car), it is recommended that you make a will in English that deals with these assets only and complies with the laws of the state in which the assets are located.

Translating an existing will

Without a second will, your French will have to be translated, along with copies of certain pleadings that may be required. An official translation of a will can cost over $1,500, not including professional or legal fees.

A second will could save you time and money. But could it also revoke the French will you made for the assets you hold in Quebec? Not if both documents are properly coordinated. You could add a provision to each will preventing the automatic revocation of the other. This is why it is important to consult a legal advisor.

Choosing a liquidator

A liquidator is a person who, upon your death, is responsible for carrying out your wishes and administering your succession (legal term for estate in Quebec). With these important responsibilities, it's important you choose him or her carefully.

The liquidator's responsibilities

The liquidator's duties include the following:

  • Take into account the legislative provisions pertaining to the liquidation of the succession, division of the family patrimony and matrimonial regime, if applicable, and tax and insurance laws
  • See to the sound temporary administration of the succession
  • Make decisions that are in the best interests of the heirs

Liquidators must also:

  • act prudently and diligently, as they may be held personally liable for errors or omissions
  • remain impartial to guarantee that each heir is treated fairly and equitably

Qualities of a good liquidator

Before making a final decision, make sure your liquidator:

  • is trustworthy
  • has the skills and time required to accomplish the task
  • will be able to treat family members fairly and objectively

Given the complex nature of the task, many people prefer to put together a team of liquidators. They appoint a private liquidator, often someone close to them who will know how to find the deceased's documents and simplify the inventory of assets. The private liquidator works with a professional liquidator who has the required tax and legal knowledge, such as a notary, lawyer, accountant or trust company. Even though this means additional costs for the estate, a professional liquidator's valuable expertise could prevent family members from making financial or tax decisions detrimental to them.

Liquidator fees

Liquidating an estate can take up to 1 year, sometimes even 2 if the estate is complex. If the liquidator does not live in the vicinity, he or she will have to make frequent trips to your area. Liquidators must be available to do the legwork and take part in many meetings. In your will, you can set aside an amount to compensate the liquidator for his or her work. For tax reasons, you may want to leave a bequest in lieu of compensation, to prevent the liquidator from having to pay taxes on the fees.

To learn more
See Settling an estate.


What is a trust?

Trusts are set up through a legal act that creates a separate estate to which all or a part of the trustor's assets are transferred. The property is administered by one or more trustees to specific ends on behalf of one or more beneficiaries.

Trusts can therefore be set up to be managed by a trustee on behalf of your designated beneficiaries.

Why set up a trust?

There are many reasons to set up a trust:

  • To allow children from a prior marriage to inherit your estate when your current spouse dies.
  • To ensure the financial security of a beneficiary (e.g., a disabled child).
  • To temporary administer property (e.g., until a beneficiary reaches the age of majority).
  • To reduce the heirs' tax burden by splitting the income between the trust and the beneficiaries1.
  • To retain control over property transferred to the trust (e.g., a cottage or a business).

Types of trusts

Before setting up one or more trusts, see a legal advisor or other specialist to determine which formula is best suited to the size of your estate and medium- and long-term objectives. Decisions made to this end can have important legal, tax and financial impacts on your estate.

There are 2 types of personal trusts:

1. For tax purposes, trusts are considered separate taxpayers.

Testamentary trust

Testamentary trusts are stipulated in the will and are created upon the testator's (the person making the will) death. In accordance with your will, property is turned over to a trustee who manages it according to your instructions in the best interest of the beneficiaries. A trust company is the only legal entity authorized to do this.

As testator, you determine the duration and terms of the testamentary trust.

Why a testamentary trust?

Setting up a testamentary trust for cash and assets (stocks, mutual fund shares, property) can help defer and reduce estate taxes while protecting your estate. From a tax standpoint, assets left in trust constitute an estate separate from the estate of the beneficiaries. This means the trust is considered a separate taxpayer and must produce its own separate tax return. The resulting income splitting is advantageous for the beneficiaries because it allows them to benefit from graduated tax rates only available to individuals.

There are also other reasons to set up a testamentary trust:

  • Provide for your spouse while protecting the capital that will go to your children upon his or her death.
  • Manage the assets of minor beneficiaries.
  • Release trust income or assets to children gradually over time.
  • Ensure assets are soundly managed by skilled trustees.
  • Preserve and transfer important family assets from generation to generation by allowing beneficiaries to inherit the use of the property rather than the property itself.
  • Allow children from a prior marriage to inherit your estate upon the death of your spouse.

Living or intervivos trust

This type of trust goes into effect while the trustor (the person who sets it up) is still alive and may remain in effect after he or she dies. Maximum tax rates and Income Tax Act attribution rules apply. When it follows an estate freeze, a living trust allows income taxes on stock gains to be deferred.

Why a living trust?

In the case of privately-held companies, living trusts can be used to:

  • hold company shares during an estate freeze
  • finance a buy/sell agreement when a shareholder dies
  • turn over company shares to designated beneficiaries in case no one is found to take over the business
  • keep confidential company investments

They can also be used to:

  • maintain control over assets when a business owner is not yet ready to turn over control of the business to a major child
  • protect assets from being seized by an heir's creditors


More and more people want to donate money that will provide long-term economic benefits to their community. If this is your case, a well-designed tax strategy could allow you to support a cause you care about without penalizing your heirs.

Individuals can make charitable donations:

  • while they are alive (living trust)
  • upon their death (bequest)

Tax credit

Individuals who make donations are entitled to federal and provincial tax credits. Eligible donations are generally limited to 75% of net income, and any balance can be carried forward for 5 years. The limitation grows to 100% of net income in the year of death or the year preceding death.

Donating money or property

You can donate:

  • money
  • publicly traded stocks
  • property (home, cottage, business, land, etc.)
  • registered (RRSP, RRIF) and non-registered investments
  • life insurance policies
  • collections, jewellery, art

When you make a donation, you receive a receipt for the fair market value of the donated property and generally speaking, capital gains or losses must be determined based on this amount. Some specific rules may apply depending on the property donated or organization receiving it.

Make donations during your lifetime

Making donations during your lifetime can be very advantageous for both donors and beneficiaries. But donors must first properly evaluate how much they will need to live on to avoid ending up in a financially precarious situation. The surplus can then be distributed in accordance with certain tax rules. Many people start donating assets during their life by, for example, selling their home and moving to a smaller residence and donating the proceeds to a charitable organization.

Donating your life insurance policy

What can you do with a life insurance policy you no longer need? Instead of cancelling it, you can donate it to a charitable organization. Read about the tax consequences of donating the proceeds of a life insurance policy.

To learn more
See The importance of life insurance.

Creating an endowment fund

Making a donation to a charitable organization is a decision worthy of careful planning. Creating an endowment fund is a good way to work out the details and conditions of the donation.

How does it work?

When you create a Desjardins Endowment Fund, the donation is managed by Desjardins Foundation. Income generated by the fund goes to organizations chosen by the donor. This ensures that the organizations receive financial support that is guaranteed year after year.


  • Leverage a life insurance contract to make a donation.
  • Benefit from tax breaks during your lifetime or after your death.
  • Support causes that matter to you, even after you’re gone.
  • Know that your fund is managed by one of the safest financial institutions in the world.

To learn more Desjardins Endowment Funds .

Donating the proceeds of a life insurance policy

How it works

When you make a charitable donation, you receive a credit that will reduce your taxes. The total tax savings are as follows:

  • A federal tax credit of 15% is given on the first $200 and 29% on the remaining donation amount
  • Depending on your home province, you can benefit from an additional tax credit. Contact your provincial tax office or your financial planner for more information

There are several ways to help a charity and achieve your philanthropic goals while minimizing your tax burden. One good way to do it is donating the proceeds of a life insurance policy.

Take advantage of a tax reduction while you're living or when you die

You can make a charitable donation through a life insurance policy and choose to take advantage of a tax reduction in one of the following ways:

  • While you're living, through premium payments; in this case, the charity must be the policyholder and the beneficiary
  • When you die, by bequeathing the insurance amount to the charity or designating the charity as the beneficiary of the policy

For more information, contact a representative.

Life insurance is an essential estate planning tool.

Cover estate taxes upon your death

Paying taxes is inevitable upon death so life insurance can be useful to pay them without requiring the liquidation of assets. Buy a life insurance policy where the proceeds are payable to the estate to cover the taxes on the deemed disposition of your assets. Important fact: any life insurance product paid to a beneficiary is not taxable.

Donate your policy to a charitable organization

You can also donate your life insurance policy to a charitable organization. As the donor, you are entitled to an annual tax credit in the amount of the premiums paid on any policy whose beneficiary is a charitable organization. The benefit itself carries no tax consequences. If, on the other hand, you elect to donate your policy to a charitable organization so that the benefit is payable upon your death, the amount of the benefit paid to the organization is tax-deductible. The tax credit can be declared on the income tax return of the preceding year, if need be.

Learn more
See Donations and bequests.


Estate freezing is a tax planning method that allows incorporated businesses to lock-in the value of their shares by transferring future share appreciation to selected successors.

Estate freezing allows you to:

  • transfer to selected people (children, grandchildren, key employees) future appreciation of company shares, and in so doing defer taxes
  • lock-in shareholders' current share value to reduce their tax burden
  • select a share capital structure that meets each successor's preference and needs

Entire estates or a portion of estates may be frozen. Shareholders can thus transfer their shares to the next generation while maintaining control over the company, and, if appropriate, continue earning dividend income on the frozen shares.

Shareholder agreements

An estate freeze requires a shareholder agreement be drawn up. The agreement spells out how shares can be disposed of, i.e., whether they can be bought, bought back or transferred.

Shareholder agreements

A shareholder agreement is a written agreement that helps prevent and resolve potential conflicts, especially at the time of a shareholder's death.

What it includes

The shareholder agreement set outs the terms and conditions that apply in the event of death, disability, disagreement or the retirement of one of the partners. It includes primarily the following:

  • share buyback price
  • source of funding in the insurance clause
  • conditions under which shares may be transferred to an heir
  • business exit strategy
  • payment and transfer terms
  • etc.

Contact your notary or attorney to prepare your agreement. It should be revised regularly, usually every 3 years.

The benefits of a shareholder agreement

Here are some of the many benefits of a shareholder agreement:

  • helps avoid interference from the estate
  • guarantees that the partners are the only owners
  • establishes the price in advance, including predetermined payment terms
  • provides peace of mind to:
    • creditors
    • suppliers
    • clients
    • employees

A shareholder agreement helps shareholders foresee certain situations and make decisions more easily should the unexpected occur. To ensure that this agreement holds up, however, it is advisable to have a good insurance plan. A meeting with a financial security advisor will help you understand the role that insurance plays in ensuring the survival of your business.

Everyone is at risk of having an accident, an illness or disability that could interfere with earning an income, paying bills and tracking investments. It is widely believed that a power of attorney is all it takes to name a person to take care of these duties if an accident or illness occurs. Wrong! A power of attorney is not valid when the signer is declared incapacitated. To choose a person to act on your behalf, you need a mandate in case of incapacity.

Types of mandates

There are 2 types of mandates in case of incapacity:

  • the private signature mandate: this mandate is written and signed before 2 witnesses who do not have an interest in its content
  • the mandate by notarial act : this mandate is registered with the Registre des mandats de la Chambre des notaires, which makes it easier to retrieve and apply the will at the appropriate time and which eliminates the risk of the will being lost or disregarded

In both cases, a psychosocial assessment certifying the person is truly incapacitated and a court judgment are required to make the mandate go into effect.

Responsibility of representatives

You may designate 2 representatives:

  • a legal representative to ensure care of the person, to see to it that your wishes regarding your health care are respected; this person may be your spouse or your friend
  • a legal representative to the administration of property, to manage your personal affairs (this person may be someone close to you, but if your assets are complex to manage, you may designate a professional asset administration service)

The legal representative to the administration of property may receive a simple administration mandate (which generally includes income collection, bank account administration and bill payment) or a full administration mandate, which enables him or her to make important decisions such as selling your assets.

The mandate in case of incapacity can also indicate the treatments you would and would not accept should you become unable to clearly and freely consent to the care in question (living will).

Making changes to your mandate

Once your mandate is signed, you can make changes to it as long as you remain fit.

Use the will and mandate research tool available at Chambre des notaires du Québec.

Chambre des notaires du Québec (site in French only)

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) registers qualifying organizations as charities, gives technical advice on operating a charity and handles audits and compliance activities.

Revenu Québec makes available to the public a brochure entitled "Non-Profit Organizations and Taxation IN-305-N", providing information about the tax advantages and obligations of non-profit organizations with regards to income tax, GST and QST and source deductions.

Revenu Québec makes available to the public a brochure entitled "Guide to filing the income tax return of a deceased person".

The Québec Ministère de la Justice website has a section on wills and everything related to them: testators, possible heirs, estate liquidators, survival of support obligations, etc.

Curateur public Québec has a mandate in case of incapacity guide that includes a private signature mandate form.

Looking for a notary?

Use the Chambre des notaires search tool.