A trust is a powerful planning tool, ideal for business owners looking to grow their business. Simply put, a trust is a legal arrangement whereby an individual, called the Settlor, transfers assets to a trusted person, called the Trustee, for the benefit of third parties, called the Beneficiaries.

This mechanism plays an important role in estate and tax planning, providing a preferred channel for wealth management and transfer.

Why should business owners be interested in a trust?

One of the key advantages of trusts for business owners is their ability to separate the legal ownership of assets from their economic benefit. This can be particularly beneficial for business succession planning, ensuring that the founder's vision and values are perpetuated while providing flexibility in asset management.

In addition, trusts offer significant tax advantages, such as reduced exposure to estate taxes and the ability to distribute income among multiple beneficiaries to reduce overall tax liability.

The three certainties required to create a valid trust

 In order for a trust to be recognized as valid and effective, especially in a business context, it is essential that three fundamental criteria be met: intent, assets and beneficiaries.

1. Clear Intent: The creation of a trust begins with the settlor's express intent to transfer assets to the trust. This intent must be clearly documented, often in a trust deed, to avoid future ambiguity.

2. Transfer of Assets: A trust without assets is like a ship without sails. Assets can range from cash to business interests to real estate. For business owners, choosing the right assets to place in a trust is critical to achieving their estate and tax planning goals.

3. Designate beneficiaries: Beneficiaries are those who will benefit from the trust assets. Clarity in their designation is paramount to avoid disputes and ensure that assets are distributed in accordance with the settlor's wishes.

What types of trusts are recognized in Canada?

There are several types of trusts in Canada, each with its own specific characteristics. Understanding these differences and the specific options available is essential to choosing the right trust strategy.

1. Testamentary trusts vs. inter vivos trusts

Testamentary trusts: These trusts are created after a person's death and are specified in the will. They provide for a planned transition of business ownership and management after the settlor's death.

Inter vivos trusts: created during the lifetime of the settlor, these trusts offer greater flexibility and control over assets, which can be advantageous to an active business owner who wishes to manage the transition of his or her business in a gradual manner.

2. Revocable vs. irrevocable trust

Revocable trust: can be modified or canceled by the settlor at any time, providing great flexibility.

Irrevocable trust: cannot be easily modified, but this permanence can provide tax advantages and more robust asset protection, aspects often sought by business owners.

Specific examples of trusts

Family trusts: ideal for managing family wealth and passing a family business from one generation to the next.

Henson trusts: a solution for business owners with disabled beneficiaries, allowing them to maintain their eligibility for public assistance while benefiting from financial support.

Qualified Disability Trusts: These trusts offer special tax advantages and can be a key element in the estate planning of a business where one of the beneficiaries is a disabled person.

How are trusts taxed in Canada?

For business owners, understanding the taxation of trusts is critical to optimizing tax benefits.The taxation of trusts can be complex, but careful planning can provide significant benefits.

1. Principles of taxation under Canadian law

Trusts are treated as separate tax entities. As such, they must report their income and may be subject to tax. The nature of the trust's income (interest, dividends, capital gains) will affect its taxation.

The tax rules also differ between revocable and irrevocable trusts. For example, irrevocable trusts often have a higher tax rate but provide better asset protection.

2. Tax minimization strategies

For business owners, these strategies can not only reduce the overall tax burden, but also facilitate the growth and sustainability of their business.

Income Splitting: Distribute trust income to multiple beneficiaries, possibly in lower tax brackets.

Capital Gains Planning: Use the trust to allocate or defer capital gains.

Asset selection: Select assets that generate tax-advantaged types of income.

Ensuring effective trust management for business owners

The role of the trustee and the management of a trust's assets are critical elements in ensuring that the trust's objectives are met, especially for entrepreneurs considering the future of their business.

1. Roles and responsibilities of trustees

Management decisions: trustees must manage trust assets with diligence and skill, often with the aim of preserving or increasing the value of the business.

Legal and ethical obligations: they are required to respect the terms of the trust deed and act in the best interests of the beneficiaries.

Reporting and transparency: provide regular accounts to beneficiaries and maintain transparency about the trust's activities.

2. Distribution of trust assets and tax implications

Assets must be distributed in accordance with the instructions in the trust deed. They may have tax implications, both for the trust and for the beneficiaries.

Careful planning is required to optimize tax benefits, particularly in terms of the timing and nature of distributions.

The importance of an informed legal approach to business trusts

The role of the trustee and the management of a trust's assets are critical elements in ensuring that the trust's objectives are met, especially for business owners who are considering the future of their business.

1. Importance of legal advice

Specialized legal advice is essential to ensure that the trust is optimally structured to comply with applicable laws and the specific objectives of the business.

Attorneys can help navigate the nuances of the legislation and avoid potential pitfalls, especially when drafting the trust deed.

2. Impact of Quebec and Ontario specific legislation

Trust law varies between Quebec and Ontario, mainly due to differences between Quebec civil law and Ontario law.

These differences can affect the formation, administration and dissolution of trusts and require a jurisdiction-specific approach. It is therefore important to comply with the laws and regulations governing trusts in Quebec and trusts in Ontario.

Business trusts: a powerful tool for managing and passing on business legacies

Trusts provide business owners with a flexible and powerful tool for managing and passing on their business legacy. Careful planning, combined with sound legal advice, can maximize benefits while minimizing tax and legal implications.

To ensure the accuracy of information, particularly with respect to tax and legal issues, it is recommended that you consult with an expert in trust law or an experienced tax professional.

Frédéric Roy-Gobeil


As President of T2inc.ca and an entrepreneur at heart, I have founded many start-ups such as delve Labs and T2inc.ca. A former tax specialist at Ernst & Young, I am also a member of the Ordre des comptables professionnels agréés CPA and have a master's degree in taxation from the Université de Sherbrooke. With a passion for the world of entrepreneurship and the growth mindset, I have authored numerous articles and videos on the industry and the business world, as well as on accounting, taxation, financial statements and financial independence.

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