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Estate Freeze Techniques for Family-Owned Enterprises

In the world of Canadian family businesses, planning for the future is not just a strategy; it’s a necessity. Among the most effective ways to prepare for a smooth and tax-efficient transfer of business ownership is through an estate freeze. This technique can significantly benefit not only the current generation of business owners but also their successors. As a seasoned tax expert with extensive credentials in tax law and accounting, I’ll guide you through the intricacies of estate freezes.

What is an Estate Freeze?

An estate freeze is a tax planning strategy used by owners of family businesses to lock in the current value of their business for tax purposes, thereby transferring future growth to the next generation. This not only helps in managing capital gains taxes but also aids in succession planning.

Legal Framework

The foundation of estate freezes in Canada is laid out in subsection 86(1) of the Income Tax Act, which allows for the exchange of common shares for preferred shares of equal value. This exchange is critical as it effectively ‘freezes’ the owner’s interest at its current value.

Key Benefits of an Estate Freeze

  1. Tax Minimization: By freezing the value of the business at its current level, the original owner’s tax liability on future appreciation is transferred to the successors, who may benefit from lower tax rates or defer taxes until the shares are sold.
  2. Succession Planning: Estate freezes facilitate a smoother transition of business control by involving the next generation in the business early on, often through the issuance of new common shares to them.
  3. Income Splitting: Utilizing subsection 73(1) of the Income Tax Act, an estate freeze can help in income splitting among family members, potentially lowering the overall family tax burden.

How to Implement an Estate Freeze

Step 1: Valuation of the Business

The first step in an estate freeze is determining the fair market value of the business. This is crucial as it sets the baseline for the freeze.

Step 2: Reorganizing Share Structure

The current owner exchanges their common shares for preferred shares with a fixed value equal to the current market value of the business (as per subsection 86(1)). New common shares are then issued to the successors.

Step 3: Drafting a Shareholders’ Agreement

To manage future expectations and responsibilities, a comprehensive shareholders’ agreement is essential. This document outlines the rights and obligations of each shareholder, ensuring clarity and preventing disputes.

Step 4: Ongoing Management and Trusts

Often, a discretionary trust might be established to hold the new common shares for minor children or future generations, aligning with section 104(4) of the Income Tax Act which discusses the taxation of trusts.

Case Study: Real-Life Application

Consider a family-owned manufacturing company in Ontario, valued at $10 million. By initiating an estate freeze, the founder can convert their ownership into preferred shares worth $10 million. Their children, who are active in the business, receive new common shares. Any future growth of the company, say an increase to $15 million, accrues to the children’s common shares, with the founder’s estate owing taxes only on the initial $10 million valuation.


An estate freeze is an effective tool for family business owners who wish to plan for the future while managing tax liabilities and facilitating business continuity. It requires careful planning and an in-depth understanding of the tax implications involved.

For family business owners, understanding these strategies is just the beginning. The application of such techniques should be done with professional advice tailored to your specific situation. If you’re considering an estate freeze or other tax planning strategies for your family business, let’s connect. Tell us your ambitions, and we will guide you there, ensuring your legacy is secured and your tax efficiency optimized.


This information is for discussion purposes only and should not be considered professional advice. There is no guarantee or warrant of information on this site and it should be noted that rules and laws change regularly. You should consult a professional before considering implementing or taking any action based on information on this site. Call our team for a consultation before taking any action. ©2024 Shajani CPA.

Shajani CPA is a CPA Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer firm and provides Accountant, Bookkeeping, Tax Advice and Tax Planning service.

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Nizam Shajani, Partner, LLM, CPA, CA, TEP, MBA

I enjoy formulating plans that help my clients meet their objectives. It's this sense of pride in service that facilitates client success which forms the culture of Shajani CPA.

Shajani Professional Accountants has offices in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta. We’re here to support you in all of your personal and business tax and other accounting needs.