Sabina Mexis doesn’t have a crystal ball. She doesn’t know what
tomorrow will bring. Neither do any of us.
The difference is, as a tax lawyer at Devry Smith Frank LLP “DSF”) with more than 15 years of experience, Sabina’s in a better position to make sure the future’s in your favor.
Among her many skills, her specialty is in tax and business succession structuring and planning. Sabina represents and advises clients
on issues relating to all aspects of tax, trust and estate planning including cross-border tax planning, retirement and executive compensation,
philanthropy and charitable giving. Sabina also assists clients in tax disputes with the Canada Revenue Agency. Sabina is designated as a trusts
and estates practitioner with the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners (STEP).
She is a member of the Canadian Tax Foundation, the Canadian Bar Association, and has been on the Tax Section Executive of the Taxation
Law Section of the Ontario Bar Association for many years. She also sits on the board of directors of two charitable organizations –Artbarn School
and the Tema Conter Memorial Trust – and provides tax and legal advice to charities and not-for-profit corporations.
Sabina commenced her tax career at one of the “Big Four” accounting firms, and has been practicing tax since her call to the Bar in 2000. Sabina joined DSF in February 2015 and, in addition to her Tax practice, heads up the Firm’s Not-For-Profit and Charities Practice.
My Business Magazine caught up with Sabina, and asked her about what she does, what people need to know about their wealth, and how
she stands out in her field.
MBM: In a nutshell, can you explain the services you bring people?
Sabina: Tax and estate planning is a complex process that attempts to deal with the assets people own, and planning for what should be done
with them in the most tax-efficient method possible while reflecting the wishes of the individual.
For example, a person may have built up his own company over his lifetime, and hasn’t given much thought to what is going to happen to the company when he wants to retire or otherwise exit the business. Often, the kids are not involved in the operations of the business and aren’t interested in taking over or running the business after the founder’s retirement.
As a consequence, the individual is left in the awkward situation of dealing with an asset of potentially considerable value that he doesn’t know what to do with; no succession plan or exit strategy.
MBM: What are some things that a client needs to discuss with you?
Sabina: People want to be able to pass on assets in way that is in keeping with their wishes. So over the course of the discussion, I find out a lot about family dynamics.
Sometimes a family member may not contribute as much as others to the running of the business. In general, parents wan tto treat all their children equally and may feel guilty if their estate planning doesn’t include their children’s spouses.
Sometimes there’s a real pull between obligation - a provision for kids and other family members - and what makes the most sense from tax and estate planning perspective.
It’s a very personal journey.
They have to talk about what it is that they want to do with their wealth, their expectations, and sometimes they just don’t want to pass it to next generation at all.
Today more and more we find ourselves dealing with blended families who want to leave their wealth to their children from their first marriage.It raises interesting issues in terms of traditional tax planning.
This is what drew me to the estate planning side. I can deal with complexity and technical issues of the planning from a legal perspective, and speak to people on a personal level.
MBM: What is unique about what you do, in particular?
Sabina: Whether it’s an individual or a person in a business, people tend to dislike and have a strong reaction to the whole idea of taxation. Similarly, people tend to want to avoid having to deal with discussions surrounding death and planning for death. The fact that these issues are rather complex seems to heighten people’s aversion to a discussion about “death and taxes”.Unfortunately, as Benjamin Franklin so aptly put it, “In this world,nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
”In order to alleviate the discomfort surrounding these discussions, I try to distill the issues to make the process understandable, so that when people walk away from a meeting,they understand what the plan is, what the issues are, and, when they have signed the documents, they know what has been accomplished".
Though they might not understand every nuance, my clients understand the planning that has been undertaken and the result that has been obtained, namely, that they have given legal effect to their wishes. I think that I have the reputation for being approachable, professional and taking a pragmatic and empathetic approach to a client’s particular circumstances.
MBM: What do you enjoy about your job?
Sabina: I was drawn to tax because it is a challenging,complex area of law. Each new client situation potentially gives rise to a new set of difficult and challenging problems and tax issues which I enjoy applying myself to solve.
I am also drawn to the personal aspect of planning; the interaction with people which intersects with the estate-planning component. People often think of tax as a dry and boring area of law, but it is in fact quite fascinating and intellectually stimulating.
MBM: What’s a typical question you get from people?
Sabina: When I speak with clients about ways to minimize tax, to be able to pass more of their estate to their heirs,people often say ‘Well, what do I care? I’ll be dead.’ I get that all the time.
Depending on the circumstances, the deceased is likely facing a big tax bill, and the funds to pay that tax bill usually will have to come out of the estate, thereby reducing the amount available to distribute to beneficiaries. Income tax and probate fees represent a significant amount of money that may, without planning, be paid to the government unnecessarily.
A taxpayer can, in relatively easy steps, avoid those consequences.
People don’t tend to put their minds to this issue; thinking instead that their children or executors will sort it all out. That’s short sighted.
It’s the wrong way to approach it. I wonder about the motivation behind the attitude people take when they say ‘it’s not my problem.
’Why would someone adopt that frame of mind about something that they have worked their whole life to build?
MBM: What has been a big surprise for you?
Sabina: The oldest client I ever planned for was 95. His wife had passed away a few years prior, and he decided it was time to do some estate planning.
The good news is, it's never too late to come and see me.
As people age it may be become more difficult to undertake the task of estate planning, but it is not an insurmountable task. It just requires being organized, and devoting time and resources to achieve the objectives.
MBM: What satisfies you the most about what you do?
Sabina: There is comfort in having things organized. The overall effect I try to achieve with clients is that they understand what they’re walking away with.
Many clients bring in binders of legal documents, report books.They’ll say ‘I have no idea what any of this is!
’They’ve paid a lawyer tens of thousands of dollars to have the documents done, and they don’t know what any of it means. It may have been explained to them, but it didn’t resonate.I want my clients to understand the process so that they preserve their wealth and achieve their objectives to have their assets pass to their heirs in the way they intended.
Most important, I endeavor to assist my clients to the best of my abilities, and provide it cost effectively.
Dave Gordon has penned more than a thousand articles, and more than five hundred editorials, on every topic imaginable. He writes regularly on domestic and international politics, current events, culture, relationship issues, and much more.
He has spent time in the newsrooms of the Toronto Sun, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Baltimore Sun, National Post and eye Weekly.
Sabina Mexis, LL.B. TEP
Tax Lawyer at Devry Smith Frank LLP
95 Barber Greene Road Toronto On M3C 3E9
416 449 1400