Thursday, July 4, 2019

Undetected Fears




Have you ever played doctor and attempted to diagnose your fears? In Suze Orman’s book, The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom, her first crucial step of the financial planning process is to uncover a person’s less-than-obvious anxieties stemming from their first encounter with money. 

The excerpt below, from Suze’s book about her client’s story, will help you consider your own circumstances. 

Suze writes,  

The road to financial freedom begins not in a bank or even in a financial planner’s office like mine, but in your head.  It begins with your thoughts.

And those thoughts, more often than not, stem from our seemingly forgotten past with money.  I’ll go so far as to say that in my experience, most of my clients’ biggest problems in life today – even those that appear on the surface not to be money related – are directly connected with their early, formative experience with money. 

So the first step toward financial freedom is a step back in time to the earliest moments you can recall when money meant something to you, when you truly understood what it could do.  When you begin to see that money could create pleasure – ice-cream cones, merry-go-round rides; and also to see that it could create pain – fights between your parents, perhaps, or longings of your own that couldn’t be fulfilled because there wasn’t enough money or even because there was too much.  When you first understood that money was not just a shiny object or something to color on.  When you understood that money was money.  I want you to think back and see that your feelings about money today (fearing it, enjoying it, loving it, hating it) can almost certainly be traced to an incident, possibly forgotten until now, from your past.


Andy’s Story

If you’ve lost it all, how can you think you have the power to keep money safe, let alone make it grow!

“When I was about eight, my mother gave me ten dollars to go to the bakery to buy bread.  My grandparents and cousins were all coming to lunch, and this was a big deal.  It was the first time that I got to go all the way by myself – down the block, to the right, then across the street all by myself, and down one more block to the corner.  I’d been that way a million times, but never all by myself.  Mom told me how much the bread would probably cost and told me to keep the change in my pocket.  There was all this trust in me, all this responsibility. And what did I do?  Lost it, the ten-dollar bill.  When I got to the bakery: no money in my pocket.  I had no idea what could have happened to it, no idea.  I was late getting home; I looked everywhere.  My grandparents and cousins were already there when I got back; everyone was in the kitchen; there was the noise of everybody talking.  “Where’s the bread, Andy?” my mom said, and I had to say I lost the money.  The room grew so quiet.  Nobody said anything they were all just looking at me.  I didn’t get punished or anything. I think everyone knew how bad I felt, and there wasn’t anything anyone could do.  We had our lunch with the bread basket on the table but without the bread.”

When he and his wife, Leslie came to see me, Andy said, “I was so overwhelmed by that loss, I think I never wanted to be in control of my money after that.”  Leslie had never heard his story before, and even Andy had forgotten about it until we did this exercise together.  But after Andy told the story, everything started to make more sense for both of them.  They had to come to talk about investing for the future, but the two of them could never agree on the kinds of investment they should make.  Most of these disagreements ended up with one or the other of them storming out of the room to the point where they decided they needed professional help.  Leslie wanted to invest aggressively; in their early forties they were young enough, she felt, to take some risks.  Andy, on the other hand, was adamant about putting the money into a bank account, where he said, “it’ll be safe.”  He never understood why investing scared him to death until he made this connection to his past.




From a young age, our experiences contain many twists and turns.  Like Andy, we aren’t certain why we do what we do or why we think the way we think.  A different approach is to ask, “What makes us tick?”  We may not even be aware that our money decisions today are impacted by our experiences from yesterday.


Now it’s your turn. If you can relate to Andy’s story and identify your own experience, you are welcome to share your story (anonymous if you prefer).         



Thursday, June 20, 2019

Knowing What Works Best





Do you remember having a simple conversation over a cup of coffee and being asked “Did you know”?  By chance, did you catch yourself thinking about your own situation?  The phrase, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, can spook people into doing the wrong thing.  When the conversation lands on the cost of settling an estate upon death, a little knowledge will NOT do.   
    
When the term, “probate”, comes up in those conversations, a tiny spark ignites and creates a fire.  Most people desire nothing more than to extinguish the flames caused by probate fees which threaten to torch their estate’s wealth and short-change their beneficiaries.   

But what if...probate costs are not the enemy? What if…the process of probate is intended to get your property into the hands of your intended beneficiary?  Then, the cost might be worth every cent to fulfill your wishes!   


TEST VALIDITY


When you die, the first question generally asked by anyone and everyone, “Did he/she have a will?”  Once confirmed, then the instruction which follows is, “The will needs to be probated.”  

The word probate sounds mysterious, doesn’t it? The formal definition for the noun “probate” refers to “the official proving of a will” and the verb, “establish the validity of a will.”  The term originates from the Latin word “probare” which means “to test, prove” and probatum, “something proved”.  These two combine to create “probate”.  

This makes sense!  The courts test the last Will and Testament of a deceased person to prove its validity and confirm the named executor has the authority to oversee the estate of the deceased.
    
When the court stamps their seal of approval, your family and other third parties (banks, land titles office, brokerage firms) know with certainty the will has been certified and the executor officially has the legal right to distribute or transfer the assets to the beneficiaries as named in your will. 

The application for probate involves the preparation of specific documents.  The website for the Courts of Saskatchewan (under Wills and Estates) provides a list of the required forms.  Generally, most people would seek a lawyer’s assistance in the preparation; however, it’s not a requirement. Most executors, however, discover the task of completing the appropriate forms to be time-consuming and choose to work alongside with the lawyer on the deceased’s estate. 


Once the formality is complete, the courts issue an official document referred to as “Letters Probate”. This important document gives the green light to the executor, appropriate institutions and agencies to follow through with your wishes.  



DETERMINE THE COST

Every estate is not required to go through the probate process.  Specific circumstances will warrant the need for probate such as: the value and types of the assets held in the estate, whether the deceased died without a will, or whether the estate faces legal actions.

In some cases, when all the assets bypass the estate (pass outside the will) probate will not be necessary. Assets held jointly with rights of survivorship are transferred to the surviving joint owner upon the presentation of a notarized death certificate. Likewise, when a designation of beneficiary is named on registered retirement savings and pension plans, life insurance policies, and Tax-Free Savings Accounts, these assets also pass outside the will and do not form part of the deceased’s estate.  Only those assets owned solely by the deceased accumulate in the estate and are distributed according to the instructions in the will.  An executor determines which assets are held inside the will when they complete an inventory list.               
   
The part of the probate process which upsets most people is the associated fees.  The fees are not standardized across Canada rather every province has a different fee structure for administrating probate. Although the term “fee” is used, most see this as a tax fixed by the provincial government and would rather choose to avoid paying the so-called “tax”.  In Saskatchewan, the probate fee is a flat charge of $7 per $1,000 of assets; other provinces impose probate fees at various increments as the value of the estate increases.  Keep in mind, the lawyer’s costs, associated with the settlement of the estate, are in addition to the probate fees. 


PLAN FOR THE RIGHT REASONS



Your will should be designed to satisfy your wishes.  Arranging for all your assets to pass outside your will might not be in the best interest of your beneficiaries or be distributed the way you would hope. 

The concern isn’t when your accounts and real estate are held jointly with your spouse or when your spouse is designated as your beneficiary on registered retirement or pension plans and life insurance. The concern is when the person is anyone other than your spouse, most likely your children.  (The situation becomes complicated when you make your property joint with a second spouse and your original intent is to leave property to the children from your first marriage. You can’t give away something you don’t own.)    

Many factors attribute to the overall picture.  Your main focus may be to avoid probate fees.  However, your strategy without legal and tax advice could prove to be fatal.  Watch closely if any flags wave, “Proceed with Caution”.

Concerns raised in a previous blog, Joint Tenancy as an Estate Planning Tool,  are still the same today.  When you opt to include someone on your investment accounts or title of real estate property, you give up full control and now share the ownership of these assets with the another person. The drawback with joint names on property is you would require the other’s consent if you decide to sell.  The downside--they may be reluctant to oblige.   Another concern is the possible tax implications. In the eyes of Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), you are disposing of half of your interest.  The strategy may trigger a tax liability in the same way as if you sold your interest to any outsider.   Always check with your accountant or lawyer to ensure your strategy to minimize the probate fees on your estate is justifiable and in your best interest.

Cash held in an estate could be used to cover the cost of the probate fees and final estate expenses. A life insurance policy could be used for this purpose.  Literally, the insurance acts as a “life saver” in circumstances when a sizeable estate is owned solely by the surviving spouse and the number of beneficiaries is significant. The assets are able to flow into the estate and the death benefit from a life insurance policy can help cover the final costs. Once all the expenses are paid, when the dust settles, then the assets and remainder of the estate can be shared as outlined in the will instructions.  This creates a more equitable distribution among the beneficiaries.   


INFORM YOURSELF 



At the beginning, I mentioned, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”.  BUT I also believe knowledge is power.  A wealth of information is available about probate.  An entire chapter has been dedicated to this subject in Sandra E. Foster’s book, You Can’t Take It with You.  Another valuable resource is the website of The Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan (PLEA).   They contribute extensive details on Wills and Estates. Our important takeaway from all this knowledge is to fully grasp how this applies to our unique circumstances. 



Although many would prefer to reduce the cost incurred with the settlement of their estate, this may not be possible.  Our desire should rest on making the right decisions.  Our sincere intentions guide us to search for suitable strategies.  Probate and legal fees may be necessary to appropriately execute our wishes and ensure our family members are treated equitable.  Walking through the many possibilities with a professional advisor is the ideal course of action to achieve the best outcome.  For our benefit, the call to action is to be informed.   

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Need is Great







No one should ever have to encounter a loved one dying intestate, or in other words, without a last will and testament.  Dealing with and accepting a person’s death is beyond difficult.  To have no final instructions, which a will offers, is unimaginable.  To have no person in charge, which is the role of an executor, adds confusion. If you haven’t written your will, or equally as risky you haven’t reviewed your dated will, gaining an understanding of the intestacy rules may push you to do so.   

The Need to be Aware





Before diving into the legislative acts, the story of the “infamous holograph will” may add a measure of urgency to your quest to write your will.  Global News aired Cecil Geo Harris’ story of his “tractor fender will.”

On June 8th, 1948, this Saskatchewan farmer encountered an unfortunate accident.  He was pinned under his tractor.  Realizing his predicament and the possibility that he may not survive, he etched a sixteen-word hand-written will on the fender of his tractor. It read, “In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo Harris.”

Regretfully, he didn’t survive but his will was found by the courts to be a valid holographic or handwritten will.  His final wishes were made known on a fender of a tractor.

Envision Mr. Harris’ dilemma in those crucial hours as he lay pinned under the tractor.  Regret may have weighed heavily on his mind for not doing what he should have done sooner. He understood the seriousness of not having a will and intentionally scribbled his final words.  Today, his ordeal is still talked about and studied in law textbooks on wills and estates. His case continues to be publicized so that others may avoid the problems that may arise if they don’t have a will.
  

The Need for Education






You may naturally assume in Mr. Harris’ case that he didn’t need a will based on the premise that his wife should have inherited everything.      

Here’s a question to test your understanding and offer that back-to-school nostalgia. This appeared in the course, Living Wills, Forms of Property Interests, Intestacy, and Probate, offered by The Canadian Institute of Financial Planning. 

Mr. Smith, a client, does not see the need for preparing a will. He is married, has two adult children and an estate valued at $1.4 million.  If he does not prepare a will, which of the following would be FALSE?

A.  His estate would be distributed according to the provincial intestacy legislation.

B.  The estate would be subject to probate fees.

C.  The distribution of the estate would be held up until the completion of the probate process.

D.  His spouse would receive all of his assets.
  
How did you respond? ... Well, the correct answer is D.

Sadly, Mr. Smith’s spouse would not receive all of her husband’s assets because of their two adult children.  We might think this shouldn’t apply because they’re not financially dependent on their father… but according to most provincial intestacy legislation, a spouse is entitled to receive a preferential share, a set amount of the estate. The reminder above this preferential share is then divided between the spouse and the surviving children or grandchildren. The children share in the wealth regardless whether they’re entitled to the property. Some may believe the intestacy formula is acceptable.  However, depending on the size of a person’s estate and personal circumstances, the spouse may not have adequate financial support. The situation becomes problematic given the time of passing and the spouse’s age and ability to earn an income.  Only a valid will would clearly define the appropriate distribution between a surviving parent and children.    


The Need for Intestacy Legislation





When you decide not to write a will, then you choose to leave the settlement of your estate in the hands of the courts. You may be hard-wired into believing the courts will treat your family fairly.  However, your treacherous tactic of relying on the government-made plan can unravel your family and permanently sever relationships.

When you make the choice not to write the most important document of your life, you should examine the one the government has written for you. Every province has put in place legislation; the Government of Saskatchewan dedicates a page on their website with pertinent information related to When the Deceased does not have a Last Will and Testament.    

The Government of Saskatchewan spells out the guidelines for distributing assets according to a formula in their The Intestate Succession Act, 1996. Definitely the one-size-fits-all rules are not appropriate for everyone but it’s the gamble a person takes when they don’t design their own will.  Certainly, some assets may pass outside your will if you have designated beneficiaries on your life insurance policies, pension plans, RRSPs and RRIFs or if you own property jointly with rights of survivorship.  You may even have a partnership or shareholder agreement in place for your business interests. However, other assets may be owned solely in your name and, therefore, will become part of your estate.    

Aside from the assets, let’s not overlook the most significant piece. The courts must appoint a person to act as your administrator.   Family can apply for the job. The list of eligible persons is lengthy. (Surprise, it also includes creditors). One can expect controversy to arise in any family if more than one individual steps forward and applies for the role.  However, everyone who chooses not to apply must renounce their right and give consent to the appointment.  The paper work is onerous. Delays are inevitable. The choice of administrator may not meet your approval but the fact is you’re not alive to protest.  Only when you are alive do you have the opportunity to define your own rules related to the appointment of your administrator and distribution of assets. 

The Need for Other Government Legislation





The daunting consequence of dying intestate is the “fight” your loved ones may need to undertake for their rightful entitlement.  No one should have to go through a costly legal battle to do this.  Various legislation provides for and protects your loved ones but they may need to plead their case to the courts.

Not all provinces and not all legislation within the same province recognize a common-law spouse in the same matter.  With so many different acts in Saskatchewan, The Intestate Succession Act (1996) and The Wills Act (1996) offer a definition while The Administration of Estate Act, for one, does not. Common law spouses may need to obtain a court order to declare they are a spouse and provide supporting evidence based on a number of factors.

Same-sex and opposite-sex common-law partners may also need to rely on other legislation, such as The Dependents’ Relief Act (1996), to obtain their rightful entitlement. This same regulation also applies to any dependents who require financial support from an estate.

When you die without a spouse and without a will, the Guardian and Public Trustee will step forward on behalf of minor children under the age of majority and name a guardian for them. Any inheritance rightfully entitled to a child will be held in trust until they reach the age of majority.  You can visualize all the twists and turns. Immediate concerns arise from relying on the Public Trustee to choose the ideal guardian and trustee.  From emotional standpoint a child’s welfare depends on a suitable match with a loving substitute parental figure. From a financial standpoint, a young adult potentially could squander their inheritance too quickly.  I don’t want to belabor the point but formal instructions outlined in a will could avoid the confusion and drama.
         
     
The Need to Understand





The intestacy rules appear relatively simplistic and straightforward when divvying your estate.  The responses appear to require a simple “Yes” or “No”.  But is it that easy?  Most intestate situations are not.  

Do you have a spouse?  As discussed previously, your province’s rules determine whether your common-law spouse is included in the distribution.   

Do you have children?  The wording in the intestacy legislation refers to the term “issue”. By definition, issue means “all lawful lineal descendants of the deceased” which broadly encompasses all children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, even those born within or outside of marriage and those who are legally adopted. In some provinces, children who are conceived, but not yet born at the time of their parent’s death, may also be included.  

Below depicts the order of distribution from Saskatchewan’s Intestate Succession Act and the questions progress until you have a definitive answer.  


  • Do you leave a spouse and no issue?


  • Do you leave neither a spouse nor issue?


  • Do you leave no spouse, issue, or parent?


  • Do you leave no spouse, issue, parent, or sibling?


  • Do you leave no spouse, issue, parent, sibling, nephew, or niece?


  • Do you leave no lawful heirs?

From others’ experiences, we know distant and unknown relatives tend to come out of the woodwork if they can lay claim to an estate. However, if there is no one who will inherit your estate, then your wealth will be acquired by the Government of Canada through the Escheat Act.


The Need to Care
 


Advisors are looking for ways to crack the code to convince more people to write their Last Will and Testament.  Stories, like that of Cecil Geo Harris, need to reach those who procrastinate in drafting this important document.  No doubt, Harris didn’t wake up that morning with thoughts of a pending accident or his death. Fortunately, he had sufficient time to fully understand his mess.  With some time, a pocket knife, and the ability, he cared enough to etch a short-worded will on a tractor fender.    

For no other reason, the intestate formula written by the provincial government should make people care about their families to ensure their loved ones are not left to deal with the aftermath of an intestate.  These points extend their reasons for caring even further:


  • Higher administration costs with intervention from the courts


  • Additional income taxes without the proper estate and tax planning strategies


  • Lengthy delays in the settlement of an estate


  • Reassurance of financial support to dependents




If you know any family or friends who have not written their Last Will and Testament, encourage them to: 

          Acquire legal advice from professional advisors as soon as possible. 

          Avoid relying on advice from family, friends, and neighbors about legal matters. 

          Absorb all the information about the consequences of dying without a will.


I rest my case but maybe you have something to add to this conversation.  Your comment is welcomed below.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Paying Attention to Our Reflectors




The reflectors on farm equipment provide better visibility when machinery is travelling on roads at night.  That’s a fact. Everyone wants to be made aware of the potential danger.  Without these important safety devices we may not see what lies ahead of us when we travel. 


When I spotted the reflectors on the air drill, my mind drifted to the reflectors in our lives.  Our professional advisors prepare us for the dangers we could encounter when we don’t pay attention to potential hazards.  They know the damage certain incidents would cause to our livelihoods and businesses.


Strong relationships are built on trust and honesty. Any recommendations from an advisor should be welcomed, encouraged, and assessed.  We would never want a member of our team to be anything less than honest because they are afraid of our reaction. 

Sometimes, personalities are known to clash. Some advisors willingly take the heat from their clients for their opinions. Both know that an honest opinion is part of being highly respected and valued.  As professionals they willingly take the risk.  They may witness similar situations with adverse consequences when the appropriate action is not taken. Initially, the truth may not be well received.  The conversation may revolve around taking on more debt than we are capable of financially managing, procrastinating about writing our wills, making time to put insurance in place before something happens to us, or pointing out the fact we are overspending.  Many critical and dire situations require hand holding and a firm I’m-saying-this-is-important so take my recommendations seriously. 

Are you aware of the reflectors in your life?  Do your consultants willingly straight-out tell you the truth, point out the potential dangers, and hold nothing back? 

Simply taking control of our situation ensures we control the outcome. We flippantly say we can’t control everything but we certainly can control the important matters.  

Think of your most trusted and valued advisors and assess your relationships.  Do you listen and follow their advice or do you tend to brush it off and say, “We’ll get to it someday”? 

Perhaps we need to create a “Someday List” so we don’t forget these promises to ourselves, family and advisors. The important condition attached to our “Someday” list is the need for a deadline so “it” gets done.  Misleading ourselves, or for that matter misleading others, is a dangerous strategy; something important, like drafting or revising a will, cannot be postponed indefinitely.

Time passes quicker than we realize.  Soon another year has lapsed; five, ten, maybe twenty years later, things on the list have been not addressed. We laugh when our wills still have guardians for our thirty-something-year-old children. Quite often the reason is a “scheduling” problem.  We don’t pencil these essential appointments in our calendar.  

When other fleeting activities derail our best intentions, here’s where we must become intentional.  We have to turn our “Someday” into sooner rather later. Next week! This month! Assign a date and a time to your “someday” tasks.

So let’s pay attention to the reflectors in our lives. They’re visible for good reason.


Thursday, May 9, 2019

What Matters Most






We’ve walked down that hallway of the nursing home countless times before but this past week apprehension seemed to walk in step with us.  On Sunday we weren’t certain what we would encounter when we arrived at my mother-in-law’s room but we knew the order, “Come now”, was urgent.

Often in my writings for Money Matters and So Do Your Dreams I speak about pursuing and achieving your dreams.  I fail to talk about the ideal dream.  You simply can’t attach a value to a loving and respectful bond with someone. We loosely toss about the time value of money (TVM) saying its value at the present time will be worth more in the future because of its potential earning capacity.  Imagine the time value of relationships. Through ups and downs, trials and tribulations, celebrations and challenges, relationships will also be worth more in the future because of their earning capacity from the support, encouragement, and love of others. Truly over the years, we can build wealth in terms of money and other assets, yet we should never underestimate the wealth we can and should build with others.




When we visit an elderly person at a care home, we will quickly notice the limited items they have in their room.  Their clothing, some furniture, perhaps a television or radio are a few things they may own…but it’s all they want because their other essential requirements, such a lodging, meals and medical needs, are being met.

When we look closer, one quick glance at their bulletin board puts their life in a clearer perspective. When we see pictures of them with their family and friends we know they are loved and respected.  We can’t put a price tag on these close relations.


My mother-in-law is the Queen of Love and Respect. These qualities are built into her DNA.  She always was the peacemaker…agreeable, loving, and supportive.  Her answer to everything, even today, is “Okay”.  

How are you? “Okay.”
Do you want some apple juice? “Okay.”
I am leaving now. “Okay.”


“Okay” is my mother-in-law’s philosophy.  A close cousin to “Okay” is “Content”. One wouldn’t think there are any similarities between the two but they speak volumes. “I’m okay with my world; I accept my circumstances.”  No further explanation is required.

Over the past three years, the flexibility in my career has allowed me to spend more time with my mother-in-law.  Now as we hang out in the “I-don’t-know” moment, we have no idea when her journey will end any more than we know when ours will end. The one comfort, however, is knowing we have a special bond.

In the last number of blog posts, the focus has been on preparing the right documents so when you exit this world you have all your paper work in order. But we haven’t discussed the questions: “Are your relationships in order?  Have you made peace with the people you need to make peace with?”

I know people who have put their affairs in order.  Because someone willingly apologized, he passed away knowing his severed friendship had been repaired. In another situation, someone chose to focus on the good qualities of the dying person rather than allow other factors to taint their value as a person.  Words of appreciation were spoken while they still had the chance.

Now it's your turn. Do you have any relationships you would like to change or any damaged ones you would like to mend?  You are encouraged to do so while you have the time to rid yourself of any regrets.  



Thursday, April 25, 2019

Who Will Step Into Your Shoes?




For most people, this makes sense.  If we can’t do it or if we are unable to do it, logic dictates that someone must do it on our behalf.
 

THE SITUATION

Let’s imagine. 

There’s been a car crash.  You were in an accident.  You survived but your recovery time is unknown.  You aren’t able to speak.  For many days you drift in and out of consciousness.  At this point, the doctors determine the best solution is to put you in an induced coma to allow your brain to relax and heal from its injuries.

Meanwhile, “back home” the bills have a life of their own.  Your monthly expenses continue to accumulate. Since you aren’t capable, someone has to be appointed to take care of your financial affairs while the medical team takes care of you.

This is when a Power of Attorney (POA) becomes not only a valuable document but an asset to you. For this reason, everyone should have this to fully complete their estate plan. A power of attorney for finances isn’t only for the elderly or disabled.  Anyone who is 18 years of age with a bank account and assets needs to have this document in place for the just-in-case-something-happens instances.


THE SELECTION



When considering someone for the job as your attorney, first, you must sincerely and unconditionally trust them. The term “attorney” means responsibility.  They are replacing “you” when you can’t be there to take care of your business, pay bills, handle investments, renew your mortgage, file your tax return, and manage daily financial matters. You are literally asking someone to step into your shoes and act responsibly on your behalf. Second, you must fully trust their ability to wisely and competently manage your finances. After all, you are giving free reign of your assets to someone else’s care.  


THE CONCERNS


Many know they should have a power of attorney for finance yet many procrastinate about creating one the same way they procrastinate about creating their wills and power of attorneys for health or personal care. 

The question is, “Wouldn’t we rather decide who our attorney should be rather than allow the courts to make this decision on our behalf?”  We should never assume that our spouse or adult child can automatically look after our financial affairs if we become incapacitated due to an accident or illness. When misfortune strikes a power of attorney for finance is a practical document. Without one, we would be adding another layer of complexity to a worrisome situation.

When we neglect to appoint a Power of Attorney, the Public Trustee Office of the Provincial Guardian and Trustee may step in and take control of your affairs.  Granted, they make not be your first choice but until a family member applies to be your attorney or representative, this may be the only choice.  This governing body has often been referred to as “the decision-maker of last resort.”  I would not be comforted entrusting my financial affairs to strangers and I don’t believe you would either especially when we had the option to choose our attorney.  The responsibility can be assigned to a spouse, family member, or trusted friend. If our financial affairs are elaborate, we also have the option of appointing a lawyer or a trust company.  We convey who’s in charge.  

You may have reservations about naming specific family members to be your power of attorney if they cannot be trusted and are likely to abuse their powers.   It’s likened to asking the fox to guard the hen house. When people are in a desperate financial quandary, they may not hesitate to tap into someone else’s bank account, rationalizing they’re only temporarily borrowing the money. Even if their intentions are sincere to pay back the money, they may not have the financial means to do so.  The point is to exercise caution when choosing your attorney.

            

THE CONVERSATIONS





When choosing your power of attorney, you should ask if the person is willing to accept the responsibility.  For some, the time commitment may be burdensome or the decisions and duties too detailed and beyond their understanding. For example, a spouse, who has taken no interest in the day-to-day finances of the couple’s household, would feel overwhelmed with the tasks. The responsibility may be best given to an adult child.  Even an only child who doesn’t live within close proximity of her parents may find the tasks inconvenient. While selecting the ideal attorney as well as a potential back-up may be onerous, picking your substitute decision maker is important.  Keep hunting for the ideal person for the job.


THE DETAILS  


A consultation with a lawyer is always advisable when deciding on the types of powers of attorney.  You may choose to place limits regarding the time frame or types of transactions.  While a general power of attorney imposes no limits.  A person would have a full range of financial activities they could perform on your behalf. 

The wording of a power of attorney also becomes extremely important if specific conditions are imposed with respect to the time the document takes effect.  Is the power given to the attorney immediately or only when one or two doctors declare that you are mentally incompetent?

Caution needs to be exercised in provinces where a power of attorney is revoked by mental incapacity. To safeguard the document, the proper wording must express, “The authority granted by this Power of Attorney shall continue notwithstanding any lack of capacity which may affect me.” This explanation confirms that regardless of your mental incompetence, the document still remains in effect.

Another important detail is power of attorneys become invalid upon death.  In other words, your power of attorney dies with you.  Its purpose was only to act on your behalf while you were alive; and your Last Will and Testament takes effect once you die.  The person(s) who take care of your affairs while you are alive and your estate once you die may or may not be the same individuals.  


THE RELIEF





Previously, I mentioned that many know they should have a power of attorney for their finances but haven’t done the work to see it through to the end.  There’s a difference between “knowing” and “acting”.  Simply knowing doesn’t magically create a power of attorney.  The action involves thinking, planning, and discussing your options with your family and lawyer. Then, the final stage is drafting your intentions into a powerful document. Anticipate the relief you will feel once you have done this.  But don’t stop there. Imagine the relief your family will have in case something happens. They will know who will step into your shoes and take charge.  And you can’t put a price on that kind of relief, peace, and comfort.

If you drafted your power of attorney, what did you find to be your greatest challenges?  You may share your thoughts in the comment section below.       

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Making Your Wishes Known



Have you had any tough conversations lately? If you haven’t, maybe you should.

Think about someone telling you:

“If I were ever at a point when I no longer have any control over who I am and no hope of having any quality of life, then I want to be allowed to die and not be kept alive by machines.”

Although these words may be difficult to hear, we at least know what someone else is thinking. The dangerous side of not sharing our intentions is asking our loved ones to read our minds in a life and death situation.  No one should have to make that kind of call to help determine the outcome.

Much emphasis is placed on our Last Will and Testament; however, we also need to look at the potential circumstances leading up to our death. Without any advance warning, our lives could dramatically change.  An unexpected accident. An unanticipated heart attack or stroke.  An unsuccessful surgery.  When our wishes are not made known to our families, we will compound the anxiety, fear, and grief.   Our family may be confused about making the right choices when our medical treatment is on line.

A personal care and health care directive steps in and serves an important purpose in our overall estate plan.  This document, often referred to as a “living will”, provides specific directions to a trusted individual to speak on our behalf and represent our wishes when we are incapable of speaking for ourselves.

The power of attorney for personal care begins like this,  

“I appoint my daughter to be my attorney for personal care, and I authorize my attorney to make decisions on my behalf with respect to my personal care if I am incapable of personal care, and any conditions and restrictions or specific instructions contained therein.” 

Our advanced health care directive addresses two aspects, our health care and personal care. Health care decisions primarily focus on the medical methods and procedures while personal care decisions relate to our daily lives, such as housing, nutrition, hygiene, clothing, and safety.  When we don’t have a voice, this directive will be our substitute advising both our families and medical professionals. We can be crystal-clear about our intentions if we do not wish heroic measures to be taken to prolong our lives or be kept alive by life-support machines when there is no hope of recovery.  Everyone will know without a doubt our wishes. The best outcome from any unfortunate incident is taking the pressure off our families from making difficult decisions.



In her book, You Can’t Take It With You, Sandra E. Foster stresses this document’s importance for two reasons.

In the event that you become incapacitated some day, I believe it is important to prepare a document regarding your future personal medical and personal care 1) so that you have legally chosen someone you trust to make these decisions on your behalf, and 2) so that you have provided surviving family with guidance to help them carry out your wishes. 


When we appoint someone to make decisions on our behalf, we should respectfully ask them if they want the “job”.  If we choose more than one attorney, they can make decisions on our behalf together unless we specifically state that they may act jointly or separately. 



When we hire someone for the job as our attorney, they must match the job’s criteria. We wholeheartedly declare, “I choose you because…”

“I trust you.”

“You understand my personal values.”

“You will follow my instructions.”

“You will make decisions in my best interest.”

“And most importantly, you will stand up for my wishes.”


On our birthday or Christmas, everyone asks “What are you wishing for?”  This is generally an easy conversation.  The most important, yet often difficult, conversation is sharing your wishes about our health care.  Your thoughts in writing can be the best gift you can give someone.  You’re revealing your plans in case something unexpectedly happens to you.  Let’s consider taking the burden upon ourselves to write our health care directives rather than casting the burden onto our families.

Please share in the comments below if you have made your wishes known to your family.  If not, why not?  Do you have any valid reasons?