Aging 2.0 Global Start-Up Search: 2017 Winner.

In follow up to last month’s post, the winner of the April 7th Global Start Up Search for the Toronto Chapter of Aging 2.0 – a local pitch event that awards an entrepreneur for the best “aging-focused start-up” was a company called Steadiwear. Their pitch was for their lead product, the Steadiglove. Under the category of wearbles, this lightweight, battery-free stabilizing glove helps reduce body tremors, as they say –intelligently.

steadigloveA wonderful Canadian innovation success story in the aging and technology space, but how interesting that this is the second product that addresses body tremor issues, to win an award within a week of each other. At the 2017 Stanford Center on Longevity Design Challenge pitch day finals on March 30th the first place winner was TAME – which stands for Tremor Acquisition & Minimization. TAME’s tech-based wearable products are a wristband (for tremor diagnosis) and a sleeve (tremor diagnosis and suppression).

Obviously, there is a market need for these products, as evidenced by the statistics quoted in the TAME website Vimeo: over 280 million people around the world suffer from tremors, which states Steadiwear includes people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.

Here are some of the other aging and longevity issues that all the global pitch products, from today and tomorrow, aim at solving:

  • adaptable, accessible housing
  • mobility, in home and in transit
  • social isolation and loneliness
  • cognitive impairment, dementia
  • stress of managing caregiving

Long may these pitch events continue, as they continue to push forward technology based innovation in support of the future promise of aging well in a longevity society. At the end of May, Aging 2.0 holds its European Summit in Belgium, with two more such events over the summer in the Americas and Asia-pacific regions, will lead to the big finale in November at the Aging 2.0 Optimize event in San Francisco.

What should be the big hope come true is that eventually these pitch products land on the retail shelf before too long for everyone’s sake, caregivers included. While Aging 2.0 and organizations of its kind have similar goals – “to improve the lives of older adults”, it is not just for those who are older now, but for the older adults of tomorrow. Besides, it is not simply a matter of what age you are, but rather (as my father often said) – it is age in combination with what condition you are in that matters.

 

Mark Venning

Aging & A Case for Personal Advocacy – 2

Personal advocacy as we age is a learned life skill. In these times, when our potential for greater longevity is increasing, this learning should not happen only when we are standing at a moment of crisis at a later stage of life. Perhaps we are learning the lesson in real time, if we are the ones operating as advocates for those older than we are. So how do we best become more proactive about our own protection?

To continue from our last post on this subject by Mark Venning, I want to comment as a now-retired Certified Financial Planner (C.F.P.), and a Professional Retirement Planner (R.F.P.) holder, focusing here on protection within the financial component. My concern is about the individual being self-sufficient. As Mark suggested, it is a good idea, as you find your life stage situation changing, to assess your relationship with your financial planner to make sure you are getting the best advice.

In my view, a good financial planner should be educating their clients as to the various options, appropriate to meet their client goals. The planner who offers only one solution needs to think more about what they are suggesting to clients. The options can vary.

Yet it is you, the client, who must keep your financial planner up to date with changes in your life – such as divorce, death of spouse, new grandchild.  This is the only way your planner can come up with possible scenarios for your well-being.

Just as you the individual is ultimately responsible for whatever is reported to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on a tax return, (even if a tax preparer/accountant prepared it); so too, you are ultimately responsible for your own financial realities. No one knows what you need or want better than YOU!

Personal financial advocacy, beyond self-education

The more you are self-educated, the better you will be able to evaluate the worth of the advice your financial planner is giving you. You need to know how your planner is being compensated.  If their method of compensation causes concern as you evaluate your planner’s advice, then you may need to consider finding a planner more compatible with your values. For example, know if your planner is “fee-only”, OR  “fee-based” in which case they may be licensed to sell securities such as mutual funds, life insurance, stocks and bonds, OR they may be “commission only” OR “fee and commission-based”.

Surprisingly, not everyone who works with a financial planner, whether the planner is a CFP or not, understands the differences in compensation methods.  Knowing the differences allows the client to ask important questions.  There is no fiduciary standard for “financial planners” in Canada, just a looser “best interests of the client” requirement.

However, beyond self-education you must keep your designated advocates informed of your relationships with a financial planner and other professionals such as the lawyer who drew up your will and powers of attorney. You need to let your Power of Attorney (POA), know what your general attitudes are toward various financial issues such as investment priorities and prohibitions against investing in certain businesses.

Personal advocacy, carried with trust through a POA

Your POA needs to know who your current financial planner is, so that individual can be consulted in the management of your affairs, should you be unable to speak for yourself. The same is true for Executors of your will. Your POA and Executor should also know about the family dynamics, if they are non-family members for example. There are significant numbers of people that have a non-family POA, let alone the fact that, according to a number of reports, about 50 % or more of adult Canadians do not even have a POA.

Personal advocacy is carried with trust through a POA is a huge responsibility. Here is the Government of Canada link to information on the roles and responsibilities of a Power of Attorney. While the document addresses the “older Canadian”, that is an oversight – this is a life learning of increasing importance for people in their younger years, as they will, some day, be asked to be advocates for their parents as well as for themselves down the road.

 

Marie Howes

Retirement Planning & Seasonal Financial Disorder

Here we are closing February in Canada, the end of “RRSP season”, in the crunch as if it was the only season to be retirement planning, almost suffering from seasonal financial disorder. We could call it the silly season: motivated sellers of RRSP-eligible investments pursue possible sales “prospects”, many of whom are as confused about what they are doing, as deer caught in headlights on a country road.

The theory of RRSPs is that they will help those working people with no workplace pension plans who are motivated to save for their retirement. These workers will put aside funds in a tax-advantaged plan from which they will access an income in retirement. There are a few problems with this theory. The first is that not everyone needs an RRSP – some people have other assets or plans, which they’ll use to fund their future retirement.

RRSP’s & the acronym alphabet of disorder

0202gail.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoThe second problem is that not everyone wants to put money into an RRSP if it means that their other living expenses are curtailed because they do not have the cash flow to make regular (or irregular) RRSP contributions at a particular point in time. A third difficulty is that for some people, especially on low-income, an RRSP makes no sense. They have no tax liability; they live a simple existence and do not expect to need more in the future. In other words, the minimum payouts from CPP and OAS, plus the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), will be sufficient in their retirement. However, they could augment their retirement income through the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) plan.

In what seems to be a new era for Nanny State programs, some governments, notably Ontario, feel that everyone must have a retirement savings plan. Despite the opinions of pension and economic experts – that government-mandated plans actually decrease individual saving for retirement and put a damper on small businesses, which would otherwise increase the number of employees – governments want to forge ahead with these feel-good policies.

For many Canadians, their best choice of financial acronyms may be the TFSA, which has the advantage of being a more flexible savings option. Financial security is the goal of good financial planning. The RRSP program may, or may not constitute good financial planning for some people. This brings us to the whole topic of financial literacy.

Advocating a financial literate consumer

The concept of financial literacy is that an individual consumer is able to rationally evaluate and make informed decisions about personal finances, including the purchase of financial products. Financially literate people can separate the sales “fluff” from hard facts. The key question is “Who benefits?” Is it the client or the advisor? Or is it a win-win?

The world of personal finance includes the sale (and the purchase by the consumer) of financial products, whether those products are mutual funds, savings vehicles, stocks or bonds, real estate or commodities, or various types of insurance. The risk to consumers at any age is that they can be sold inappropriate financial products – often at unreasonable cost.

As yet, a fiduciary standard has not been set for all Canadian personal financial planners, and this proposed consumer protection-oriented standard is being fought by the various industry groups concerned about a reduction in income for advisors and in the number of advisors. Financial services, such as financial products, should offer solutions to the needs of consumers.

Often, solutions offered by advisors are geared to how much money the advisor will make on any given transaction. The financial service companies, which develop financial products, devise marketing programs for these products or services. Sometimes, the advisors oversell particular products, to the detriment of the consumer.

Achieving a balance between making financial products or services available to the consumer and yet providing a fair return to advisors is still a problem in Canada. Other jurisdictions have eliminated commissions on financial products because of potential conflicts of interest between the advisor’s advice and the real needs of the consumer. It looks like such a standard is a long way off in this country, given that our closest neighbour, the U.S.A., is not contemplating such a policy change.

The old adage, “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is” (that is, the something is not true!), is a good motto for careful consumers.

 
Marie Howes, PRP

Financials, Across our Life Course: Fusion and Confusion of Terminology – Part 3

fusionFinancial planning. Financial security. Financial literacy. Financial gerontology. Is it any wonder there is confusion with all this terminology floating in our heads? Not to forget the fusion. As we complete our current series on this subject, maybe it’s not a coincidence that we are now entering the year-end income tax season in Canada.

You can count on a barrage of advertising and news editorials to start any time now, reminding consumers about their retirement plan contributions and other related financial considerations. Turning our concern to personal financials however, should not be a once a year high anxiety moment; nor is it strictly a retirement discussion. Attention to financials issues cuts across our life course.

As a financial planning consultant, Marie says in part one of this series (Nov.30, 2015), personal financial planning is the process of helping individuals and families to use their income and assets to be meet their life goals now and in the future. In that same post, as the researcher and social gerontologist, Suzanne adds that economic and financial issues are important in people’s lives on the journey of aging, but they are also important as public policy issues.

Financial gerontology – public policy issue

Sticking with this term financial gerontology, Marie picks up here by saying that in the macro sense it is an urgent public policy issue. Financial gerontology should become the study of aging and the implementation of measures that will meet the needs of Canadas’ aging demographic. For example, financial, psychological, and general health planning to encompass all citizens from native peoples to immigrant and ethnic communities. The risk is that it will become yet another means of marketing financial products.

The problems associated with an aging demographic are not confined to governments to solve. To be sure, there are roles for all levels of government, but there are also roles for dedicated private groups and for individuals and families. Older adults must also be part of finding their own solutions.

Since we have scarce resources, what is the best use of public monies to meet the unique needs of an aging population? Given the shift and size of aging demographics, it would be very easy to allocate too many scarce resources to satisfying the needs of the aged at the expense of younger people. For example, reducing education funding for younger taxpayers. In consideration of how to determine the best use of these public resources for everyone, would it not be more beneficial that we have a creative inter-generational dialogue?

If financial gerontology is a society-wide, broadly based approach to the costs of aging, then personal financial planning is the specifically focused approach to an individual’s finances – whether they are young or old.

Improving public awareness of how these two professional fields work, (both separately and in fusion), is the challenge, and worth repeating, says Suzanne – financial and economic issues, such as low-income seniors, pension plans and retirement savings are gerontological issues, and they are important personal and public policy issues. Financial security is important for quality of life, and this cuts across our entire life course. However, quality of life goes beyond financial considerations.

Financial & gerontological collaborations

So how do we square the circle around the potential good coming from financial & gerontological collaborations? Let’s go back to the American Institute for Financial Gerontology and their aim to educate a Registered Financial Gerontologist (RFG) on how to “deliver financial solutions in a comprehensive manner with increased knowledge of the older client’s broad based needs.”

There is one significant difference where we say, Suzanne suggests, develop innovative ways on how to better serve “unique needs”, as opposed to deliver solutions to “broad based needs”. Terminology again. When you serve, you determine needs and respond; it is person focused. When you deliver solutions, you provide a product.

So is it possible to effectively combine Financial + Gerontology for older adults; or is it better that two different specialists are required for older client’s broad based needs?
From Marie’s viewpoint as a financial planning consulting – good advisors keep themselves up to date on developments in the financial world, and on general issues of aging, from senior housing to risk prevention in public and private spaces.

But the financial advisor is not in a position to give comprehensive advice about such things as behavioural issues, or health impacts on communities. The gerontologist can offer good background information to the financial advisor, just as the financial planner can offer realistic advice on basic financial issues for the benefit of the gerontologist.

We live in a world of specialization – mainly because there is so much knowledge out there that we cannot be effective if we try to offer services beyond our competency. Keeping up with our own specialties is a full time job!

We are also in the world of collaboration! That is the joy of thinking and writing this series together.
Marie Howes & Suzanne Cook

Financial Gerontology: Fusion and Confusion of Terminology – Part 2

fusionIn part one of Fusion and Confusion of terminology, we presented a basic introduction of our individual professional backgrounds, Marie in the financial planning field and Suzanne in the field of gerontology. One thing in common that we both can say about each of these fields is that while practitioners do work on the front line with individual clients, there are also areas where professional services operate at a macro level. Almost like trying to explain – what is engineering? Likely several ways to drill that down (so to speak).

When it comes to our modern day discussion on aging, longevity, retirement, elder care and so on, there are many intersections where concerns such as health, mobility and financial security can, almost in equal measure, be found mentioned in the same sentence. We left you in our last post, pondering on the equation Financial + Gerontology=? So what do we get?

Financial Gerontology

A little history. According to the American Institute for Financial Gerontology, the term was first established as a discipline in 1988. The AIFG registered program is promoted to give a competitive advantage in the market to professionals that include accountants, lawyers, reverse mortgage lenders and of course financial planners. As one of its three value statements declares, it will help a Registered Financial Gerontologist (RFG) “deliver financial solutions in a comprehensive manner with increased knowledge of the older client’s broad based needs.”

It is from this point that broad terminology can really take the consumer on a ride, and to a certain extent beyond a fusion of jargon, it can lead to consumer confusion. Read a little more widely these days and you will hear newer phrases such as “wealth span planning”. Over the years as Marie observes, in Canada we’ve stuck to clumsy but realistic descriptors like “holistic retirement planning” or “financial and lifestyle retirement planning”.

For another turn of a term you can read on the Simon Fraser University Gerontology MA Careers page, how they describe that the “population bulge will have a big impact on the health care sector and a variety of companies and services as they begin to ‘gerontologize’ products and services.” Isn’t that exactly what is happening here with financial planning services?

Beyond legitimacy for marketers

As a researcher and social gerontologist, Suzanne sees this relatively new field of Financial Gerontology facing some challenges that include improving public awareness and financial education, as well as having those with this designation adhere to a professional code of conduct that puts client interests first as they develop innovative ways to better serve unique needs.

Yet, how more well-informed have consumers of financial planning services become over the last thirty years? From Marie’s point of view, perhaps not much, if at all. And for that matter how well understood is the field of gerontology, not to be confused with geriatrics? It would appear there is still a wide gap in understanding in each respective field, without even trying to couple the two.

As a financial planning consultant, Marie sees that as it stands the use of the term Financial Gerontology, especially in the U.S., is simply another technique for gaining legitimacy for the marketers of financial products – whether those products be insurance or investments.

While it may appear that it combines personal financial planning with gerontological data which is applicable to individuals; ideally and realistically, it is the application of corporate and government financial modelling from the data obtained through the study of gerontology. Its end purpose is to produce useful public policy for the benefit of citizens as they age.

Financial gerontology, if it is to be a useful concept, is the combination of financial considerations at the government level, with data obtained through statistically objective research methods employed by qualified gerontologists and demographers.

Big business of aging

Following on that as Suzanne points to here, during the last decade, issues at the intersection of gerontology and finance have come more into the mainstream since some large financial institutions have hired gerontology experts to better develop tools and resources and hone branding for their aging clientele. More recently, Financial Gerontology has been much discussed following the White House 2015 Conference on Aging in the United States, where policy on financial issues was addressed.

One of the best corporate examples of this fusion, Financial + Gerontology, is Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Cyndi Hutchins, is their director of Financial Gerontology who also created their internal Merrill Lynch Longevity Training Program, developed in partnership with the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

Yes. This kind of thing is now part of this “gerontologized” era, in the big business of aging. In part three of our series Fusion and Confusion, we will look at some of the gaps in understanding that still exist, some macro and micro aspects, and discuss the potential of realistic collaborations between these two professional areas.

 

Marie Howes & Suzanne Cook

Murky Waters in an Aging World: Fusion and Confusion of Terminology – Part 1

As general public awareness of the evolutionary story of aging demographics has increased over the last ten years, so too has the hyperactive dialogue about the social challenges we may face as a result. Yet the narrative of an aging world has spun new knowledge and innovations, positive attitudes and approaches to living a healthier longer life, and along with all that – new market opportunities.

It has also brought a new hybrid of language and, if not quite a fusion of professional fields of practice, certainly collaborations. One of the benefits of our Planet Longevity panel is that we have created a platform where the expertise and insights we bring from our individual practice areas helps inform each other in this fusion; and ideally helping others, we distill the complexities in the discussion on aging and longevity. Sort out the confusion of terminology if you will.

fusionSo where can we start here, to examine where some of this fusion and confusion exists?

Financial + Gerontology = ?

At first reading, never mind murky waters, you might think the fusion of these two terms, financial and gerontology are oceans apart.

How, individually, are these two practice areas defined? What happens if you try to couple these two established professional practices, when taken separately they are still largely not that well understood by the everyday person?

Enter Suzanne Cook, researcher and social gerontologist; and Marie Howes, financial planning consultant. We decided to ask each other first to clear up in uncomplicated terms what each of our professions is about and give you a sense of our particular focus. Let Suzanne start.

As a researcher who studies aging, let me begin by saying that as an interdisciplinary field, gerontology (the study of the biological, psychological, and social aspects of aging and older people) consists of many disciplines such as health, psychology, sociology, education, law and political science, to name a few.

Gerontologists work as practitioners on the front line with individuals. In addition, gerontologists can work within public policy and social planning. Within organizations, they can be involved in program development and evaluation. Gerontologists might also consult and conduct research, as I enjoy doing.

Traditionally, the financial aspects of aging have been a bit on the periphery within the study of aging, a part of gerontology and issues of aging, but not in the forefront. A great example of this is the lack of attention generally paid to later life work and career development among older adults, which is the focus of my research and work in the field.

Regardless, financial and economic issues, such as low-income seniors, pension plans and retirement savings, are gerontological issues, and are important personal and public policy issues. Furthermore, the importance of economic and financial issues in people’s lives on the journey of aging, but also as public policy issues, is further demonstrated through economics and financial management courses being included in many gerontology programs.

Let the fusion begin

This is where the fusion becomes interesting in an aging world. The ripples on the water in this conversation, pool closer when we both speak of the increasing importance of economic and financial issues connected with aging in our society. Marie picks up this linkage by looking at the micro process of personal financial planning.

As a financial planning consultant, my current focus is on challenging current standards for health care funding and delivery methods, and my other concern is about the regulation of financial and investment advisors as related to consumer rights.

Personal financial planning is the process of helping individuals and families to use their income and assets to be meet their life goals now and in the future. The objective is that these goals will be met through the implementation of cash flow management, risk avoidance plans, investment planning, tax strategies and estate planning.

Over the last ten years, personal financial planning has seen innovation in financial products needed by individuals to meet their goals – especially in investment products. For example, Exchange Traded Funds have become a lower cost alternative to mutual funds. But product developers have also added complexity to the product offerings. There has also been a trend toward “fee-based” financial planning, which can blur the distinction between “advice only” and “advice tied to product sales and compensation”.

The gap in public understanding of personal financial planning is in confusing financial planning with investment planning and the purchase of investment products. Many people think that financial planning means buying GICs or mutual funds. That is investment planning and implementation. True personal financial planning does include investment planning and the purchase of investment products, BUT it is a much broader process.

A much broader process indeed. As more of our thoughts turn to forward thinking on aging issues, it will be even more so when you begin to include the equation question Financial + Gerontology = ?

Next in part two of our series Fusion and Confusion, we will look at the current roll out of that equation and share our thoughts on what this means professionally, and how it may sit in the consumer mindset as they make decisions in their future life course.

 
Suzanne Cook & Marie Howes

Cautionary Tales of Aging & Shared Vulnerability

For our future selves, what more do we need to learn every day – from those cautionary tales of aging, particularly from those who are the older of the old in their later life journey? It should be enough for each of us to take notice, when you take into account aging demographics, curving upward as they are over the next few decades, that we are all going to have to be smarter about making our longevity as financially sound, as it is socially and healthily sound.

One of the longevity intersections, between health and financial, was highlighted in an October 2015 report by Mark Lachs, MD, MPH of Weill Cornell Medical College, New York and S. Duke Han PhD of Rush University Medical Center, Chicago. Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Lachs and Han propose a new concept they have named AAFV“age associated financial vulnerability” to describe a classic issue typically associated with an older persons’ declining ability to manage their financial affairs.

From our professional and personal experience, we can attest first-hand to what any reader here could share from their own stories of helping elder family members or friends. Obvious issues like dementia and other impairments to health can lead to a family or friend intervention, where help with personal financial matters is necessary. Often as we know, the intervention arrives too late and a sudden encounter with a problem like elder fraud can add to the mountain of worry.

Micro and macro financial accountability

There are two levels of help to consider here. One is the micro; the day-to-day management of finances and the other is the macro, such as decision making for longer-term investment strategies. In this video link on Senior Care Options website, Mary Ellen’s interview with financial investment expert Dan Richards, President of Client Insights, highlights in an easily digestible way, the very basics of what people need to consider in this cautionary tale.

One point made in the opening of the Lachs and Han paper states: “even cognitively intact older adults can have ‘functional’ changes that may render them financially vulnerable”. Apart from cognitive decline, two of these potential vulnerability areas for older adults are loneliness/social isolation and, perhaps due to lack of judgment, exposure to opportunistic marketing or “up-selling” of financial investment plans that may not meet the realistic needs of the individual.

The report makes for an educational and thought provoking read that in our minds, really elevates the importance of accountability for observing the symptoms of AAFV, not just for those in the medical community, but for all family members, community care workers, private elder care providers and financial planning advisors. This opens up a broader conversation about understanding the intersection between financial planning and gerontology, which our colleagues, Marie Howes and Suzanne Cook will discuss in upcoming posts.

And a shared vulnerability

Here though, we propose there is an increased social need for advanced learning programs as early as possible, starting at least at the secondary school level, to include financial literacy within recognition of changes in family dynamics; where helping to manage the health and financial affairs of aging parents or grandparents is now becoming an essential life skill.

Who typically is the catalyst in the conversation between the older parent and the financial or legal professionals? The children. How do they begin the open talk about financial affairs while respecting the privacy and independence of the parent? Not always easily or that open. When do these AAFV risk moments arrive most often? In a sudden crisis.

Yet, while you may think you have all the right processes in place for a crisis, there are unmentioned shifts in decisions that happen on the part of the older parent, and the children responsible are vulnerable due to incomplete communication, not knowing for example how the macro financial picture may have changed.

An unprepared, or for that matter even a well-prepared caregiver, with or without P.O.A. responsibilities, can both have exposure to the risks of “age associated financial vulnerability”. So, operating on the premise that “a good precaution is never wasted”, a financially sound longevity plan will incrementally change at different stages of a family life cycle, and in that sense, we all have shared accountability, and a shared vulnerability if we are not well prepared.

 

Mary Ellen Tomlinson & Mark Venning

Priceless, Free Gifts: Our Directives for Family Advocates

More thoughts based on our May 22nd Planet Longevity post – summer as the perfect time where our family advocates have more time to be together to have open conversations about practical topics that are often sensitive to family dynamics.
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Directives for family advocates

As we go through the normal stages of life, two of the biggest gifts we can give those we love, are to document, and then to communicate key personal information to important people in our life. This allows them to act on our behalf quickly in an emergency, to prevent disagreement among family members and to enable our wishes to be carried out. It makes things easier for others, but it is also respectful of ourselves.

Three areas of key information – basic things to keep up-to-date and communicate on are: the location of documents/financial information, a record of our health issues, and our views on death and dying.

Timely access matters

Documents include such things as – our powers of attorney for care, and finances, our will, deeds, and a list of important advisors along with a list of financial investments and accounts. Timely access to these means that if we can’t act for ourselves, our designated person can. In the digital age even though we keep our information up-to-date it does no good if the files can’t be accessed. Keeping a hard copy of information in an accessible, perhaps locked and fireproof document case is wise.

The record of health issues includes having a list of medications and contact information for doctors. This is especially important in an emergency, as our health system is not seamlessly connected and the information and timeliness can mean life or death. A family member may need to advocate for us or be asked questions about our health at a time when we are unable to provide the information.

Views on end-of-life care and the degree of intervention desired are personal choices. Legal and medical options available and, our own preferences, may change over time. It’s important to communicate our wishes to those who may be making decisions if we are not capable.

Increase comfort levels for family discussion

The challenge is that in a family there are often differing values and views on such a personal issue. It can be especially helpful to have a family discussion ahead of time where everyone hears the same message regarding your wishes. It can decrease family strife and increase their comfort with difficult decisions if they know our view.

Documenting and communicating is a critical piece of this on-going process. Advisors, health issues and our views on end-of-life care may change over time. It takes discipline to make this a priority, but our loved ones will thank us for it, and they will have the means to carry out our wishes.

 

Lorraine Clemes

Talk About Death in the Summer Sunshine?

Mention “Estate Planning”, (a.k.a. “Death Planning”) in mid-winter, and everyone retreats into a blue funk. Mention it when the sun is shining in mid-summer and it seems…well, less of a downer.

As was suggested in our May 22nd Planet Longevity post, summer is a the perfect time when all generations have more time to be together and, in a less pressured way, can open conversations about practical topics that are often sensitive to family dynamics, such as estate planning.

During our lifetimes, we all collect “stuff” – financial, material and sentimental goods. These are our “toys”. Estate planning is all about distributing the toys in a way that makes sense to us, and hopefully, is understood by our beneficiaries, the people to whom we are giving our toys.

What is to happen to these toys, our assets, when the older generation dies? What role will adult children play in the aftermath?

Opening the Talk.

We all die at some point. It’s a necessary conversation often avoided in family discussions. It doesn’t matter whether the conversation is started by the parents or the adult children.

As the parent it might start with:

• “(We/I/Father/Mother), won’t live forever. We’ve put together an estate plan which we want to explain to you (and your siblings). Let’s talk about it now.”

Setting Beneficiary Expectations

Step One. Let beneficiaries know the location of key documents: Is the Will in a bank safe, at home, In the lawyer’s office? Is there a list of all credit cards, insurance policies, bank accounts, investment accounts, service contracts, passports and so on? Everyone should have this information documented in a “Just in Case” file, easily accessible in case of accident or death.

Step Two. What are the expectations of family members regarding the distribution of assets at death? Will there be equal or unequal distributions depending upon the needs of beneficiaries?

• How will “sentimental objects” be distributed? More family quarrels arise over family treasures (often of little monetary value), than most people realize. Have a plan in place – find out who would really like the old mantel clock, the painting in the hallway, and who wants Dad’s pocket watch or Mom’s pearl earrings.

• Will some objects, or money be distributed to family or friends before death as gifts? If yes, make sure that the surviving spouse/partner will have enough to live on and feel comfortable after the things or funds have been doled out.

• What arrangements have been made for the comfort and security of the remaining parent? There are Family Laws in all provinces which dictate certain levels of support. Make sure that the Estate Plan observes these rules.

• Are there charitable bequests to be made? Have other tax efficient strategies been explored?

Avoiding Intestacy

Of course, all this assumes that there IS an estate plan worked out with professional assistance. If not, the question becomes one of understanding the consequences of NOT having an Estate Plan. Namely, that the province of residence has an estate plan already drawn up – it’s called Intestacy; and the rules may surprise and disappoint many families. Having a Will is key, if people have assets to pass on to the next generation.

 

Marie Howes

Canada’s Health Care System: Facing an Aging Nation

Far too many Canadians believe that “Canada has the best health care system in the world.” The Commonwealth Institute in Washington D.C., a health care think-tank, conducted a survey in 2014 ranking the health care systems of 11 advanced countries.

The top health care system was that of the UK, while Canada ranked 10th; the United States ranked 11th. The UK and all the other countries that ranked above Canada and the USA – Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Germany, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, France; have integrated private and public health care systems.

Our reluctance to review and reform our system of “one payer” (government) is not sustainable. The tail end of the Baby Boom generation turns 50 in 2015. The number of employed workers is declining, while the number of retirees (and users) is increasing.

Some weaknesses to address in our current system include:

  • Lack of timely access to diagnosis: emergency room backlogs, limits on the number of ailments to be discussed by doctors in any one patient appointment, etc.
  • Slow delivery of appropriate care: long wait times for those requiring joint replacement etc.
  • Inadequate planning for the coming bulge of seniors needing long term care beds; continued focus on acute care
  • Creation of large and unwieldy hospital complexes: excessive administration costs; likelihood of infection spreads
  • Lack of choice in the system: people can receive and pay for cosmetic surgery in Canada, but not major surgeries or joint replacements.  Medical tourism results.
  • Poor transparency and accountability on many fronts: Infection rates in hospitals, competency of various specialist surgeons, comparisons of cost of administration etc.
  • Lax regulations/laws, compliance and enforcement of rules covering patient care, disease and infection prevention and public safety
  • Insurance programs which cannot guarantee access to diagnosis or care:  programs which are of questionable value to policyholders
  • Mistrust of the whole idea of “private” health care. Yet the top nine countries have successful systems, which DO include private facilities, often paid for through insurance.
  • Pressure on governments to reduce ALL spending – including health

So the question up for further discussion is – can system changes start small and succeed?

 

Marie Howes