Author: Suzana Popovic-Montag

24 Apr

Five things I don’t understand – and don’t really want to

Suzana Popovic-Montag Estate Litigation, Estate Planning, Uncategorized 0 Comments

I’ll be honest – there are some things in life that I:

  • don’t understand, and
  • drive me nuts.

I’m not looking for answers – I don’t really care about the reasons “why.” What I want is to make these things go away. No explanations please – if I was interested in the why, I’d google it to find out.

So, here’s my rant. Five everyday things I don’t understand that I wish would go away:

  1. Please use revolving door: I’ve opened doors all my life, and there are many perfectly good doors to any office building. But all signs direct you to the revolving door, even if you have to line up to use it, and it takes twice the time to get inside. Don’t stick “emergency door” on a perfectly good and useable door. Give us a choice!

 

  1. Put your phone in airplane mode: I’ve left my phone inadvertently in “full on” mode countless times when taking flights. Why do we still have to do this? It’s clearly not a safety risk, or else we’d all be dead by now due to countless passengers ignoring the request. I don’t want to know why they ask us. I just want to stop being told to do it.

 

  1. No pass back on Presto card: I load my Toronto Transit Commission Presto card. It deducts cash every time I tap and enter a station or vehicle. I pass the card to my friend on the other side of the turnstile to tap, and it denies the tap. Why? Because you can’t pass back the Presto card. I’ve done this in New York with family dozens of times. With so many riders scamming the system by not paying, why won’t the TTC let me pay for someone else?

 

  1. Hospital gowns that tie in the back: I go for my annual physical. I’m told to strip down, and the blue gown I’m given ties in the back. It’s awkward, and I can barely make it work. My housecoat doesn’t tie in the back, why should a medical gown? The doctor is going to look at me front and back anyway – there’s no hiding. I’m tired of sitting with my bare butt on a chair because I can’t wear a hospital gown properly.

 

  1. Upsells at a car wash: I’m at a car wash. I’m given three choices: regular wash, luxury wash, or “the works.” The upper end washes promise things like “bottom blaster” and “polish”. Can anyone tell the difference? And yet, I often choose “the works” because I want my car to have every chance at a completely clean beginning. But I feel cheated every time. Give me one wash and one choice.

If you know why these things happen, you should probably keep the information to yourself. If you know how to make these things go away, please call me immediately. In the meantime, I’ll end my rant and head back to work.

 

Thanks for reading … Have a wonderful (and rant-free) day!

Suzana Popovic-Montag 

10 Apr

We can’t cut our smartphone habit – but we can cut the cost

Suzana Popovic-Montag Estate & Trust, Estate Litigation, Estate Planning, Uncategorized Tags: , , , 0 Comments

Talk to someone who lives in Europe or travels there for extended periods. Ask them what they pay for their phone plan. You’ll be shocked and disheartened.

The costs are a fraction of what they are in Canada. In February, Global News compared the costs of phone plans across Canada, and also summarized (in the chart below) Canadian government research comparing wireless costs in Canada with those in other parts of the world. It’s clear that wireless costs in Canada are among the highest in the world.

 

You can read the entire article here.

Why so high

There are many reasons given for the high wireless prices in Canada. Most are a variation of “the high cost of building infrastructure in a large country with a small population” and “lack of competition.”

No one has a definitive answer, but the lack of competition angle certainly makes some intuitive sense. There are only three major carriers (Bell, Rogers, and Telus) and they own most of the discount brands. Even with a discount brand, the savings are underwhelming. Compare that to Europe, where competition is fierce and low prices are the norm.

Cut your costs

The fact that the three major carriers all have discount brands suggests that there is room to haggle in terms of the price you pay. In most cases, if you tell the carrier that you are price shopping and simply ask them for a lower price, they’ll provide a discount. It may be for a set period of time, but it will be less.

Of course, calling the carrier and haggling is time-consuming and, for many people, uncomfortable. That’s why services have popped up that will do the haggling for you, in exchange for a cut of your savings.

For example, MyBillsAreHigh specializes in reducing the monthly costs of wireless, internet, landline and cable services for business and individual customers. You can check them out here.

A company like this can save you tens of dollars a month, which, when multiplied over a lifetime, can result in total savings of thousands of dollars. Imagine you could have this much extra to pass on through your estate. And that is just the savings for one bill! Multiple that by the number of cellular bills you pay for your family members and your internet, landline and cable services. Depending on how many services you subscribe to, you could save a significant amount over your lifetime. Those kinds of savings could make a drastic difference in the type of estate you pass on and alter the lives of your estate’s beneficiaries. So with services that can easily provide us with such savings over the course of our lifetimes, we should all be exploring these options.

I haven’t myself tried this service yet, but I’ve seen it featured in the news and on shows like CBC Marketplace. I have to admit, I’m tempted – and it wouldn’t take much to get me to act.

Thanks for reading … have a great day!

Suzana Popovic-Montag

27 Mar

 A cure for “ageist” thinking? It may not be needed

Suzana Popovic-Montag Estate & Trust, Estate Litigation, Ethical Issues, Uncategorized Tags: , , 0 Comments

It’s taken decades, but we’re slowly coming to terms with a few of the “isms” in our culture – racism and sexism being two obvious ones. We can add discrimination based on disability and sexual preference as two others.

My question, thought, is does “ageism” belong in the same category? Ashton Applewhite, the author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, believes it does. This website sets out her thesis – and the Globe and Mail provided an excerpt recently.

Applewhite is thorough – and has certainly done her research. She is also getting a lot of positive press. But not everyone is entirely convinced of everything she says.

How bad is it?

Applewhite defines ageism as follows:

Discrimination and stereotyping on the basis of a person’s age. We’re ageist when we feel or behave differently toward a person or a group on the basis of how old we think they are.

So, ageism affects both the young and the old. One interesting idea is her move to change words like “adolescents” and “seniors” to “youngers” and “olders.” I like the way this subtle shift in language (to my ear anyways) eliminates a lot of the baggage associated with either end of the age spectrum.

Age discrimination certainly exists – we can all get impatient by slow walkers or dismiss the ideas of olders too readily. And this is an area we should definitely continue to work on, to ensure that youngers and olders are respected as individuals at every stage. But much of Applewhite’s focus is on how we shouldn’t stereotype ourselves as we get older – the negative talk that we tell ourselves (like being too old to dance, too old to ski, and too old to attend a political rally). And that’s where some aren’t sure her arguments have merit.

Do we limit ourselves based on our own notion of age? Or do our individual conditions and state of mind do that for us?

Applewhite brings out the stats on how able and happy those over age 65 are, and encourages us to google the U-curve of happiness as evidence. Here it is, courtesy of the Washington Post:

 

 

As multiple studies have shown, we are happiest at the beginning and end stages of life. So this begs the question: if the curve clearly shows greater happiness as we move through our 60s, 70s, and 80s, how much of a negative impact is ageism really having? And how much self-ageist thinking is actually taking place?

We seem to be doing a pretty good job of aging happily. Personally, I’ve been relying on my own mind and body, not my age, when I make decisions to add or subtract things from my life. I think most people are doing the same.

Thanks for reading … Have a great day!

Suzana Popovic-Montag

13 Mar

Alexa – take a hike

Suzana Popovic-Montag Estate & Trust, Estate Planning, Uncategorized Tags: , , , , 0 Comments

Amazon Echo and Google Home – here’s my prediction about these smart speakers. In 25 years, we’ll look at film clips or ads that featured the “cool things” that these devices did – and we’ll laugh. We’ll laugh the same way we laugh today about news clips from the 1990s that described the wonder of the new “internet.”

This CNN clip from 1993 is a great example of futurist hype about the internet and includes a (very wrong) prediction that if the internet keeps growing, there could be a day that school children come home and spend more time on the online Encyclopedia Britannica than playing Nintendo.

It’s not that today’s smart speakers aren’t an important step forward in the personal use of artificial intelligence – they are, just as the early internet was a necessary step toward the information access we enjoy today. The issue is that their usefulness at this stage is more for novelty than for actual functionality.

Limited range of features

Yes, the Amazon Echo and Google Home can get weather reports, answer basic questions, order pizza, and play music – all with voice commands. The issue is that your smartphone can do those things too. And while TV commercials tout several other amazing features (turning on lights, locking doors, turning up the heat), you’ll need to spend some money to allow for automated lights, locks and thermostats.

And are we really that taxed – or have our arms full that often – that we can’t flick a switch or turn a dial? I don’t think so, which is why for me these devices are novelties only.

More features are being added of course. The print edition of the Sunday New York Times in early January had several sections scattered throughout the paper advertising the new ways you could connect with the paper using Alexa. But these features are less about helping us, and more about a newspaper trying to find new ways to connect to more readers/listeners.

More to come

Something of use will evolve from these early smart speakers – eventually. I just don’t think we’re close at this stage. Even for seniors – who often have more limited mobility or other disabilities – the Echo and Home are a mixed bag. It takes a reasonably sharp mind to interact with AI-driven devices, and pairing new technology with individuals who have trouble remembering the right trigger word, or the range of tasks a device can perform, can often lead to frustration and devices collecting dust in the corner.

So, by all means have fun with the technology – the price point is right. But until the features get a bit more jaw-dropping, Alexa won’t be entering my home anytime soon. (Sorry girls!)

 

 

Thanks for reading,
Suzana Popovic-Montag

27 Feb

Five things that will disappear in our lifetime

Suzana Popovic-Montag Estate & Trust, Estate Planning, In the News, Uncategorized Tags: , , , , 0 Comments

It never stops. Another year on the calendar turns, and we receive another jolting reminder of the years passing. It’s not just loved ones that we lose over time – our way of life is also constantly under threat.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While we may miss some aspects of life in a nostalgic way (milk being delivered to your milk box twice a week), there are other aspects that we’re happy to leave behind.

So, what will we soon lose? Here are five things that could well (depending on your age) disappear in your lifetime.

  1. Cash

Sweden may be the canary in the coal mine on this one. Half of the country’s retailers believe that Sweden will stop accepting cash by 2025. This has sparked calls for an e-currency and for actions needed to deal with this change (like what to do when electronic systems fail, or the power goes out). Read about it here.

It’s happening in Canada too of course. The thought of paying for a cup of coffee with a credit or debit card 10 years ago was laughable. Now it’s the norm. Bye-bye bank notes.

  1. Cancer

This is a change we all want – a cure for, or an end to, cancer. And there’s a new hope – the planting of immune cells from strangers into cancer patients to create the ultimate cancer-fighting treatment. Fingers crossed everyone. https://nationalpost.com/health/health-and-wellness/cancer-may-no-longer-be-deadly-in-future-say-british-researchers-announcing-breakthrough

  1. Car accidents

Okay, self-driving cars won’t eliminate traffic accidents completely – no technology is perfect or immune from outside attack. But just as traffic deaths in Canada have been cut in half since the 1970s due to safety measures such as seat belts and car seats, the move to the “auto-auto” will dramatically improve road safety. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/09/self-driving-cars-could-save-300000-lives-per-decade-in-america/407956/

  1. Print newspapers

Yes, this is an obvious one – print newspaper subscribers are a dying breed. But what may also be reduced is the relevance and reach of news organizations in general, even those that have moved online. While many news organizations will survive post-print, this fascinating article explains how their influence could dramatically decline, even with a robust online presence. http://www.niemanlab.org/2018/09/what-will-happen-when-newspapers-kill-print-and-go-online-only-most-of-that-print-audience-will-just-disappear/

  1. Farm-raised meat

2018 saw the world’s first steak grown in a lab. There’s still work to be done on taste, texture and economic models, but real meat grown from cells is a new reality. There’s a good chance that “farm animals raised for slaughter” will seem as horrific to our grandchildren as medieval torture and gladiator death battles seem to us today. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/14/worlds-first-lab-grown-beef-steak-revealed-but-the-taste-needs-work

 

 

Thanks for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag

13 Feb

Fertilizer for your brain: How to grow your resilience

Suzana Popovic-Montag Estate & Trust, Estate Planning, Health / Medical, In the News, Uncategorized Tags: , , 0 Comments

Let me give you the bad news first: some people are naturally more resilient than others – and life can be tough if your resilience falls in the low end of the range.

Now the good news: your level of resilience isn’t static. You can grow it – with the right brain fertilizer – to become mentally stronger in the face of adversity. This recent New York Times article discusses some of the ways it can be done.

The article is just one of many to explore the link between greater (and lasting) resilience and activities such as mindfulness, social stimulation, and physical activity. It also sets out a great definition of resilience, courtesy of Huda Akil, a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan:

“Active resilience happens when people who are vulnerable find resources to cope with stress and bounce back, and do so in a way that leaves them stronger, ready to handle additional stress, in more adaptive ways.”

In our line of work, the “vulnerable” part mentioned in the above definition is often death, and the estate dispute that follows. From our observations, while death is one of life’s certainties, dealing with it is anything but. In estate disputes, some people are able to cope with the family death and the dispute over assets. Others crumble under the weight of grief and anger. What we’ve seen in many cases is that a higher level of resilience can make a positive difference to outcomes.

How to increase resilience

So, what’s the magic “brain fertilizer” that can increase our resilience? As it turns out, it’s not really magic at all. Better health equals greater resilience, so exercising and good nutrition go a long way to improving resilience. A strong social network also plays a key role. After that, much of it involves shifting our way of thinking – which is where a trained therapist can make a huge difference.

Take a look at the American Psychological Association’s 10 ways to build resilience  and consider the opportunities you may have to bounce back stronger the next time adversity comes your way.

 

Thanks for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag

30 Jan

Miracle alert – Even legal services can change

Suzana Popovic-Montag Estate & Trust, Estate Planning, Uncategorized Tags: , , 0 Comments

Kudos to Lawyers & Lattes – a community law office and café in North Toronto – for breaking down barriers and daring to serve clients in a different way.

Lawyers & Lattes is a fully functioning storefront café – but also offers a full range of flat-rate legal services, from incorporations, to wills, to real estate transactions. You can drop in or schedule an appointment. Their website is worth a peek.

What Lawyers & Lattes has done is flip the focus from “what’s best for us” to “what’s best for clients.” It sounds easy, but our way of doing things is sometimes so ingrained that it can be difficult to truly see things from a different perspective.

The power – and danger – of the status quo

For service providers, a chosen method of serving clients is often based on the status quo, using a process and a “client experience” that’s been in place for decades. For example, it took decades for Ontario’s government-run wine and liquor retailer (the LCBO) to open true “stores” that let you view and handle bottles yourself. As late as the 1970s, many stores still required you to fill out paper slips and take them to a counter where a worker would fetch the bottle for you. It seems ludicrous today, but few questioned it in the 1960s.

And innovating today doesn’t guarantee success forever. While department stores like Eaton’s and Sears were true innovators in customer service at the turn of the 20th century, they were dinosaurs by the turn of the 21st century and eaten up by “innovate or die” companies like Amazon.

Get outside of your zone

You may have a seen this diagram before – I think it sums up a worthy goal for all of us.

It’s not easy – leaving your “comfort zone” is, by definition, “uncomfortable.” But the results can be worth it. Lawyers & Lattes is a small example of what can result. So, next time you’re at a crossroads, ask yourself how you can do things differently, and how you can do them better. You might be surprised at that magic it creates.

Thanks for reading … Have a great day,

Suzana Popovic-Montag

16 Jan

Want to be creative with your will? Get a lawyer

Suzana Popovic-Montag Beneficiary Designations, Estate & Trust, Estate Planning, Trustees, Uncategorized, Wills Tags: 0 Comments

If you’re a regular reader of obituaries, you’ve undoubtedly seen some creative writing touches in remembering a departed family member. While traditional obituaries are still the norm, humour seems to be creeping into more of these tributes – especially those written by the deceased person in advance and published upon their death. You’ll find some great examples here.

While creativity in obituary writing has few, if any, negative repercussions, the same isn’t true for creativity in the will drafting process. While Canadians generally enjoy wide testamentary freedom to dispose of their property in any manner, it’s not an absolute freedom. For example:

  • Succession laws can require that your will provide financial support for those who are dependant on you, such as a spouse or minor children.
  • Provisions in your will that are against public policy and offend societal values (such as gifts that are racist, sexist, or require someone to do something against their beliefs – or against the law) can also be set aside.

All to say, if you want to do something quirky or creative in your will, make sure you get legal advice before finalizing it. Here are a couple of examples that passed the test. They’re from other countries, but would likely pass the test in Canada as well.

Giving to strangers

In Portugal, Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara was the son of an aristocrat, but had no family and few friends. When he wrote his will in 1988, he chose 70 strangers at random from the Lisbon phone directory to receive his fortune. When he died in 2001, the shocked strangers each received several thousand euros.

Careful when you open that next tube of Pringles

Frederick Baur was an American chemist who invented and patented Pringles potato chips and the innovative Pringles tube. He died in 2008 and had stipulated that his remains be buried in a Pringles tube. While Baur’s ashes exceeded the capacity of a single container, some of his remains were indeed placed in a Pringles tube and buried, along with the rest of his ashes in a more traditional urn.

So, by all means, have some fun with your will and your final requests. Just make sure your lawyer has given you the “two thumbs up” before you execute it.

 

Thanks for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag

02 Jan

Take a life lesson from a billionaire

Suzana Popovic-Montag Estate & Trust, Estate Planning, Trustees, Uncategorized, Wills Tags: , , , 0 Comments

There’s a lot to like about Paul Allen – the Microsoft co-founder who died on October 15 at age 65. He was a brilliant man, whose perfect SAT score of 1600 during his college years foreshadowed his financial success.

Few can match this success. Allen died with an estate estimated at $26 billion. But it’s not just the size of the estate that’s impressive, it’s the scope of his interests that are remarkable, most of which played a role in building the value of his holdings. At his death, Allen ownership interests included:

  • Three professional sports teams – the Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers, and the Seattle Sounders
  • A space-travel company, Vulcan Aerospace
  • A film production company, Vulcan Productions
  • A real estate company, Vulcan Real Estate, with a large focus on the redevelopment of land in the Seattle area; and
  • An extensive fine art collection.

In 2010, he signed the Giving Pledge , a commitment by billionaires around the world to donate at least half of their fortune to philanthropic causes. He also invested in, or donated money to, a number of other initiatives, from artificial intelligence research to elephant conservation in Africa. More locally, he played in a band, Paul Allen and the Underthinkers, and was an accomplished guitar player.

The life lessons

Admittedly, we aren’t all billionaires with perfect SAT scores. So, what can we learn from Paul Allen? This quote from him says it all:

“You look at things you enjoy in your life, but much more important is what you can do to make the world a better place.”

Here are three takeaways that I think are worth considering:

  1. He enjoyed life: He owned homes in several countries, owned two of the largest yachts in the world, and surrounded himself with people accomplished in the art, sport and film world. He rarely courted media attention – and he remained low-key until the end – but he seemed to thoroughly enjoy his life. So many people in every wealth bracket forget this important part of the equation.
  2. He followed his interests in making the world a better place: He saved sports franchises from relocation, movie theatres from demolition, and ensured that important stories were preserved and told. He knew intuitively that following personal interests was critical to his active involvement in projects and ultimately each project’s success.
  3. Much of his focus was local: We can likely do our most effective work if we focus locally, on the area of the world we know best. Paul Allen’s initiatives certainly had a global reach, but many of his projects were Seattle-based and he transformed the city and the U.S. north-west in significant ways.

Paul Allen’s estate is, not surprisingly, complex – and could take years to settle as this article explains. But it appears that the family business structure he left behind will continue to make the world a better place for many years to come.

 

Happy New Year – and thanks for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag

19 Dec

Is there life after death? (spoiler alert – we have the answer)

Suzana Popovic-Montag Estate & Trust, Estate Planning, In the News, Uncategorized, Wills Tags: , 0 Comments

I don’t know about you, but I was a little disappointed when I discovered that one of the greatest thinkers of our time – Stephen Hawking – dismissed the notion of a life after death.

Hawking died in March 2018, which is when his previously noted thoughts on an afterlife began to resurface. He had lived with the possibility of an early death for nearly 50 years, so would be (in my opinion) highly motivated to believe in an afterlife. And yet, his conclusion was a simple one: no way.

I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail … There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.

You can read more here.

Then there was hope

Of course, there are other smart science people in the world. And a little searching revealed that there were indeed others who believed there was a life after death.

Here’s a recent example. Researchers at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom examined more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at hospitals in the United Kingdom, the United States and Austria. The results? Nearly 40% of people who survived their resuscitation described some kind of awareness during the time when they were clinically dead. It’s the largest ever medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences. It concluded that some awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down.

And just this year, some well-respected scientists affirmed their theory that quantum mechanics allows consciousness to live on following the body’s eventual demise. The theory is complicated, but the bottom line is that the physical universe we live in is only our “perception.” Once our bodies die, our soul continues in an infinite beyond. It’s worth a quick read.

I can’t say that I understand quantum mechanics, but I’m “all in” on their theory of an infinite soul. Bring it on.

 

 

Thanks for reading … Have a great day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag

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