Author: Suzana Popovic-Montag

26 Jun

The estate sale – can it be a treasure island?

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

We wrote several months ago about the declining value of household furniture and other items – especially antiques that were highly desired decades ago.

The general rule if you’re selling home assets (typically in an estate or when moving into a retirement home situation) is that you won’t get as much as you think. Tastes change (grandfather clock anyone?), artists fall out of favour (or never gain much market value) and items fall into disrepair. And you usually have to pay a firm to come in and assess and sell the contents. It may not leave you with much.

Mind the small stuff

What can often get overlooked in content sales is the little stuff. We all bring our personal biases when assessing what’s junk and what could be a little treasure. If you see a figurine or small carving and don’t like it, you’ll assume that others won’t like it either. Under the weight of all the other junk you have to dispose of, the item can end up in the trash.

That can be a costly mistake. I was recently visiting an estate home being prepared for sale, and the daughter of the deceased pointed to a small ceramic cat at the end of the mantle. It was, to me, nothing much of note. It was about 2 inches high and 3 inches long and had stripes. I wouldn’t have thought twice about trashing it if I was clearing out the house.

That’s what the daughter thought too, until they had a friend over who identified the cat as an original ceramic piece by Swedish artist Lisa Larson. What was going to end up in the trash was actually a small sculpture worth hundreds of dollars. Oops …

Be mindful of the art-savvy owner

If a homeowner had a good eye for art during their lifetime, there’s a good chance that even small knick-knacks were bought with purpose and could have value. So, before you clear the little stuff off the mantle of someone’s home, it may pay to have an art-savvy friend tour the house just in case.

Thanks for reading – enjoy your day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag

12 Jun

Use your ancestry to your advantage

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

Tracing your ancestry is big business these days. According to Ancestry.com, the company and its worldwide affiliates have 3 million paid subscribers and have collected 15 million DNA samples from individuals.

Everyone seems to know someone with a story, some happy, some disturbing. Some people discover a 1st cousin and reconnect with them (good news)! Others find out they have a half-sister they never knew about (oops)!

It can get more disturbing than that. Police have used the DNA collected by ancestry websites to narrow down suspects in murder investigations. That’s how the Golden State Killer was arrested in 2018 for rapes and murders committed 30 to 40 years previously. It’s quite the story. The killer’s relatives clearly did him no good service by happily submitting their DNA.

Using ancestry to expand your horizons

One way that we might want to use our ancestry is verifying our roots and exploring opportunities for citizenship in another country. Many Canadians already enjoy dual citizenship because they or their parents were born outside of Canada. But many do not. And there can be advantages, including the ability to travel and work there, own property, or receive health care.

One example: if you have a grandparent who was born in the Republic of Ireland, you likely qualify for Irish citizenship, which would also make you an EU citizen with all of those privileges.

The rules differ by country, and the application process is undoubtedly thorough and time-consuming, even if you are clearly eligible. But if the potential advantages are appealing, dual citizenship might be an idea worth exploring.

Weigh any downside as well

Of course, you’ll need to look at the potential disadvantages as well (for example, there may be tax obligations you hadn’t counted on). This blog post has some good tips on the practicalities of carrying two passports, but also a quick pros and cons list of holding citizenship in two countries.

Thanks for reading … Have a great day,

Suzana Popovic-Montag

05 Jun

Employment – with benefits

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

If you use news headlines as a guide, it would seem that group benefits at work – health, dental, chiropractic and more – are getting a bad rap, and benefits fraud is the reason.

While the vast majority of employees make legitimate benefits claims, the bad apples get all of the publicity. One of the worst in recent years was the fraud involving the Toronto Transit Commission, which was linked to more than 220 employees who have either been fired or resigned.

In many cases of fraud, service providers collude with benefits plan members to get money out of the plan. So, they claim for orthotics that are never delivered, or claim for prescription glasses but receive designer sunglasses, or submit a receipt for a therapeutic massage when they actually received a sexual massage from a massage parlour.

The chill effect

The trouble with fraud, and all of the warnings about “don’t abuse your plan” is that it can create a chill effect on those who want to use the “health services” part of their plan (in-person treatments and therapies) for legitimate reasons. People can feel that using these benefits outside of an emergency situation equates to taking advantage of their plan. So, they don’t get their knee checked by a chiropractor, or get a back massage for their lower back pain, or get the orthotics they need to prevent problems down the road.

And the most underused benefit area, according to Canada’s largest provider of group benefits, Sun Life Financial, is for psychological services. For Canadian employers with 50 or more employees, 88% of employees make at least one prescription drug claim in a year but only 5% make a claim for psychological services. This is despite the fact that mental health issues are a leading cause of short and long-term disability claims. You can read the full report here.

Think prevention: Make use of your plan

My point is a simple one: employers want employees to take the prevention steps needed to stay healthy. It’s beneficial for both the employee and the business. Yes, there are short-term costs for preventative treatments, but these short-term costs can avoid larger long-term costs, such as multi-year disability leaves. This is especially true for mental health issues.

All to say, if you’re lucky enough to have a benefits plan, don’t wait for an emergency to learn about the preventative treatments available to you. From dental check ups, to mental health therapy, to chiropractic adjustments, there are subsidized treatment options available to help you stay healthy and productive.

Enjoy the rest of your day!
Suzana Popovic-Montag

24 May

Washington is the first state to allow human remains to be composted

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

You’re likely familiar with the Christian burial phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” While that phrase has been recited over graves for centuries, it may need changing in Washington state. With the green light given to the composting of human remains,  “dust to dirt” may be a more appropriate way of putting it.

A new path for human remains

The Washington state law allowing the composting of human remains will take effect in May of 2020. It means that, in addition to cremation or burial, a body can now be composted naturally into soil.

Like all composting, it’s a simple and natural process. The body is covered in a natural material, like straw or wood chips. Over the course of several weeks, the body breaks down into soil. Families are free to visit the complex during this process. When the composting is finished, the soil is given to the family and they can do with it as they please.

Environmental friendly – and cost effective

While composting won’t be an option for everyone, it will certainly appeal to those who want a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly option for disposing of their remains at death.

For instance, there are no air quality concerns that can come with cremation, and composting doesn’t use up valuable tracks of land the way a cemetary can. In fact, the process actually “creates” land by adding more soil to the world.

And cost-wise, the woman who spearheaded the move to allow composting – Katrina Spade, CEO of Recompose – estimates that the approximate cost of composting (US$5,500) will be just below the cost of cremation, and far less than a burial.

Are we ready Canada?

The composting of human remains makes sense on many levels, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this practice spreading to other jurisdictions, including Canada. It may not be for everyone, but it’s hard to see a downside.

This CNN article and short video provide some more context to the adoption of human remains composting in Washington state.

Thanks for reading … Have a wonderful day,

Suzana Popovic-Montag

22 May

Happy 60th – now start saving

Suzana Popovic-Montag Elder Law, Elder Law Insurance Issues, Estate & Trust, Estate Litigation, Uncategorized Tags: , 0 Comments

There are lots of positives to retirement and your senior years: fewer costs, more leisure time, and less daily stress to name a few. And these are all worth celebrating. But the negatives can be crushing: more body pains and disease, the deaths of close friends and family, and being that much closer to death yourself.

It’s not that age 65 or 70 can’t be wonderful. It often is. If you could freeze the best time of older age, most people would take it in a snap, even over their younger years. But you can’t freeze time, so onward we go to the inevitable: settling our estate (but without us being there).

Bolt out of the gate

These facts don’t depress me, they actually motivate me. I’m not a senior yet, but many in my circle are. And the ones who impress me are the ones who embrace their senior/retirement years right out of the gate.

That means making maximum use of the freedom that comes with their “new normal.” While the activities people choose will differ radically, one common thread is often a need to watch cashflow a little more carefully. For many, it’s a balance between enjoying life now and not running out of money later.

Becoming thrifty

Which brings me to my confession and my point, with the confession first: I’ve never been a coupon clipper. My spending could be described (charitably) as a bit loose. I know I could get $30 off my phone bill for 6 months if I phoned Bell and threatened to leave, but I save my energy for my work and family and choose to battle Bell another day.

Now my point: that “other day” should be when you turn 60. The reason? The discounts are far too rich to turn down, you have a little more time to organize your life around saving, and your need (if you’re retired) has likely never been greater.

Be ruthless

From banking, to grocery and drugstore shopping, to travel, you can easily knock 20% to 50% off your costs once you reach your prime senior years. And those savings can be channelled into pursuits that you find most meaningful.

You have to know what’s available and sometimes you have to ask. But the deals (which are not time-limited) are substantial.

This website is a great place to start

Happy 60th, and happy saving. Thanks for reading!

Suzana Popovic-Montag

08 May

What happens when your Tim Hortons dies?

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

I know a lot of people have lost their unconditional love for Tim Hortons some time ago. The main reason? They used to make their donuts and other baked goods from scratch twice each day at each store. They now ship partially-baked, flash-frozen baked goods to stores from a central warehouse. Stores then “finish” the baking process in microwave/convection ovens. The stuff just doesn’t taste the way it used to.

That is a big issue for many. Other smaller issues include indifferent service at many locations, the ongoing franchisee disputes, and improved options at fast food places like Starbucks, McDonalds and A&W. And it’s not just us – even The Guardian in the U.K. has taken note of the decline of our mighty Timmies.

But “Timmies” still matters

Despite these issues, I still applaud Tim Hortons for remaining a touchstone/meeting place for Canadians. Which is why I was shocked to discover the pre-Christmas closure of a large, seemingly busy Tim Hortons when I visited a friend on the Danforth recently.

Apparently, the closure came with no warning. Just a locked door on December 24, 2018, at the busy corner of Logan and Danforth. This was the place where a large group of retired Greek men (maybe 10 to 15 at a time) met every morning for coffee, where many teachers and parents from the school across the street got their caffeine hit, and where many a toddler met their first Timbit. You can read about it here.

The “scoop” from the jeweller across the street was that the landlord was insolvent and couldn’t keep the place up. So, the franchisee bailed when the lease was up. Maybe true, maybe not. But regardless of the reason, the closure has changed the daily or weekly routines of hundreds of people.

Yes, there is a Second Cup, Timothy’s and Starbucks within walking distance on the Danforth, but none of them has the seating to accommodate large groups or is as close to the school and community centre as the former Tim Hortons. Loyal customers have had to find an alternative, but none will quite be the same.

So, ask yourself: if Tim Hortons is part of your life, where would you go if your favourite location went under? With closures like this one coming out of the blue, it’s never too early to plan your backup. And while you’re at it, maybe give some thought to your existing estate plan. Life is full of unexpected surprises!

Thanks for reading … Enjoy your day,
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 1 Comment

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

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR BLOG

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.
 

CONNECT WITH US

CATEGORIES

ARCHIVES