Author: 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

05 Dec

Fraud against seniors – can it happen in your family?

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

By now, many of you have had a phone call from the “Canada Revenue Agency” informing you that you owe money, or that a lawsuit or collection process has begun. It’s a scam that’s obvious to most of us – and we hang up and don’t give it a second thought.

But in a small minority of cases, the scam works, and Canadians have lost thousands of dollars in the process. It’s not just seniors – many middle-aged adults have been victims as well.

Which brings me to a key point: if brazen scams can work on those in the prime of life, how vulnerable are seniors who may be suffering from both physical and mental frailties?

Know what’s out there

The Canadian government’s Anti-Fraud Centre has a website that outlines four common fraud schemes that target seniors, and steps to protect them. 

Here’s an overview of the four types:

  • Prize winner: Canadian seniors receive notice (mail, phone, or email) that they’re the winner of a large lottery or sweepstake. A request is made for money to cover costs in securing the winnings.
  • Family emergencies: Seniors receive a call from someone claiming to be a family member or a close friend. They describe an urgent situation that requires money.
  • Service scams: There are many types, but one of the most common involves a phone call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft or Windows who has detected a virus in the victim’s computer, with money needed to make repairs.
  • Friendship/romance: Scammers can spend months grooming a victim into a friend or romantic relationship, either online or in person. Eventually, a request for money is made.

The bottom line is that scams come in many forms. While seniors can most definitely learn to protect themselves, this becomes much harder if there’s been a decline in mental abilities. The best way to protect elderly parents or other seniors is to check in with them every few days to probe for any unusual actions. You can also ask the individual to follow one simple rule: check with me first (or with another son or daughter) before committing money to anything. It’s a great delay tactic that will often stop a scam in its tracks.

Savvy senior? Take the quiz

This short 10-question quiz is designed to test a senior’s ability to spot online scams, but it’s a great test for anyone to take. See how you do, then try it out with a senior in your life.

Thanks for reading … Enjoy your day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag

21 Nov

How much would you risk for your craft?

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

We see many bequests to the arts in our estate planning and litigation practice, but this might be the biggest – and most unusual – philanthropic “ask” of all time.

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa – a 42-year-old retail entrepreneur, art collector, and former punk-rocker – announced that he had purchased the first tourist ticket on Elon Musk’s inaugural SpaceX flight to the moon and back, scheduled for 2023.

Then came the surprising part. He didn’t just purchase one ticket for the flight: he purchased all the tickets. At a cost of millions, he plans to ask a handful of artists from different disciplines – film, photography, painting and more – to join him on the inaugural flight.

In exchange for a donated flight ticket, the artists would create works inspired by their experience. You can read more about Maezawa here. And this short video sets out his goals for the project, one that he calls #dearMoon. It’s a revolutionary idea for the revolutionary concept of tourist space travel.

Oh, but the risks …
Revolutionary or not, what do you say to someone who offers you an artistic experience worth millions, but also one that could kill you? Even Musk acknowledges that space travel carries significant risk, and NASA has expressed serious concerns about the launch process in particular. That said, NASA plans to use SpaceX rockets in 2019 to send astronauts to the International Space Station.

And the artists for the 2023 flight? Maezawa hasn’t asked anyone yet, but he is encouraging those he does ask to say “yes.” Which begs the question: what would you do if you were asked? If I were in the later part of my artistic career, with family all grown and an artistic legacy established, I might jump at the chance. I’d have lived a full life, and there are worse ways to go if something does go wrong.

But for many, the potential sacrifice of life for art will be, I think, too much to ask. I have no doubt that Maezawa will be travelling with a full flight of artists. I’ll be curious to see which ones agree to go.

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

07 Nov

Warning signs – will your family fight over your estate?

Suzana Popovic-Montag Beneficiary Designations, Estate & Trust, Estate Planning, Power of Attorney, Trustees, Uncategorized, Wills 0 Comments

No one can predict the future with 100% certainty – but we all have the ability to “read some signs” to make educated guesses about what’s likely to happen.

When it comes to increasing your chances for a smooth, conflict-free estate settlement process, there are some warnings that are worth reading. Here are four to watch out for, and plan for, accordingly.

  1. Your kids don’t get along: It’s not rocket science – if your kids don’t get along while you’re alive, things are unlikely to get any better once you’re gone. Two or more of your children may not be talking to each other, but you can still talk to each. Make your estate plans crystal clear to all family members, and work to resolve potential issues now to avoid estate litigation later.
  2. There’s economic disparity between your kids: You may love your children equally, but chances are your kids aren’t equal, at least not economically. If there’s a large economic disparity, it can lead to problems. For example, let’s say you leave the family cottage to your children. The one child desperately needs money and wants to sell while the others want to keep it in the family. That’s a conflict and a potential fight. This is something that should be addressed in your estate plan after a conversation with your kids about their wishes and needs.
  3. Second marriage: You haven’t seen a fight until you’ve seen children rise up to keep a parent’s estate out of the hands of a second spouse. It can get ugly. Yes, you may need to provide for a second spouse after you die, but don’t unintentionally disinherit your kids in the process. Careful planning and good communication is all it takes.
  4. You’ve given one child a benefit during your lifetime, but not the others: Let’s say you want to help all three of your adult children with a down payment on a home. You give $100,000 to your eldest but then die unexpectedly before the other two are ready to enter the housing market. While your kids might figure out a way to equalize things, don’t count on it. If you intend to treat your kids equally, make sure any substantial gift already made is reflected in your planning.

The solution? Plan now, talk now

Planning and communication are the key. This article has some great tips on how to make it happen.

Thanks for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag

24 Oct

Spot the trends – move ahead of the curve

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

Trends seem obvious in hindsight – but anticipating them before others has made many people very wealthy. They’re the ones who bought Apple shares for $1 in 2003 and watched the price exceed $200 in 2018. Or the ones who bought Blockbuster Video stock in the 1980s and sold it at its peak in 2002 before its 10-year decline into Netflix-induced irrelevance.

We’ve seen this firsthand, having been involved in the estates of many who “got in early”, moved ahead of the curve and capitalized.

While societal norms and consumer habits are always changing, not every change is one you can cash in on. For example, manual razor sales from stores fell by 5.1% year-over-year – their third straight year of decline. A key reason behind the decline is a simple one: people are shaving less.

Razor manufacturer Gillette says that men shaved an average of 3.2 times per week, compared to 3.7 times per week a decade ago. Stubble is now an acceptable look and more men are growing out their beards. CNN wrote about it recently.

While this is certainly a trend, razors continue to be sold and shaving product companies are adapting (with strategies such as lower prices and a move into beard grooming products). It’s likely not a game-changer.

Breakfast cereals are the same. Sales are down 11% over the past five years as people look for more natural, healthy alternatives – or the takeout convenience of breakfast sandwiches. But take one look down the grocery aisle and you’ll see that cereals are a long way from becoming the Blockbuster Video of food.

So, what change will be monumental?

Where should we be looking to find the next “big thing”, like Amazon and Uber? Like you, I don’t have a crystal ball, but here are my two picks for big changes that could disrupt our world and create opportunities.

  • Automobiles: More than 30,000 people continue to die each year in U.S. auto accidents (Canada is typically about 10% of these numbers, so about the same rate). People will look back at the 20th and 21st centuries as barbaric for the number of lives lost crashing metal into metal. We know that driverless cars (and virtually risk-free driving) are coming, but what else will change (auto insurance, in-car entertainment options, ownership models, a declining need for personal injury lawyers)? There could be many related growth trends.
  • Farming and meat: Vegetarianism and veganism are growing – along with our ability to manufacture artificial meat. That combination may be enough to turn the traditional food industry on its head. The trick is to identify the companies that could potentially dominate if the trend to less real meat continues.

There are many other possibilities of course. Have you spotted any? Are you moving ahead of the curve?

Thanks for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag

10 Oct

The great estate – 5 ways to make it happen

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

As estate litigators, we’ve seen a lot of bad estates and bad estate situations. The good news is because we know the bad, we can advise clients on how to avoid it and make their estate a great one. No uncertainty, no delays, no conflicts, no nasty tax surprises.

If you want to make your estate a great one, here are five essential elements that can make it happen.

  1. You’ve provided a clear path to the documentation

Ideally, your executor needs the original copy of your will – as do courts to ensure a smooth probate process. So, don’t make your will (and any other estate documents) hard to locate. Whether it’s stored at your lawyer’s office, or registered with the court, or stored in a filing cabinet at home, make sure that you and your loved ones remember where your will is and know how to access it. We discuss this issue in more detail here.

  1. Your estate assets are easy to identify

Don’t assume your family and your executor know what you own. Many of us scatter our assets and accounts more than we realize. Make a list of all bank and investment accounts, insurance policies, major assets, and any virtual assets of value and keep this list with your will or ensure your named executor has a copy.

  1. Your executor is trustworthy and can access the help they need

When choosing an executor, trust is essential as the person selected must be capable of acting impartially on behalf of your estate – regardless of their personal feelings about your estate and the beneficiaries.

While your executor doesn’t need to be an accountant or lawyer or investment advisor, they do need to be able to hire the expertise that your estate might require. In other words, they need to know what they don’t know, and have the common sense to seek out the tax, accounting, and legal expertise that may be needed.

This article provides a great “quick list” of things to consider when choosing an executor.

  1. Everyone knows what’s in your will – in advance

It is dangerous to assume that your intended beneficiaries know what is in your will and have no questions or concerns. Talking today about your intentions and your family members’ expectations lets you address any contentious issues while you’re alive – and avoid potential conflicts after you’re gone.

Even the most well-intentioned gifts – a charitable bequest, the china cabinet to a niece, the vintage hockey cards to a grandson – can lead to questions, hurt feelings and potential conflicts.

Don’t let it happen. Make sure that everyone who might be touched by your will at death knows exactly what’s in it.

  1. Tax planning in place – if needed

You’re deemed to have disposed of your capital assets at their fair market value when you die. This means your estate is liable for capital gains taxes on assets that have increased in value during your lifetime. Your executors may be forced to sell estate assets to pay for the tax liability – and a forced sale may mean the assets are sold for less than their fair value.

There are many strategies available to help cover an estate’s tax liability, from the use of trusts to the purchase of life insurance. Make sure you’ve considered whether tax planning is needed for your estate, and put a strategy in place if needed.

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

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