Author: Suzana Popovic-Montag

21 Aug

It’s easier than ever to get small

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

Comedian Steve Martin’s 1977 “Let’s Get Small” album foreshadows a lot of what’s been happening in our world recently.

While Martin used the phrase “let’s get small” literally (you take a drug and shrink, rather than “get high”), our world is getting smaller in other ways, only with technology, not drugs.

Our shrinking footprint

Think of the ways that technology has shrunk our world. How many paper files do we need today? How many books? A friend toured the “new look” U of T law school recently and couldn’t believe how small and sparse the offices were for professors. The reason? You don’t need space for shelves full of books and papers anymore.

Look at the trend in condominiums – smaller, smarter, more efficient. We simply don’t need (or value) as much “stuff” – china plates, workrooms, desk space, huge freezers. I cleaned out a small office in our home recently, and took to recycling a satellite receiver, a printer, an old laptop, a DVD player and more cords than you could imagine. I hadn’t used most of it in years, and seeing the clean empty space in the office was extremely satisfying. Less is more sometimes.

A timely trend

With all of the concerns about environment footprints, the fact that we can “get small” much easier today than in the past is a huge positive. We can build laneway housing, take Ubers or use auto shares instead of owning a car – and we don’t need to print mountains of paper when electronic files are faster, simpler and far more desirable. Much of our life truly “lives” on the phone in our front or back pocket. And that doesn’t take up much space.

I’m not recommending a “get small” theme for environmental reasons though (that’s an added bonus). I’m recommending it because it can lead to a simpler and more satisfying life. Instead of thinking “what can I get”, the focus becomes “what can I get rid of.” It doesn’t have to be extreme. Every so often, you eliminate one thing you plug in, or gas up, or store away. Bigger steps might include downsizing a home or going from two cars to one.

This article in Forbes.com – Ten Hacks for Simplifying Your Life – suggests going beyond the downsizing of possessions to include downsizing toxic people in your life, onerous debt, and personal grudges, amongst other things.

Give the article a read – and consider what getting small could mean for your life.

Have a great day, and thanks for reading.
Suzana Popovic-Montag 

07 Aug

The future of cars – hello hydrogen fuel cell

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

Cars have never been a huge focus for me (more of a necessity than a passion) but, at my husband’s insistence, we do go to the Canadian Auto Show in Toronto every four or five years to look at the new models and think through possible future purchases.

When we went several years ago, every manufacturer seemed to have a display centred on electric cars. This was the way of the future, clearly. You couldn’t miss it.

But something seems to have happened. When we went this year, while there were lots of electric cars on display, there was little of the hype from just a few years earlier. And the word we saw more of was something I don’t even remember seeing last time: hydrogen.

Are we almost post-electric?

Did I just wake up and miss the news about electric cars NOT being the next big automotive technology? It seems I might have. I stumbled across this Jim Kenzie review in the Toronto Star comparing a Hyundai electric car versus one of its hydrogen fuel cell cars. Check out what he had to say about the future.

Hyundai … knows as any thinking person does that gasoline will continue to be by far the dominant player for at least another half-century …

Hyundai also understands that battery-powered vehicles will never be more than bit players — again, where are we supposed to get enough electricity to replace all the gasoline we burn?

Simply, we never will.

Battery-powered electrics will mainly be a bridge to the obvious medium-to-long-term solution, which of course is hydrogen-fuel-cell electrics.

You can read the full review here.

Hydrogen may lead

It seems that many in the automotive industry agree with Jim Kenzie. Despite Elon Musk’s view that hydrogen fuel cells are “mind-bogglingly stupid”, a 2017 survey of 1,000 global auto executives concluded hydrogen fuel cell technology will ultimately outperform battery-powered electric vehicles.

A key reason? You can fill up a hydrogen-powered car in five minutes (the same as today’s gas), but electric cars can take hours.

Future plans

In today’s society, new technologies are constantly being developed and trends are forever changing. It’s  important to keep this in mind when contemplating estate plans and future financial investments – what appears to be the “next big thing” one year may be forgotten the next.

My conclusions from all of this are simple. My electric car guilt is now gone. I’m not going to line up for a Tesla or stress about the fact that I haven’t gone electric. Instead, I’ll look for other ways to reduce my automotive carbon footprint – and keep my eye on how hydrogen fuel cells are evolving.

Thanks for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag

24 Jul

Do you miss your alarm clock?

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

Smartphones have disrupted a lot of old school technology – the humble alarm clock being one of them. Few people under 30 own an alarm clock, and I’m sure many don’t even know what an alarm clock is.

Even for the over-30 set, a lot of us rely on our phone to wake up. But is it the best way? The alarm clock was a specialist device – it told time and woke us up. That’s it. Our phones are generalist devices. While they can do a lot of things, they may not do each task as well as a specific device made for a specific purpose. That’s why many people still buy cameras, and calculators, and stopwatches, even though their phones can do all of those tasks.

Here’s the thing about alarm clocks: they’ve come a long way. And many of these innovations could be a big improvement over using the alarm function on your phone. Take a look at these two innovative approaches to alarm clocks that could change your mind about your phone alarm:

Ruggie – no more snooze

The MIT Technology Review quotes a study that found that Americans spend 3.5 months of their lives hitting the snooze button. Since studies have shown that our snooze button habit actually hurts us more than helps us, snoozing is truly wasted time that negatively impacts our lives.

Enter the Ruggie, an alarm rug that only turns off when you get up and stand on it for several seconds. It forces you out of bed and keeps you up. Kiss the snooze button goodbye!

See the light

The sound of an alarm can be jarring, even for good-natured morning people. So here’s a twist: an alarm – the Philips Wake-up Light  – that uses a combination of light and sound to wake you up. The light begins with soft dawn red before moving to orange and then yellow. And it starts 30 minutes before your actual wake up time, so you can ease gradually into wakefulness.

Other innovative approaches

This recent article on the Digital Trends site has several other “alternative” alarm clocks. Check them out – there may be one that wakes you up in a whole new way!

Enjoy your day!
Suzana Popovic-Montag

10 Jul

I’ll be dead before that railway gets built

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

In 2014, just before a provincial election, the Ontario government (then Liberal) announced that a high-speed rail line would be built within 10 years, linking downtown Toronto, Pearson airport, Kitchener, and London.

As the CBC so adeptly noted later, the high-speed rail project soon “slowed to choo-choo speed.” But that didn’t stop the promises. In May of 2017, that same Liberal government announced that the high-speed rail project would be extended to Windsor.

It all sounded great, except there was no sign of action. We hit 2019 – five years into the “built within 10 years” promise – and not a single railway tie had been laid. And then the inevitable happened – the new Conservative government announced that all funding for the high-speed rail had been “paused.”

The downside of democracy

I like our democratic system, but the glacial pace of building key infrastructure projects highlights a huge downside. Politicians make quick headline-grabbing promises to get elected, they delay those promises once elected, and then the promises are cancelled when a new party comes to power.

The result? Nothing gets done, not even little improvements to what we already have. And this isn’t just an Ontario issue – it’s Canada-wide and often occurs when municipal, provincial and federal governments intersect on projects.

A solution

I would love to see a national Canadian transportation super-agency, staffed by smart people making good non-political transit decisions, and with the power and money to make projects happen.

But that’s unlikely to happen soon. As an alternative, I propose the Chinese model. Decree that projects be built, then build them fast. Anyone who’s been to Shanghai recently knows how quickly things can get built.

And back to trains for a moment. This one-minute, time-lapsed video shows how 1,500 Chinese workers built the railway tracks for an entire train station in just 9 hours.

Now that’s the way to get things done!

Thanks for reading … Have a great day,
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

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