Most things in life are not guaranteed, but one thing most definitely is – death. Although that may be an unpleasant thought for many, we cannot escape from this inevitable truth and should become more comfortable talking about and planning for it.
While a large part of the Canadian population had previously ignored the need for estate planning, the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged people to change their thinking and realize the importance of doing so. In fact, many Canadians took matters into their own hands.
According to a poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in 2018, 51% of Canadians did not have a will in place before the pandemic. There were several reasons to explain this lack of estate planning, with the majority being summarized below:
- 25% think they don’t need to worry about it because they’re “too young”
- 23% feel it isn’t worth their time because they don’t have enough assets
- 18% think it’s too expensive to get a will made
- 8% don’t want to think about dying
- 5% think it’s too time consuming
There have been general studies conducted to find out why people hesitate to make a will. It has been determined that many people are simply avoiding making tough decisions. But why spend time working hard to accumulate assets during your lifetime only to risk having them be distributed without any consideration of your wishes?
There is no harm in starting your estate planning “early” and then periodically reviewing and updating your will and estate plan after a framework has been established. Revisiting plans every five years, as frequently recommended, would greatly reduce the difficulty and time that would be spent once you are older with a larger and more complicated estate.
As well, the expense that can later be incurred as a result of estate litigation is likely to be higher than the cost of making a will now. Alternatively, if you don’t have a large estate, you can make a simple will yourself, although one should be weary of the complications that arise from not seeking professional advice.
The Coronavirus was the wake-up call many Canadians needed to start thinking about their own estate plans. While it is a relief that the pandemic may soon be behind us, the threat of death never truly goes away. Estate planning is a life-long conversation that should be normalized so that one can ultimately “rest in peace” whenever the time may come.
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Ekroop Sekhon
My other two blog posts this week have focused on the utility of model legislation that has been introduced in Canada and the United States to address the issue of fiduciary access to digital assets, and some of the primary differences between the uniform acts of these two jurisdictions.
Today, I take the opportunity to highlight the prevalence of digital assets through the use of some interesting (and somewhat surprising) statistics:
- 99% of North Americans use at least one personal online tool;
- A 2013 study by McAfee suggests that Canadians value their digital assets at an average of more than $32,000.00. Since 2013, the prevalence of digital assets has increased significantly;
- Worldwide, Bitcoins are valued at almost $22 billion, with over $2 million in Bitcoins exchanged every day;
- As many of our readers already know, many Canadians (estimated to be more than 60%) do not have a Last Will and Testament. Of those who do have a Will, 57% of North Americans aged 45 and older have not included provisions that address access to digital assets as part of their formal estate plan. Such provisions may be required in order for an estate trustee to gain access to digital assets, absent the enactment of legislation permitting same or a court order granting access.
Our blog has previously covered some of the common issues resulting from the inattention to digital estate planning, which can arise regardless of the financial value of the assets in dispute.
Have a great weekend,
Other blog posts that you may enjoy reading:
The results of a recent study published in the American Medical Association Oncology Journal suggest that more patients with cancer are obtaining Continuing Powers of Attorney for Property than in the past. Approximately 74% of Americans facing cancer have a Power of Attorney for Property in place. However, while not considered statistically significant, the use of Powers of Attorney for Personal Care and frequency of discussion with respect to end-of-life preferences have actually become less prevalent in recent years, with rates of only 40% (down from 49% in 2000) and 60% (down from 68%), respectively.
Older studies have suggested that physicians should re-evaluate a patient’s mental capacity after significant changes in medication, infection, metabolic disturbances, or diagnosis with a new medical problem, including cancer diagnosis and treatment, which may contribute to changes to mental capacity. While mental capacity is time and task-specific and will require analysis on a case-by-case basis, memory and concentration problems are frequently linked to certain chemotherapy regimens. Some reports suggest that oncology patients may experience the same mental impairment that is often seen at increased rates within the aging population. Further, the cognitive difficulty that is often referred to as “chemo fog” is believed to become more debilitating with the intensity of the chemotherapy. Other cancer treatments, including radiation and surgery, are believed to be less likely to influence a patient’s mental capacity, but medications, such as narcotic painkillers, that may be used to address treatment side effects can nevertheless impact lucidity and the understanding of medical procedures to which the patient’s consent is required. Further, when cancer originates or metastasizes within the brain, neurological functioning may be more likely to become compromised, whether temporarily or for the long term.
The presence of powers of attorney within the cancer community according to the study conducted by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine does not differ greatly from the estimate of 71% of Canadians that have Powers of Attorney in place. Generally, it is a good idea to ensure that individuals of all ages take the time to consider an incapacity plan and to have Power of Attorney documents prepared. However, cancer patients may be more likely than others to have to make important decisions between different treatment options. In situations where diminished capacity may become a more likely scenario due to illness (or related treatment) or age, arrangements should be made to ensure that, if one becomes incapable of making important decisions him or herself, someone who can be trusted is authorized and prepared to do so on their behalf.
Thank you for reading.
Spiders freak me out. I mean, they really…freak…me…out. I can handle the little ones; the ones with features so tiny, they are barely discernible. It’s the ones that have substantive girth, the ones with tricked out designs resembling alien heads on their backs – those are the ones that cause me to fear for my personal safety. The logical part of my brain reminds me that I am 200 times larger than the average spider, and further, there are only 3 species of poisonous spiders in Ontario. In the battle mano a arachnid, I’m pretty sure I’d come out on top. So what’s with my visceral urge to flee? Why does emotion trump logic and hard data?
“What You Don’t Know Can Kill You”, an article in the July/August 2011 issue of Discover Magazine, speaks to the “perplexing tendency of humans to fear rare threats such as shark attacks while blithely ignoring far greater risks like unsafe sex and an unhealthy diet”. The author cites the recent example of Americans spending $200 to hoard $10 bottles of iodine pills after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The U.S. EPA estimated the radiation reaching the west coast of the United States to be about 1/100,000th the dose one would receive on a round-trip international flight. And yet over the course of a few weeks, Americans wiped out pharmacy supplies of the drug. Why are we so inept at gauging real risk? According to the article, the core of the issue lies in conflicting inputs: logic vs. instinct. The instinct part of the equation appears to have roots in evolution, which results in a healthy fear of sharks, bobcats and the like. The article states that deep inside the amygdala (the brain’s emotional core), "our hardwired gut reactions developed in a world full of hungry beasts and warring clans, where they served important functions". No matter that each year, falling coconuts kill ten times as many people as sharks do. Move over logic, emotion is driving this car now.
* Photo courtesy of Jennifer Hartman and one heckuva digital zoom function
Jennifer Hartman, guest blogger