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It’s unlikely Jules thought this moment would ever occur. She was on the line with her sis and BIL, plus me, as her financial guy. Jules was dying. Thirty years too soon. “I want to know everything is taken care of,” she whispered. “I want what I’m leaving to do some good.”

Her sister was POA and executor of her will, which was simple. Financial assets were to go to Bev, to be distributed at her discretion, “for beneficial works and social betterment.” On this afternoon Jules didn’t know that after she passed her sister would use the money to pay off her mortgage.

We discussed her funeral. Bev said things were tight at home, and they had no money to pay for one. “That’s okay,” Jules said, after a brief silence. “I have some money in my chequing account. Use that.”

It was the saddest moment of my professional life. Only later did I learn there was no funeral – just an “hour of remembrance” at her workplace. No cost. No idea where that money went.

Over the years my view of humanity hardened as I dealt with a lot of families where disability, decline and death brought out the worst. Adult children salivating over inheritances. Family members unwilling to provide expensive care for parents with dementia because it would eat into their share. Executors who had zero ability, inclination, time or patience to discharge complicated duties. Two offspring named as POAs who couldn’t agree on mom’s care, so she went wanting.

The last thing most people want is to have their families bicker and torn apart after they pass. Yet they plant those seeds of conflict through ignorance or a misplaced sense of obligation ‘to be fair’ to their kids. A big mistake is making a child an executor. An even bigger error is naming two of them.

Executing a will and fulfilling a person’s wishes, dealing with government, the CRA, pensions, beneficiaries, banks, creditors, real estate, lawyers and accountants is almost a full-time job. On average 70 functions must be performed, with the process taking about 18 months. If your 35-year-old son is executor he probably has a family, a job, obligations, no professional financial training and little extra time. He might also have moved to another province or country. He may be unaware he’s legally responsible (for years) for any labilities of the estate or back taxes that could be levied.

Dying’s a complicated thing. It takes much work to prepare. Not spending some time on this is wholly irresponsible and hopelessly unfair to those you leave behind. Everybody should have a will, properly drafted and executed (not the online kind) the location of which is known and protected. Try to find someone competent to be executor, with the time and common sense to do the job. Seldom is there any advantage in choosing a family member who may be utterly distracted by your passing, consumed with their own affairs and devoid of experience.

The best choice is an institution – trust company or legal firm, for example – with a fiduciary responsibility to carry out your wishes. We’ve delved into this option in past blogs, making the argument that a fee of 4% of so of an estate’s value is well worth the cost. This is the best guarantee that those you leave behind, and love, will not be burdened or stressed.

Of course, the more complicated your life has become (pensions, properties, assets, business interests, payments, partners, pets) the more complex will be the unwind. Is your kid really up to this challenge? It’s worth some thought to understand the complexity of your demise – and this calculator from my colleagues at Raymond James – might help in that process.

As for POAs, be careful.

A power of attorney for personal care gives that person the right to make immense decisions on your behalf – emergency health care, placement in a nursing home or LTC facility, and all aspects of daily care if you lose your marbles. The Continuing POA grants the right to make binding decisions on your finances, income, investments and property. Once you sign that, it’s effective. Spouses should name each other for both. A surviving spouse must then choose carefully. And do not name multiple children to carry this out.


Simple. To look after you and take action, both POAs must agree. Bad idea. People change, move away, become distracted or financially pressed. Ditto with multiple executors on a will. If they do not agree on everything, the process can be stalled and the will not acted upon – until a court intervenes.

Moreover, with two executors each one is legally responsible for the actions of the other. If one child were to remove money from the estate that was not legally allowed, for example, the other person is equally exposed to legal or tax consequences. Additionally, if one executor decides not to participate, or gets sick, or becomes disaffected, the will can languish, with no beneficiaries paid. Until that person renounces their duties, it’s all gummed up.

And you thought things ended when you croak?

You wish.

About the picture: “This is a photo of Sable, our Great Pyrenees x Lab mix, enjoying a hike in the Rocky Mountains near Calgary,” writes Andrew. “She has been with our family for 5 years. She is an incredibly intuitive and loyal companion – always up for an adventure, but just as happy to sleep outside our daughters’ rooms with one eye open. I imagine she guards them like her flock of sheep, which the Pyrenees breed is known for. As a daily reader I would like to thank you for all your advice over the years. We are in a much more comfortable financial situation due to it.”


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