Will-making – a very human perspective
The lawyers and financial planners are the go-to people to discuss estate planning and wills. Most of us avoid these discussions and, quite honestly, most of the discussions are boring or scary or both. Based on this, avoidance seems like the rationale thing to do. Most of us are unwilling to face our own mortality but this avoidance is about much more than a fear of our own mortality. Laws concerning wills may change, or at least their interpretation may be modernized or reinterpreted by the legal system, but little progress has been made regarding an understanding of the human aspects of will making. Wills are powerful documents. They make a difference in the lives of others and can leave messages (intended or otherwise) for generations to come. We need to step forward and exert our personal power when creating a will to ensure we leave the legacy we intended. This requires looking beyond the technical aspects of will-making and considering wills and associated topics from a human perspective.
Why create this series?
This series hopes to help people move forward, overcoming their will-inertia and find satisfaction in finalizing a will. Making a will can be very unpleasant. As part of their due diligence, lawyers ask questions that can be complicated and sometimes not very complimentary to human behaviour. Certainly lawyers have seen more than their share of bad behaviours and want to protect their clients’ intentions and ensure gifts are distributed as intended to their clients’ heirs. Lawyers will ask the tricky questions that peel back layers of family relationships and asset ownership to discover hidden family members or deep rivalries than can pre-empt successful estate distribution. Lawyers will ask us to consider our lifetime of good and not-so-good relationships and obligations, unleashing personal discomfort, sadness or even anger. Yet, if we can gain a new perspective on estate planning we may be able to approach will-making with more insight and ultimately more satisfying outcomes.
The importance of wills.
The percentage of Canadians who currently have signed wills is approximately 50 per cent of the adult population. Without a signed will a provincial ruling will determine how assets are distributed and may also have influence on guardianship of minors if necessary. The primary motivation for many people to create their first will is typically a sense of duty as a parent. At this stage of life parents want to ensure that their children will be placed in the care of those most trusted and financial assets will be readily available to ensure adequate care for our children.
At later stages in life, will creation shifts from ‘responsibilities for minors’ to ‘giving back’ to the world. Leaving a legacy increases in importance when there are no issues such as guardianships. This is the stage when charitable (or planned) giving often is included in a will.
Another motivation for creating or updating a will and associated documents may be a change in health that implies it’s time to get your affairs in order. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or a related dementia is one of those motivators for reviewing legal and financial documentation. Concerns about cognitive losses that may be already affecting the individual and future changes in cognition and decision-making will spur people to take action. However, the well-intentioned focus on end-of-life planning without also considering the emotional aspects does not best enable individuals to strive to live out their fullest life possible. The practical steps are important. But equally important is the impact of each practical step on our humanness. This series unlike any other, considers both with the hope that professionals, practitioners and those personally affected by Alzheimer’s and related dementias gain new insights into what it really means to put one’s life in order".
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