It’s never an easy time to have conversations about end-of-life affairs — but there is a good time. Too often, Canadians fail to communicate their final wishes, which leaves their loved ones with the complicated and onerous responsibility of settling affairs during an already emotionally difficult time.
Having open and honest conversations with loved ones early on is key to ensuring your wishes are fulfilled, preventing family conflict and preserving relationships. In partnership with RBC Royal Trust, we look at how to start those talks.
Tips on having the conversation about your final wishes
When and how to have the conversation can depend on the dynamics of each family, but planning to have it in a familiar environment, like at home, may allow for a more comfortable discussion. And don’t wait until a health challenge has already occurred. “I would recommend having the conversation during a period of calm, when you’re healthy and organizing your affairs, and not during a time of crisis, when everyone’s emotions are running high,” says Tracey Woo, vice-president of professional practice and tax at RBC Royal Trust.
One way to ease into the conversation is by using a recent scenario as a jumping-off point, whether that’s the purchase of a new investment property, grandkids coming into the picture or hearing unfortunate news.
Leanne D. Kaufman, president and CEO of RBC Royal Trust, points to the experience of a friend whose mother had died. “They’d never talked about what her mother wanted, whether it was to do with the way the estate was settled, or funeral arrangements, or whatever the case may be,” which was very challenging, Kaufman says.
Using other people’s experiences could be one way to start these conversations. Current events could be another. “One of the byproducts of the pandemic has been people thinking about their own mortality or their own potential incapacity,” Kaufman adds, saying that has opened up the willingness to start having these conversations.
Essential talking points to consider
You may want to start by sharing logistical matters — for example, the location of your will — as well as your end-of-life wishes.
“I think it’s also important to have specific conversations, when you’re having a sit-down with your family, around how certain assets are going to be handled,” Woo says. Assets that might not necessarily have financial value, but a lot of sentimental value, like family heirlooms, would require discussion, she explains, as would assets like family cottages.
“Parents need to remember that with a cottage comes a lot of costs and maintenance requirements and work on the loved one to inherit it,” Woo explains. A parent may want to keep the cottage in the family for generations, while their child may not want the additional responsibility of paying for and maintaining it, particularly if they live out of province. Adult children may dispute about cottage sharing or whose responsibility it is to maintain it. Discussing with loved ones their preferences, as well as your own, can help prevent future headaches and disappointments.
One critical component that should not be overlooked is communicating who will be named executor. While it may feel like an honour to be named the executor, the role carries substantial responsibility that may last years.
“We’ve identified probably at least 70 different individual tasks that an executor needs to complete, and sometimes given that you’re reliant on interactions with third parties, government agencies…it could easily take two to three years to get all the things settled and wrapped up and finalized,” Kaufman says. She estimates that it takes at least 100 hours of work as an executor for a standard type of estate.
An executor, however, is not without support; companies like RBC Royal Trust offer executor and trustee services to alleviate the burdensome administrative tasks associated with implementing estate plans.
Ultimately, you want to set things up so that life transitions will be easier for everyone, and to do that, having conversations about your wishes and your family’s preferences is paramount.
Want to talk to a professional about your estate or choosing an executor? Turn to RBC Royal Trust for help.
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