Mikestrathdee’s Blog

Things I wish I had convinced my father
January 23, 2014, 11:08 pm
Filed under: Communication, Estate Planning, Financial Management

First published in the Jan. 20, 2014 issue of Canadian Mennonite magazine

We almost missed it on the first pass, buried under the newspapers and magazines that were filling a large recycling bin. If we hadn’t been checking each piece, it would have been discarded unnoticed.

“It” was a letter I had long forgotten having written. My aunt, helping to clear out my father’s house this fall after his sudden passing, couldn’t believe Dad had kept the letter in his reading pile for so many years.

Dad told me in 2007 that he was naming me co-trustee of his estate and I wrote the letter to suggest steps he could take to simplify things. Making his wishes clear could minimize misunderstandings.

I mentioned that most people don’t state their wishes around distribution of personal effects. This is unfortunate, as disagreements about who should get an item that has fond memories attached to it are the greatest source of family conflicts after a loved one passes.

Dad had many musical instruments and all five of his grandchildren play one or more. Knowing his thoughts would have made some of the divvying up easier. Thankfully, no one has come to blows over any of Dad’s things!

As I haul stuff hither and yon, I wish I had convinced him of a few things:

• Federal deposit insurance protects up to $100,000 at chartered Canadian banks. Similar provincial insurance protects deposits at credit unions. Like many folks his age, Dad didn’t trust banks and spread his money around. But the only difference between 10 separate $20,000 deposits at 10 institutions and two $100,000 deposits is the work required to wind them up.

• Tell your trustees where important stuff is kept. My aunt and I had to visit numerous financial institutions before we discovered where Dad had rented a safety deposit box.

• Label your keys and tell someone where you keep them. Ask a Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC) consultant for a copy of our Personal Information Directory. We couldn’t find keys to Dad’s freezer, where a lot of important stuff was carefully wrapped in zip-lock bags. A crowbar took care of the lock, but not the answer to where his safety deposit box keys were located. I found those keys hidden in the back of a dresser drawer, weeks after paying to have the box drilled open.

• If you collect things of value, leaving records of the purchase date, maintenance schedule and so forth is helpful to trustees in establishing what stuff is worth.

• Put something in writing to inform your loved ones of your wishes for healthcare if you are incapacitated. Many Canadians have never prepared incapacity documents like powers of attorney or advance directives, and don’t understand the consequences of failing to prepare. Do your loved ones a favour and spell out your wishes. MFC can help. Ask for a copy of “Your will and estate planning guide” or meet with a consultant.

Mike Strathdee is a stewardship consultant in the Kitchener, Ont., office of Mennonite Foundation of Canada. For more information on impulsive generosity, stewardship education, and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit MennoFoundation.ca