Mikestrathdee’s Blog

How to plan your digital estate
July 3, 2014, 1:19 pm
Filed under: Estate Planning, Financial Management, retirement, Uncategorized

First published in Canadian Mennonite, July 2014

The most surprising “friend” request I ever received on Facebook came from someone I knew only slightly.

That may not seem unusual, except the person was dead. When I clicked the Facebook page, which has since been taken down, I found an unusual memorial. It spoke of being glad to be free of pain and cancer, missing family and so on.

This memorial, a digital legacy, is becoming common.

That incident may seem silly to those of us who didn’t come of age in the computer era. But the question of what happens to digital assets—anything stored in electronic form—is becoming a hot topic for lawyers, trust officers and anyone who helps people do end-of-life planning. Some people’s digital assets may be worth more than their cars.

The list of things that qualify as digital assets and often don’t get mentioned in a will is huge: text documents, photos, multimedia files, user licences, profiles for online accounts (Facebook, LinkedIn) and subscriptions.

In some cases—accounts at financial institutions and rewards programs—substantial amounts of money are at stake. Or someone just may want an account or pictures taken offline.

Changes in technology are way ahead of how we think about changes we need to make in estate planning. Soon we will need to add “tech savvy” to the list of qualities we want our estate trustee to have.

Issues we need to consider include making a list of our online accounts, passwords and security questions, and where the information that will allow someone to access these is stored: computers, mobile devices, flash drives or websites.

“Normal” rules of how trustees get access to information when someone dies don’t apply to the digital world, complicating this new list of things to think about. Each company has different regulations on how it handles the situation, and standards are mostly lacking.

Google may require a U.S. court order before it will disclose any information. Yahoo allows no right of survivorship or transferability on accounts. There have been lawsuits in the U.S. over these policies.

Shoppers Drug Mart won’t allow the transfer of rewards points from a deceased person, but will allow the estate to donate them to certain charities.

One Kitchener, Ont., lawyer is now asking clients to do beneficiary designations for Air Miles points.

A handful of U.S. states have passed laws to impose some order. Nothing of the sort is in place anywhere in Canada.

An easy and important step for estate trustees to take concerning electronic assets is to notify credit agencies about the deceased’s passing. Identity fraud is on the rise, and the risks increase with the amount of online activity.

If the potential complications of all this makes your head spin, you are not alone. Please pass the Aspirin. All the more reason to think twice when you are asked to serve as an estate trustee. Turning the job over to professionals and letting them worry about navigating these complications could be money well spent.

To help you keep track of a wide range of accounts and assets, MFC offers a free, downloadable Personal Information Directory at MennoFoundation.ca/PID.

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


Retirement- a welcome or worrying prospect?
January 21, 2011, 10:13 pm
Filed under: retirement | Tags:

Retirement . How do you feel when you are asked about it?

Are you somewhat jealous of teacher friends, who, in their early 50s, are already counting the days, only a few years away, when they can say goodbye to their day job while enjoying a full pension?

Do you wonder how your circumstances will ever make retiring possible?

It is pretty difficult to find any Biblical support for the modern notion of retirement – turning our back on work at a certain age. God made us to be productive. But society has taught us all to look forward to retirement, if not how to plan for it properly.

Concerns about retirement are increasingly common in media and government discussions as the largest generation of Canadians ever approaches and enters the “retirement years.”

Fear about not having enough is a dominant theme.

One recent poll of Canadians aged 50 or more found that about half of them weren’t sure that pensions, government and otherwise, would provide them with a comfortable retirement.

Close to two-thirds of people polled in another recent study said they think the Canada Pension Plan will have to reduce payments in future. (This is unlikely given the way that the federal government has increased premium payments in recent years to ensure CPP has more than enough money to meet obligations for decades to come. Full CPP and Old Age Security benefits are designed to replace 25 per cent of working income.)

Part of that pessimism may relate to ever-increasing expectations of what a “comfortable retirement” means. Most North Americans now view as necessities many things that previous generations would have called luxuries, or in many cases, not even have dreamed of.

The financial industry contributes to the retirement fears/gloom by insisting that people need to save $1 million or more to avoid being in dire straits in the autumn and winter of life. Hearing what seems an impossible goal induces paralysis and denial for some.

It is also true that many of us aren’t making retirement savings a priority.  Some may be better off paying down debt or contributing to the new Tax Free Savings Account (especially people earning $36,000 a year or less). Only a third of Canadians put money into an RRSP this year, and 30 per cent haven’t yet started saving for retirement. This suggests many people don’t have the cash to save for retirement or are spending it on other things.

The picture is not all bleak. Actuary Malcolm Hamilton says even people who start saving for retirement at age 50 with their debts paid off, and make large contributions every year until they retire, will be ok.

He thinks many Canadians can live comfortably on a much lower retirement nest egg than what other expert voices claim. Saving $300,000 in an RRSP and receiving full CPP and OAS benefits, a retired Canadian would have an annual income of about $30,000 after tax.

What’s the church’s role in all of this? Will leaders help people to live within their means, save for later years and to maintain God-honouring expectations?

Help us oh Lord to number our days and to count the cost of getting there.

Write a will now – for your family’s sake
January 21, 2011, 9:57 pm
Filed under: Communication, Estate Planning, Financial Management, Marriage, retirement

published in Christian Week Ontario November 2009

If you die tomorrow, would you leave behind a headache for your family?

Nearly half of Canadians have never made a will. Many more have never completed other documents that could save their family a lot of grief in the event of a tragedy. Only 21 per cent of Canadians under 35 have made wills, according to a national study conducted for FLA Group.

Young families may think estate planning can wait. But failing to name guardians for your minor children means that if both parents die, a judge could award custody to the family members you would least want your children to live with. Having the main breadwinner die without a will in place will lead to headaches, and likely financial hardship, for the survivor.

In Ontario, the estate of a person who dies without a will, leaving a spouse and one child, the first $200,000 goes to the spouse. Any balance will be divided equally between the spouse and child.  As minors can’t inherit, the child’s share will be held in trust until the child is 18. If the deceased leaves a spouse and more than one child, any balance (over $200,000) would be one-third to the spouse and two-thirds (in trust) to the children.

Even at age 18, many young people are not mature enough to make good choices about an inheritance. If you don’t make a will, your children receive their entire inheritance at 18.

My most vivid memory of a decade spent doing estate planning seminars and personal counselling involves a Sunday afternoon session in a small town’s biggest church. After I questioned the wisdom of letting children inherit at age 18, a young woman jumped up and said: “I agree with you completely. That’s a bad idea.”

Later on, she told me a sad story. When her father died, she and her brother were each left $60,000, payable at age 18.  Her brother wrecked vehicles, ran up debts and left a string of unpaid bills in the two years it took to deplete his share. She did a little better, but was determined not to repeat the mistake with her own children.

You should also prepare for the bad things that can incapacitate us without killing us. If you aren’t able to conduct your financial affairs and have never had a continuing power of attorney for property prepared, “a potential nightmare awaits the family,” Fish and Kotzer suggest in their book The Family Fight – Planning to Avoid it.

A Cambridge couple lived that nightmare earlier this decade. When the husband suffered a stroke, his wife found herself unable to complete the sale of the family home, yet needing that money for a condo they had purchased. His share of the home sale was held for a time by the Public Guardian and Trustee. It cost her a lot of grief and money to get the situation resolved.

Do your loved ones a favour –have a will and powers of attorney drafted ASAP.

Working towards meaning – Jan 2009 Canadian Mennonite
January 8, 2009, 3:31 am
Filed under: Financial Management, Investing, retirement, Work

God, Money and Me

Working our way towards meaning

“What’s your theology of work?” the seminar leader asked his audience. And how, he wanted to know, does that view of work get expressed in dinnertime conversations at home? If families don’t teach a proper theology of work, their children could grow up viewing work as drudgery, something to be avoided, he said.

John Beckett, in the book Mastering Monday: A Guide to Integrating Faith and Work, points out that Adam and Eve’s early work was a source of pleasure, “a reflection of the Father’s own creativity and diligence.” Far too often, he writes, we take a completely different view of work, which is why 9 a.m. Monday morning is the peak period for heart attacks.

Part of whether we can say, “Thank God it’s Monday” with the same enthusiasm we embrace the weekend, may depend on whether we have a Genesis 2 or a Genesis 3 view of our labour. Do we view it as a creative and fulfilling act or as cursed drudgery that is at best a means to an end?

Often conversations about work move to plans for a time when current efforts give way to other pursuits. When people express concern to me about how the recent stock market drop has ravaged their retirement savings, I joke that my RRSP puts me on the “Freedom 85” plan.

There is no denying the difficulties that recent events have caused for millions of people who are already retired or contemplating retirement. One recent report suggested that many folks will have to postpone retirement by six or seven years.

[I]t is difficult to find support in the Bible for our modern notion of retirement.

At the same time, I wonder if our expectations of being entitled to get out of the work force to a life of leisure as early as possible are also a problem. In a previous career writing for a daily newspaper, I was saddened to learn of former co-workers who died soon after leaving their jobs. Deadline stress, poor lifestyle choices and working night shifts may have been contributing factors. I’ve also read of people in a variety of other industries dropping dead shortly after getting their gold watch. In some cases, they had so much of their identity tied up in doing, that they lacked purpose beyond the workplace.

More fortunate are those who find themselves so bored after a few months of leisure that they seek out a new, often slower-paced, career.

In his best-selling book, The Number: A Completely Different Way To Think About The Rest of Your Life, Lee Eisenberg cites a study about attitudes towards work. “Nearly 70 percent of pre-retirees said they plan to work at least part-time in their ‘retirement’ years, or plan never to retire at all.” For some, the decision is based on financial necessity. Yet more than two-thirds of respondents to a national survey cited work as being the way a person “stays active, remains useful and has fun.”

And it is difficult to find support in the Bible for our modern notion of retirement. God put Adam in charge of naming things in the Garden of Eden so he would have purpose and meaning in his life. How does that understanding of work mesh with your plans for what could be the last quarter of your life?

Eisenberg talks about “downshifting” being a healthier alternative to giving up employment altogether. For him, “revolving retirement” involves short-term jobs, new fields of endeavour and ongoing efforts to bring money and meaning into alignment. That sounds good to me.

Why it’s important to have Powers of Attorney in place
January 1, 2009, 5:42 pm
Filed under: Communication, Estate Planning, Marriage, retirement
From the October 1, 2007 issue of Canadian Mennonite
Failing to planMike StrathdeeMost of us put off preparing for worst-case scenarios. But changes in what health care and financial institutions require of clients means that there are many good reasons to get our affairs in order—for the sake of those we love, if nothing else.

People generally don’t realize the need to have valid Powers of Attorney for Health Care (known in some provinces as advanced/health care directives, living wills or proxy directives) in place, so someone can advocate for them if they can’t speak for themselves.

A recent Royal Bank survey found that only about 48 percent of adult Canadians have wills. A chaplain at a hospital in Kitchener, Ont., says his guess is that as few as 5 percent of the people he works with have a valid power of attorney.

Increased concerns about liability, and the fear of being sued, lead health care professionals to take a hard line on the issue of informed consent to treatment. If a tragedy left you unable to express your wishes, would you want to leave the decisions on treatment in the hands of people who may not know your values?

Here are a few stories about what can go wrong.

A few years ago, a Kitchener lawyer gave an example of the extra stress that can result from a lack of preparation. A woman went to check on her elderly mother, and found her on the kitchen floor, unable to speak coherently. The ambulance was called, but the mother had never granted power of attorney to anyone. The daughter couldn’t prove her mom wanted to go to the hospital, so she was forced to call a cab.

The daughter couldn’t prove her mom wanted to go to the hospital, so she was forced to call a cab.

Inaction in authorizing people to represent us can have serious financial repercussions as well. A man recently told me how his wife, aged 52 and 10 years his junior, had suffered a serious coronary attack five weeks earlier and was in a coma. Her workplace benefits package entitled her to apply for disability coverage, but the insurer was balking at processing an application from a spouse who couldn’t prove he had the right to speak for her. The couple had never considered the possibility that she might be the one to become incapacitated. No power of attorney had been designated.

In another case, a Cambridge, Ont., couple was selling their home when the husband became incapacitated due to an aneurysm. Both names were on the deed, so the husband’s signature was required to complete the transaction. They had never given each other power of attorney, so she was unable to complete the sale quickly. When the deal closed, half of the sale proceeds were sent to the Ontario Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee, to be held in trust for her husband. She had to apply to the courts for official guardianship of her husband, a process that took several months.

It is wise to set in place instructions about who should be in charge if you can’t be.

Ask your area Mennonite Foundation of Canada consultant for a free Estate Planning Guide or for guidance in your decision-making.

Mike Strathdee, CFP is a stewardship consultant with Mennonite Foundation of Canada’s Kitchener, Ont., office. For stewardship education, estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit mennofoundation.ca.