It often takes something extraordinary for us to make changes in our lives. Twenty-six centuries ago, two warring nations fought a war in what is now northern Turkey. The Lyndian Kingdom and the Median Kingdom had a long, bitter conflict that had lasted over six years. Like many wars, the conflict was a stalemate, with neither side willing to give ground.

Then, on a late spring day, on the 28th of May, 585BC, thing changed in a dramatic fashion. As the armies fought furiously, day turned into night. Stunned, the soldiers put their weapons down, fearing that their conflict had led to the disappearance of the sun. Within a short time, the two warring kingdoms signed a peace treaty.

Today, we know that the battle was ended by a Total Eclipse of the sun – something which will occur across part of North America on April 8th – just a few days from now. As you probably will recall, one of my hobbies is astronomy. And one of the items on my bucket list is to see a total solar eclipse. Usually, this would require travelling to far flung parts of the world…but in a few days, the path of the total eclipse will be just 10 kilometers south of my home.

Interestingly, the 585BC eclipse is believed to possibly be the earliest predicted eclipse known in history. It is sometimes referred to as “The Eclipse of Thales”, after the Greek philosopher who was reported to have accurately predicted its occurrence by ancient Greek Historians. Modern scholars still debated if such a prediction was possible, but if true, it marks an important scientific advancement in the history of humanity.

My friends who have seen a total eclipse tell me it’s a life altering experience. If you are in the path of totality (99.9% is not enough – you need to be in the 100% coverage zone), you can actually see, safely, the Sun’s corona naked eye. Every person I have talked to has described it as one of the most profound spiritual experiences of their lives.


Life altering Events

I’ve been a financial planner for almost two-and-a-half decades. During my career, I’ve noticed over and over again that it often takes a life-altering event for us to tackle planning topics that otherwise make us feel uncomfortable. It’s not fun to talk about estate and financial planning, but it definitely takes on a new priority if we’ve experienced something profound. There is, after all, a reason why the pandemic created one of the largest booms in will revisions that any of my estate planning lawyer friends can recall.

For some people, the profound moment is the loss of a close friend or family member – for others is a diagnosis of a potentially fatal disease. These moments are sometimes harsh and unforgiving times to realize that work needs to be done.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a better, kinder way to get over our fears? It turns out that like eclipses, science can provide us with the answer.

I’ve written before about the research done by Dr. Russell James of Texas Tech University. Dr. James has shown that any discussions around end-of-life planning result in our brain triggering “fight or flight” type responses. According to his research, we will only focus on handling our affairs if something can over ride this – like a major scare that comes from a life-altering event OR, if we instead appeal to the “autobiographical” part of our brains. The best way to do this, according to his research is to talk about still living individuals, who have taken similar actions. In one of his studies, he found that if lawyers talked about other, current clients who left a gift to a charity in their will, donors were almost three times as likely to do the same – and the average size of gift was more than twice as large – a total impact of 7.5X the impact! The only difference? Instead of saying “Would you like to make a gift to charity in your will?” the lawyers said “Many of our clients leave a gift to a charity when doing their wills. Is there a charity you would like to support?”. It’s a very small change in wording, but with a profoundly different result. Words, and stories, matter.

So, if you struggle with thinking about your own financial and estate planning, try thinking differently next time. Focus on the people you know who have already taken action, and you may find it easier to tackle some conversations that can feel difficult and uncomfortable.

There is a reason we tell so many stories each month in our newsletter – science tells us it helps motivate our readers to take action on their own financial affairs. We are, after all, here to help inspire you!

Where will you be on April 8th?

If you are fortunate enough to live somewhere near the path of totality, please try your best (weather permitting) to get in the path of totality. For Ontario readers, totality will occur along Lake Erie, with the best spots being Longpoint and the Niagara Peninsula. Brantford and Hamilton will *just* be inside the path. Most of the GTA will be just outside totality, so if you live there, either head to Niagara, or get along lake Ontario east of Port Hope. In Quebec, totality will cross the southern areas of Montreal, and stay south of Drummondville, before turning towards New Brunswick. There, totality passes over the centre part of the province, including Miamachi and Fredericton, but just missing Moncton, before heading to the northern half of PEI. Finally, central Newfoundland will be a prime spot – however both Corner Brook and St. John’s will be just outside the line, while Gander will be inside the zone.

I hope the weather will cooperate for all of us – and I certainly hope one of my long-awaited bucket list items gets checked off.

Many thanks to my friend, Malcolm Park, one of Canada’s most talented astrophotographers for the use of his images of the 2017 eclipse. We’ve made a donation to the Kidney Foundation as a thank you for the use of his photos.