For many of us, we look forward to Victoria Day long weekend, so we can spend time bonding with family after the (very) long winter. This year, my family spent some quality time with a much-loved member of our chosen family, who I’m going to refer to as John, to respect his privacy.  John was a roommate to both Bridget and I in university and has been a brother to us in every way but blood since our closest circle of friends met in the first few days of school 27 years ago. John is “Uncle John” to all our children and is dearly loved by everyone.

A month before Christmas, John was diagnosed with a life-threatening malignant cardiac tumour, and by Victoria Day, had undergone six rounds of chemo to damage and shrink the tumour prior to removal. By the time you read this newsletter, he’ll have undergone open-heart surgery to have the tumour removed. John “sailed” through chemo (as much as one can), so we’re all very hopeful he’ll be in the best possible shape to handle the surgery. Needless to say, we greatly enjoyed and cherished our quality time with him over the holidays.

Throughout this process, John has been both optimistic and practical, despite the very difficult odds he faces. His cancer is extremely rare, and the prognosis, frankly, is poor. Being a workaholic, John has spent much of the last seven months volunteering in-between chemo treatments and putting his affairs in order.  Most importantly, he’s kept his dry sensor of humour and nicknamed the tumour “spud.”

John is one of many people facing challenging and life-limiting health situations that I have met, and his resilience and practicality remind me very much of a couple, Joe and Mary, I worked with last year who both found themselves in similar circumstances.

When life gives you lemons

Joe and Mary, a wonderful couple nearing retirement, were referred to us by a close friend who is one of our clients. Both Mary and Joe had been diagnosed with incurable cancers, and, like our friend John, were getting their affairs in order under very difficult circumstances.  Extremely warm and generous people, their family, and their faith are two of the biggest anchors in their lives.

Working through their financial plan was one of the most emotional but highly rewarding moments of my entire professional career. Mary, Joe, and I had many deep and meaningful conversations about their personal legacy and values, and how we might reflect that in their planning.
Mary and Joe’s children are all in their early 20’s and have moved across the country. One of the key legacies we identified was that they wanted to ensure their kids would remain tight and connected long after their parents’ passing as they are today. Initially, they had thought about providing a testamentary trust within their will that would pay to bring the kids together once a year, to accomplish this goal. The challenge, however, was that this would keep the estate open for many years, be subject to a high level of cost taxation, and ultimately, would probably not be practical. We decided to instead use legacy and charity to tie the bonds of family together.

An abundance of giving

Knowing the importance of giving to the family, I connected Joe and Mary to Abundance Canada, a public foundation serving a wide mandate,  but with roots as a faith-based organization.  Abundance Canada’s strong faith-based expertise was a natural fit for Joe and Mary.

Abundance Canada, like many other community foundations, offers donor-advised giving plans, where the foundation handles charitable receipting, and then disburses funds to a variety of charities on the advice of their donor. In addition to accepting gifts immediately, they are structured to receive gifts from the donor’s estate, and then disburse to the donor’s chosen charities over time, (even over many years or decades) if the donor wishes. Most importantly, the original donor can appoint a successor advisor – which in this case, will be the children.

For Joe and Mary, this meant that we could do some smart tax planning now, as well as provide an opportunity for their children to get together yearly in the future. In the immediate term, Joe was able to make a large gift of stock in-kind with a significant capital gain through Abundance Canada to his church this past December. From a tax planning perspective, this allowed him to use the donation credit on his 2018 tax return, as he’ll have little taxable employment income in 2019 after starting his disability claim late last fall. Additionally, his in-kind gift meant that no capital gains tax was payable, and he still received a full tax receipt for the entirety of his donation. Abundance Canada then disbursed the funds to the church, replacing Jim’s monthly donation for the remainder of the year.

Over the next few years, Mary and Joe will gift through their fund at Abundance Canada and start to involve the children in the decision on which organizations are supported each year. Upon their passing, a significant amount of their estate will be donated to the fund to create a legacy well beyond their lifetime. Our hope is that this family tradition of giving will be another layer of glue on their strong family bond that will last long beyond Mom and Dad’s lifetimes. There will always be a warm, positive reason for the four siblings to come together each year to celebrate the family legacy.

I think it’s a beautiful, creative, positive and elegant solution to a challenging situation, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.

Don’t wait

John, Joe and Mary have had unfortunate circumstances thrust upon them to make them think about their legacy at a much younger age than most people. I deeply admire all three for their courage, resilience and warmth; they inspire me daily.  Sometimes the hardest of circumstances helps us to understand what’s most important to us. I think that all three of these amazing people should be inspiration to everyone to start thinking about what your legacy will be, today.