A recent Toronto Star article highlighted what has become a bit of an interesting viral trend in the modern internet era: “scorched earth” obituaries, written by one or more of a deceased person’s relatives, who do not have anything nice to say in their send-off of the departed. The article provides a few highlights from recent examples, including an obituary prepared by a deceased woman’s children that said “they understand that this world is a better place without her” and another prepared by the daughter of a deceased man that began with “I am pleased to announce the passing of…”.
These obituaries are challenging: they provide a fascinating (and somewhat salacious) glimpse into family conflict. But, as highlighted in the article, they also force us to reconcile with some complex and messy subjects. For those of us who practice estate planning and administration, they serve as an important reminder that families are complicated, relationships are rarely straightforward, and that there are two sides to every story. It is our job to probe for information beyond the obvious. It’s easy enough to compile a list of assets and prepare a tax-effective estate plan. What is often more challenging is understanding the interpersonal dynamics in a family, and being able to factor these into a good plan, and then, after death, into the administration of the estate. This article reminds us that we must listen carefully to what clients have to say about their families – or discern what they’re not saying – in order to most effectively serve them.
Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving.
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