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Why Dying In Canada Is Different Today

12/17/2015 11:54 EST | Updated 12/17/2016 05:12 EST
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close up of terminally ill man...

A lot has changed over the past 25 years: Family structures are more complex. And the options for memorialization outside of a traditional funeral continue to evolve. What's more, the chance of living to 100 is greater than ever, which can put more stress on financial planning and the need for longer term acute care services.

With so much to think about, it's easy to put off making end of life decisions. But it's critical to think about the day when you won't be here anymore. Having a sound plan in hand and communicating your wishes to your family and loved ones can help to remove the heavy emotional burden in managing your estate, prevent conflict, and ultimately ensure that your dreams and aspirations turn into a lasting legacy.

Three reasons why dying is different today

1. Canadians are living longer, but the majority have not factored in mental health challenges

It wasn't too long ago that people died frequently from child birth, diseases and conflict. Today, modern medicine and basic improvements to public sanitation have significantly increased life expectancy in Canada.

While people may be living longer in Canada, in many cases our minds cannot keep pace with our bodies and our mental health becomes the limiting factor.

According to the World Health Organization, life expectancy in Canada has risen from 59 for males and 61 for females in 1920 to 80 and 83 respectfully in 2014. In fact, only five other countries in the world have higher life expectancies than Canada -- Japan, Switzerland, Italy, Australia and Sweden.

There is, however, a wrinkle: While people may be living longer in Canada, in many cases our minds cannot keep pace with our bodies and our mental health becomes the limiting factor. There may come a time when you are no longer mentally capable to make financial and personal decisions on your own.

The solution can lie in assigning a power of attorney (POA), which provides authority to another person to make critical decisions for you. Unfortunately, more than 70 per cent of Canadians do not yet have a signed power of attorney. This increases the risk that your loved ones or caretaker may not be able to access funds right away or be able to make important decisions about your care without delay.

2. A Will is critically important, and most Canadians don't have one

A Will outlines how you'd like to distribute your assets upon passing away. It should be updated over time, particularly after major life events, such as marriage or the birth of a child (or grandchild).

However, more than half of Canadian adults (56 per cent) do not have a signed Will. Without a signed Will, family -- and the government -- can make decisions against your wishes regarding the disposition of your estate. For example, property may be divided based on provincial legislation, leaving no say in the division and distribution of your property and estate.

At the same time, challenges around Wills have risen over recent years, which can lead to conflicts about the division of assets and end of life expectations. The drivers of this range from fraud or undue influence (where a person is forced to include something in a Will against their wishes) to increases in the complexity of family structures and dynamics to issues around provisions, and/or clauses that go against public policy (e.g. racial or economic stereotyping).

Where once traditional burial funerals were the standard form of memorialization, more Canadians are choosing cremation instead.

3. Traditional burials are no longer the norm

Where once traditional burial funerals were the standard form of memorialization, more Canadians are choosing cremation instead. The national cremation rate has increased from 47 per cent to 64 per cent over the last 15 years and is expected to rise to nearly 73 per cent by 2019.

The rise in cremation can be credited to a number of factors, including lower cost compared to traditional burials, lower environmental impact, and waning religious restrictions. Cremation is also increasingly being seen as a way to honour the deceased in a more personalized way, such as scattering a loved one's ashes at a cherished site.

cremation urn

Now is the time to plan for your future

Dying in Canada has become more personalized -- but more complicated than ever below. But it doesn't have to be this difficult. Here are three things to think about:

  • Pick a power of attorney. A POA is used in anticipation of sudden changes in circumstances and in combination with a Will and trusts to create an overall estate plan. A general POA appoints a person to deal with assets, such as bank accounts and property. You will need to appoint a POA for Property to deal with financial matters and a POA for Personal Care to make medical and health care decisions.

  • Prepare a Will. Your Will is one of the key documents in the asset succession part of your estate plan. For some, it may be the only document that provides for the distribution of assets and can help ease potential conflict.

  • Talk to your family and loved ones about your Will and what you want your legacy to be. You don't need to share the full inheritance amount. But the discussion should include both the memorialization of you as a person (e.g. funeral, cremation, burial, service, celebration of life), as well as your financial and moral preferences.

Regardless of how you choose to be memorialized, it's important to plan and articulate your wishes, both in writing and verbally to your family and loved ones, so you can leave your intended legacy.