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Review: Willing Wisdom: Seven Questions to Ask Before You Die by Thomas Deans

wisdomThis review first ran in the Aug. 26th edition of The Hamilton Spectator

The Hamilton Community Foundation is bringing Thomas Deans to the Hamilton Spectator auditorium Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. for a free community event. Register by emailing weale@hcf.on.ca or calling 905-523-5600 ext 234.

Willing Wisdom: Seven Questions to Ask Before You Die

By Thomas William Deans

Détente Financial Press Ltd.

$22.95

My dad is one of the 14 per cent.

Thanks to good genes and the miracles of modern medicine, most of us will live long and prosper. More than half of us will be blowing out candles on our birthday cakes well into our seventies, eighties and nineties.

But 14 per cent us will meet the same fate as my dad and not make it out of our fifties.

So believing you have all the time in the world to eventually write a will is a risky proposition that can add to your family’s grief.

If you don’t yet have a will, you’re not alone. By one count, 175 million adults in Canada and the U.S. don’t have one. And this is at a time when the clock’s running down on baby boomers, the greatest wealth creators in history.

Without a will, you’re not only leaving your estate in the hands of the state to be transferred without guidance, purpose or intent. You’re also sending a lousy message to the ones who matter most.

“We all leave something behind, even if it’s indifference,” says Deans, author of Willing Wisdom: Seven Questions to Ask Before You Die. “What we leave behind, specifically our words and deeds, are magnified and examined for clues and hints to guide the lives of those we touched.”

According to Deans, it’s not enough to write a will. We should be talking with our beneficiaries about what’s in our will, who’s getting what and why. There should be no surprises when we’ve slipped the surly bonds of Earth.

We’ve all heard horror stories about a stunned spouse or grown children being left with little or nothing and then lawyering up to contest the will.

Yet even pleasant surprises can be difficult. Some beneficiaries have no idea what their parent or grandparent expected them to do with an unexpected inheritance or how to honour their memory and gift. “In the absence of honest conversations before a gift is made, the gift is more likely to become the opposite of what most benefactors intend – it destroys potential as opposed to releasing it. The real cost of unfinished conversations is unfathomable.”

Starting a conversation about your will can be tough. While we’ll spend $20 to watch death and dying in IMAX 3D, it’s not a topic of conversation around most dining room tables.

“There can be no better way for us to unlearn our fear of death and dying than to do so in concert with those we love,” says Deans. “It’s a gift we owe our family, our friends and ourselves. Knowing that we will live on, and that our work will continue, in the hearts of those we love and in our community – our wisdom served faithfully – is an extraordinary lead-up to death.”

Deans proposes getting together with family (he suggests making this a birthday or holiday tradition) to ask the following seven questions and then use the answers to revisit and update your will as needed:

  1. What word best describes our family? Share a family story that helps explain the word you selected.
  2. Describe how your parents acquired their wealth. Share a memory about something your parents did to provide for you that left a lasting impression.
  3. How would an inheritance advance your dreams for yourself, your family and your community?
  4. In the context of planning for the division of your assets, does fair mean fair or does fair mean equal? Who are you planning on leaving your wealth to, and will you share a copy of your will with me?
  5. Describe how your parents divided their assets and when you first learned of the contents of their will. What would you do the same and what would you do differently?
  6. Describe the role you play or played in the final care of your parents. Can you name one thing that was or is being done well, and one thing you could change or wish you had done differently?
  7. Describe in detail your last wishes.

The conversations that these questions spark may ultimately be the best gift you can give your family. “Family relationships and friends, not money, are the ultimate antidotes for the fear of dying,” says Deans, who adds the seven questions should also be put to charities that you’re thinking of including in your will.

“Family conversations – which don’t cost a dime – are what put a great life and a great death within reach of everyone, regardless of how much or how little money they have.

“In the end, death is what we make it,” says Deans. “So make it familiar by discussing it with the people who matter most in your life.”

If you don’t yet have a will, Deans will convince you to stop tempting fate and book an appointment. And if you have a will, Deans will inspire you to strike an ongoing conversation with the people who’ll be continuing your legacy and benefiting from your wealth and wisdom.

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