Estate Planning

Estate planning: Seven questions that will change lives

Estate planning: Seven questions that will change lives

Bob and Beth had lived near Edmonton where Bob had operated a highly successful company for over 30 years. They were multimillionaires.

Bob and Beth had wills in which they would leave everything to the surviving spouse if one of them died, and to their only child on the second death. So far, so good.

Bob, Beth and Lyn, their daughter, were all killed in a car accident. The couple’s fortune went to Lyn’s estate.

Unfortunately, Lyn was estranged from her dead-beat husband, a severe drug user. Son-in-law Terry got the family fortune – a company worth millions, a huge acreage, a home in California and a home in Kelowna, B.C. Their estate value was well over $10 million.

This story was told to me by a colleague who managed Bob and Beth’s money. It crushed him to see the wealth that the family had worked so hard to create go to someone who began to decimate it. All because while Bob and Beth’s estate planning was in order Lyn’s wasn’t, with horrific consequences.

Less than half of Canadians have a will. Most existing wills are either outdated or done incorrectly. Dying with an improper will can leave a legacy of chaos for those who are left behind.

Related article: Too many Canadians have no will

“This is a tragedy in the making that will transcend money,” Thomas Deans writes in his important book, Willing Wisdom, “and is guaranteed to affect relationships profoundly and irreversibly.”

Willing Wisdom is just 142 pages and is written in a folksy style. The book provides a process to make sure that you’ve made correct estate decisions. Deans gives seven questions that need to be asked to make sure that your affairs are in order. However, the first priority is to have a relevant will that represents your current wishes. Otherwise, you risk financial and personal catastrophe – including severe loss of estate value (as happened to Bob and Beth) and fractured family relationships.

Related article: Include your legacy as part of your estate plan

Deans says that few people have talked to their families about their plans for distributing their assets during their lifetime and after death. Willing Wisdom is his response to those who have not had the inheritance conversation.

The idea of drafting a will and sharing intentions in collaboration with beneficiaries will be difficult for some, but this simple idea makes Willing Wisdom an important, and controversial, book.

The first part of Willing Wisdom explores Deans’ own family story of how they used serious communication. Contrasting Deans’ success story, the book also reveals the stories of others whose estate plans were not so successful. The second part focuses on Deans’ seven questions, which outline the most important things to discuss with your family in preparation for dealing with all things in a will.

Related article: Communication is essential in estate planning

Here are the questions.

  1. What word best describes our family? Share a family story that helps to explain the word selected.
  2. How did our parents acquire their wealth? Share a memory about something they did to provide for us that left a lasting impression.
  3. How would an inheritance advance our dreams for us, our family and our community?
  4. In the context of planning for the division of our assets, does fair mean equal? To whom are we planning to leave our wealth?
  5. How did our parents divide their assets and when did we first learn of the will’s contents? What would we do the same and what would we do differently?
  6. What role did we play in the final care of our parents? Name one thing that was or is being done well, and one that we might do differently.
  7. In detail, what are our last wishes?

These seven questions are an excellent tool to initiate these necessary, meaningful conversations in the estate planning process.


  1. gcai

    The book link for Willing Wisdom (Amazon) lists it for $120.00 CAD – Really!?!? Wow!

    not going on my buy list any time soon

    • Joanne McDonald

      This morning it’s listed for $144.06 Cdn on Amazon. Seems like something’s wrong on that price.

  2. KC

    AGreed. I’ll just wait until it gets to the library.

  3. Wayne Rothe

    Don’t go to Amazon. The best, lowest cost way to buy it is at The same applies to the companion book, Every Family’s Business at That review is coming.

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