If You Love Them
Leave Them Lists
Planning for the future is the theme of Catherine Rahal’s new book
By Irwin Rapoport
April 13, 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact society daily, and while we can anticipate some changes, others will only unfold over time. The pandemic, sadly, led to the sudden loss of many individuals who had been looking forward to many years of being with family and friends. Montreal author Catherine Rahal, a veteran financial advisor, has experienced the untimely passing of family and knows the value of planning for the future. It is the theme of her new book.
Catherine Rahal offers the ultimate guide to organizing one’s affairs in a friendly and accessible way. If You Love Them Leave Them Lists takes the reader through the necessary documents and thought processes that help put together a complete picture of people, papers, money, digital footprint, stuff and final wishes, and includes a workbook of forms. The target reader is any adult. Older people need it now, and it will inform younger adults how to prepare for upcoming events.
The book is personal for Rahal, who experienced tragedy in her early 30s. “Many have been left ill-prepared to deal with the issues that a sudden death or incapacity causes,” says Rahal. “Often family members don’t know where to find anything, sometimes not even the power of attorney document or the will. As well, peoples’ online lives have taken on enormous importance; from banking, investments and utilities, to work and social media – what does one now do with that Facebook account? This book will provide the reader with tools and so much more.”
If You Love Them Leave Them Lists was years in the making but was written during the pandemic. Touched by death early in life, the book is personal for Rahal. “I became ‘that lady down the street’ when my husband died in the 1983 Air Canada accident at the Cincinnati airport,” she relates. “I was a widow at age 33, so I quickly learned what is important. We tend to think bad things happen to other people but, eventually, we become part of that group. When my brother-in-law died a few years later at age 46, he left a notebook for his wife – that stuck with me and became one of the inspirations for this book.”
Rahal is also an elder planning consultant. She says, “One of the biggest fears most of us share is losing control of our bodies and minds as we age. Our bodies betray us, and our minds don’t always stay as sharp as we’d like. A legacy notebook is a way to exert some control over how the last part of your life will unfold. Having guidelines in place will enable your representatives to reach out to the right people to find help, and can go a long way toward reducing the stress generated when life throws your world into crisis mode. Incapacity and death can touch us at any age. We all leave something behind, and someone needs to take care of it. Help them to do it as you would want it done.”
A little info on Rahal. She was born in the post-war wreckage of Berlin, Germany, grew up in the eastern United States and followed her late husband to Montreal in 1982. Personal tragedy and financial disaster early in life motivated her to pursue work as a financial advisor from 1991 through 2018. She is also a published writer whose personal finance columns have appeared on the Canoe Money website and in the Montreal Gazette. Certifications in elder planning along the way became the catalyst for working on ways to simplify important decisions for those of a certain age.
Incapacity and death can touch us at any age. We all leave something behind, and someone needs to take care of it. Help them to do it as you would want it done.
– Catherine Rahal
An active individual, ‘retirement’ is not in her vocabulary, as I learned when speaking with her for this article. Rahal noted that the book took shape soon after she had seen clients for the last time, with other projects in the pipeline. Rahal credits the creativity and collaboration of designer-collaborator Wendy Moenig, whose illustrations, form designs, and helpful suggestions for text make it the cohesive and elegant publication it is.
In the Q&A below, Rahal discusses her book.
WM: What inspired you to write the book, and how did your personal experiences influence it?
Rahal: When my brother-in-law died in 1989, he left a notebook with information for his wife. That stuck with me. When I later became a financial advisor (which I was for 27 years), I had some experience with difficult family situations when it came time to settle estates. I have also acted as a power of attorney, mandatory, and liquidator (executor) for a close friend.
WM: Why is it important for families to discuss these uncomfortable issues, and what is the best way to do so?
Rahal: The more open people are in discussing these things, the easier it will be to care for them if they become incapacitated. Settling an estate is also much easier if the liquidator knows what the person wanted, particularly when it comes to disposing of personal belongings. This book can act as a guide to those discussions. It isn’t ever an easy thing to do – most of us don’t like thinking about our mortality, but this book can help guide the discussion.
‘The more open people are in discussing these things, the easier it will be to care for them if they become incapacitated. Settling an estate is also much easier if the liquidator knows what the person wanted, particularly when it comes to disposing of personal belongings.’
– Catherine Rahal
WM: Why is it crucial to deal with potential medical issues such as dementia and terminal illnesses in advance?
Rahal: When dementia strikes, particularly if it is aggressive, as it frequently is with the early onset type, the person may no longer be clear on what their wishes are concerning treatment and care. Putting those wishes in writing before devastating illness strikes can be very helpful for caregivers. It may also help avoid disagreements between siblings as to how a parent with dementia or other incapacities should be treated or cared for.
WM: What sparked your interest in personal finance and planning for the future?
Rahal: Money and assets are frequently a source of dispute when estates are being settled. Not all siblings get along. And parents sometimes keep secrets, which come to light after their deaths. Putting your wishes in writing and making sure all interested parties are considered, simplifies the executor’s job considerably.
I dealt with unexpected death early in life. When you lose a grandparent, it falls into the natural order of things, even if that death is an early one – my grandmother was just 69. I lost my husband in a commercial airline accident in 1983 – I was 33, and he was 37 (younger than our kids are now). My brother-in-law died at age 46. I have long been conscious of end-of-life issues.
After the death of my husband, I was defrauded by my chartered accountants. It was a very expensive lesson. It seemed a natural fit therefore to get into financial services, and I was licensed for life insurance and mutual funds. I also became certified in Elder Planning. My goal was to educate and help people avoid the mistakes I made. I gave up my practice at the end of 2018 as planned. It turned out to be a well-timed decision as I then went through treatment for breast cancer – luckily all clear now.
The pandemic, with its forced isolation, was a good time to write the book and the number of people who succumbed to the virus made the topic seem that much more urgent.
‘Putting those wishes in writing before devastating illness strikes can be very helpful for caregivers. It may also help avoid disagreements between siblings as to how a parent with dementia or other incapacities should be treated or cared for.’
– Catherine Rahal
WM: For those looking to place their affairs in order, what do you suggest?
Rahal: It seems to me that anyone can put some effort into this kind of planning. Younger people are not immune to incapacity and death. Thinking about how much you acquire over the years in terms of possessions should include thinking about eventual disposal. Every move means packing it all up. Some of the younger people I speak with have made conscious efforts to limit possessions for that reason. People have emotional connections to their stuff. That does not necessarily translate to saleability and sometimes much of what is left is relegated to donations.
The book is divided into several sections – People, Paper, Money, Digital Footprint, Stuff, and Final Wishes. It is designed to be tackled one section at a time. Filling in the forms in the second half of the book can prompt thinking about how you want things handled and can help facilitate the necessary family discussions. I see it as a different type of insurance policy. As you do with insurance, you put it in place but don’t really think much about it except for the annual review and update required – the same for wills, mandates and powers of attorney. This is an extra layer of taking care of things so that the task will be simplified for the ones who will do the caregiving and the estate settlement.
* * * * *
Rahal will be on hand to answer questions about her book at the Salon Carrefour 50+ from April 14 to 16, between 10 am and 4:30 pm. The event takes place at the Palais des Congrès de Montréal, 1001 Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle in Old Montreal, with admission being free.
The French version of the book is entitled Vous aimez vos proches? Laissez-leur des listes!
The book is available in print or eBook format on the web at catherinerahal.com
Feature image: Pavel Danilyuk – pexels.com
Irwin Rapoport is a freelance journalist with Bachelor degrees in History and Political Science from Concordia University.