Death eventually comes for all of us. We don’t have a choice in this matter, but we do have a lot of choice when it comes to what happens after we pass.
On this episode, Our producer, Lisa Pruden, sits down with Victoria Jones to discuss some wishes that people have for themselves and their pets when they die – and let’s just say some of these get pretty creative and may, or may not involve a homemade cannon.
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The Well Endowed Podcast is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation.
Transcripts by Karli Drew.
[The Well Endowed Podcast theme music plays]
Shereen Zink [00:00:25] Hello everyone. Welcome to ECF’s Well Endowed Podcast. I’m Shereen Zink—
Graeme Lummer [00:00:29] And I’m Graeme...
Shereen [00:00:35] These funds are carefully stewarded to generate money that supports charities in Edmonton and beyond.
Graeme [00:00:40] On this podcast, we share stories about how these funds help strengthen our community… because it’s good to be well endowed.
Shereen [00:00:46] On this episode, we’re talking about death.
Graeme [00:00:48] Whoa! Heavy topic.
Shereen [00:00:50] Yeah— Well, it’s more about how to make sure we get what we want when we die.
Graeme [00:00:54] Oh. So really, we’re talking about wills and estate planning. I bet this has to do with Wills Week.
Shereen [00:00:58] Nailed it. Every October, ECF partners with a dedicated team of estate lawyers who volunteer their time to answer your questions about will and estate planning. This year, Wills Week will run from October 2nd to October 6th… and all the sessions are free.
Graeme [00:01:12] It could be hard to think about dying and even harder to talk about, but it is an important conversation to have with your loved ones and it can be a really interesting way to learn about them, as we’re about to hear.
[The Well Endowed Podcast jingle plays in background]
Shereen [00:01:22] Yeah. Our producer, Lisa Pruden, sat down with Victoria Jones, who’s a lawyer at De Villars Jones LLP with a focus on wills and estates. She’s one of the lawyers who will be presenting this Wills Week.
Graeme [00:01:30] Lisa and Victoria discussed some creative wishes for when the time comes.
Lisa Pruden [00:01:34] Victoria, thank you so much for joining us today on the show. Um, so you are a person with many talents, including sewing and theater. But that’s, of course, not why we brought you here today.
Victoria Jones [00:01:48] We can talk about glitter if you want.
Lisa [00:01:50] I always wanna talk about glitter. Okay. [laughs]
Victoria [00:01:53] Right. Sorry. We’re here today about death.
Lisa [00:01:55] So you are a lawyer with De Villars Jones, and you practice mainly with wills and estates. So you are very focused on death. What led you to that?
Victoria [00:02:04] Uh, when I first went to law school, I thought I wanted to be a criminal lawyer, but, um, I did not enjoy that. When I did it in my articles, it was, uh, very sad. Uh, so obviously death, uh, not sad at all. Um, there’s often some interesting stories. You’re helping people through a pretty terrible time in their lives. And then… I’m pretty blasé about death and my focus on wills and estates kind of made that okay.
Lisa [00:02:34] That’s perfect. Thank you. Um, so in anticipation of our Wills Week, which you will be presenting at, we wanted to get your take on some ideas that we’ve heard for what people want to have happen when the time comes.
Victoria [00:02:48] And it will come.
Lisa [00:02:49] It will come for all of us. [Victoria: Yes.] So we have three guests who have shared their hopes with us, and I thought we could play them for you and you could respond with how a will can help make that hope happen or with the obstacles that might come up without a will in place. Does that sound okay?
Victoria [00:03:08] Sounds great!
Lisa [00:03:09] All right! So, um, the first guest we have is extra special for me. She’s my mom.
Victoria [00:03:14] Okay!
Lisa [00:03:16] Her name is Denise. And we, she and I, have had some really interesting talks about death and here’s what she would like.
Hi mom. What would you like to have happen when you die?
Denise Beaupré [00:03:28] I would like my body donated to science. I’ve, uh, had some health issues and a lot of it has been things that were hard to discover and things that they’ve had difficulty treating. So it’s my hope that if my body goes to science, that maybe some other women can be saved from having to go through a lifetime of difficulty.
Victoria [00:03:53] Okay. Donating your body to science. There’s sort of two pieces to science. There’s the educational piece and then there’s research. Um, when you think educational, think surgical students on a cadaver, they often name them, but that’s how they learn. They first learn on a cadaver because they need to actually learn what it feels like to do surgery on a human body. But I think what Denise is talking about is more the research and it’s more about… using her ailments and figuring out how perhaps science can find those faster in order to help future generations. So on that front, absolutely you would wanna specify what your body is used for ’cause I don’t get the impression Denise would like to be in a cadaver farm or in that show that— it was at Telus World of Science and it’s the body show. [Lisa: Body Worlds.] Body Worlds! So I don’t feel like that’s what Denise is getting at. So she should be specific.
[00:05:03] “I’m giving my body to science for these purposes.” She might also reach out to a research institute such as the University of Alberta and talk to them about “What do I actually need to put in my will… to make sure that this happens?” And then she needs to tell her executor because funeral wishes are wishes. And the executor is the person who has the authority to make decisions. So they actually get to decide if you’re cremated or buried, what kind of funeral service you’re gonna get, where they’re gonna put you. So, you need to make sure that whomever you pick as executor will follow through on your wishes. If Denise has gone to a research institution and has a contract, it will bind her executor… if they’ve done it right, and I’m sure they will have done it right. They have quite good lawyers.
[00:05:55] So, then she doesn’t need to worry about if her executor decides, “Actually, I do want mom. I want a bit of mom to live on my mantle piece.” ‘Cause that’s the other thing. If you donate your body to science, it’s not necessarily going to happen that your family gets a piece of you at the end. It will depend on how the research institution deals with your body. And so, I have had clients who would like to donate. One husband wants to donate his body, the wife wants a piece of the body at the end. So he changed his mind and he didn’t donate his body to science because it was too important to his wife. So that’s part of the conversation you need to have as well.
Lisa [00:06:33] That’s so helpful. And yes, I— I was [emphasized] so delighted, actually, when my mom shared with— what she wanted because I know it’s not always an easy conversation to have with your family. So it was… one, like, it felt nice for her to share it. I’m so excited for the idea and… th-the things we learn about each other when we talk about this, um, ar-are wonderful. So I… I really encourage people to talk to your— talk to your parents or talk to your kids.
Victoria [00:07:04] People are very weird about death and people— I often have people say, “I don’t wanna do a will because that means I’ll die.” You’re going to die regardless. Why don’t you do a will that tells your surviving people what you want? It gives them a bit of a roadmap. And frankly, it stops [emphasized] a lot of heartache. It’s already a terrible time. Grief makes people completely irrational. But if you’ve said, “This is the person who’s gonna be in charge and this is what they’re to do,” at least that’s sorted out. But if you’ve done a will in which maybe someone’s gonna be disappointed, have a family meeting. And you can do that, like, you’re— if you’ve gone to a lawyer to do your will, most lawyers will have the family meeting to discuss it because sunlight is the best disinfectant. And then also, it staves off any issues about challenges to the will once you’re gone because you are the person who said, “This is what I want, this is why I want it.” And that person who might challenge the will has heard it. It’s very hard to get over a family meeting from the litigation side. [laughs]
Lisa [00:08:09] Alright. Well our next clip is from a very cool person named Amanda, who herself is an estate advisor. So she has also seen firsthand how wills can shake out and the conflict that can happen between families, as we were just discussing. So she wanted to make sure that a special member of her family is well taken care of when she passes.
Amanda Mccloy [00:08:30] I want to make sure that my cat is still able to live her best life. I’m your typical, I think, geriatric millennial by definition. Um, so I just wanna make sure, you know, she’s able to continue living the type of life she leads now with, you know, fancy food and being well-loved and her fancy toys. And I just wanna make sure she’s able to continue that lifestyle and doesn’t end up in a situation where she needs to go to a shelter. Well, I think we think of our pets as family members. I know I certainly do. However, in the eyes of the courts, they’re still technically considered property. Uh, and therefore it’s very hard for custody arrangements and for judges to rule on custody of pets. Um, so what we want to happen with our pets may not, unless we do the proper planning.
Victoria [00:09:26] So Amanda is correct. Pets are technically considered personal property. They are not at the level that I would say, geriatric or otherwise, millennials might treat their pets and not just millennials. So in your will, you can specify what you do with certain types of property. So you need to have an actual pet clause in the will. And the things you need to think about… who is getting your animal? Is it a relative? Is it a trusted friend? You need to name that person. “I give my pet to whomever.” You may wanna also future-proof it. You could say, “I give whatever pet I have at my death to whomever” because pets may outlast you or you— they don’t, and you get a new one. So that future-proofs your will.
[00:10:19] Then how are they going to be cared for, the person you’re giving your pet to? Are they able to care for it? Do you have the same outlook on how pets should be taken care of? The fancy food, good vet visits, you know. End of— frankly, end of life care gets pretty expensive for pets. What is the philosophy on end of life care? And does the person you’re gonna give your pet to have the same one? Do they have the means to do it? If not, how are you gonna ensure that your pet is taken care of? You can do the classic pet trust. Wills law is, you know, 500 years old. It goes back to the 1500s, England. And if you think about all those rich Englishmen with their foxhounds and their horses, they all made trusts for their animals because those animals were very important to them. And at the time, very expensive. So you can build a trust into your will for your pet.
[00:11:17] Or alternatively, you can give a cash gift to the person who’s getting the pet… on the understanding it’s for the pet— the maintenance of the pet. So that’s sort of the balance you have. And you can, of course, talk to your lawyer and, um… and have that discussion. What does it look like? You also want to include your pet in an enduring power of attorney because an enduring power of attorney, it comes into effect when you’re still alive, but you’re no longer able to manage your property, your finances, your pet. It might be that your pet can’t come with you into your assisted living facility. So you need to… build into your enduring power of attorney who the pet goes to, and that your property can be used for the maintenance and care of that pet. I’ve done it all the time. I did it personally with mine. If my dog Cromwell, which is funny ’cause he was Henry VII’s lawyer in the 1500s. [Lisa: [laughs] I was just about to say.]
[00:12:11] [laughs] Yep, my dog is Thomas Cromwell, not Oliver Cromwell. There will no— not be any regicidal maniacs in our family. Uh, my mother’s very English. But Cromwell, when everything was going to my sister except my dog because she doesn’t like dogs, so he was specifically carved out in both my enduring power of attorney and in my will to go to my parents. And he had money that went with him for his care. So that’s the sort of thing you need to think about.
Um, it’s very similar… a lot of younger parents know they need to do a will, but they don’t know who they wanna appoint as a guardian of their children. And that stops them from doing a will. Don’t let it. Go and do the will. You can figure out the guardians later. But yeah, it’s a similar idea. Who is going to take care of this precious little thing that I have poured my heart and soul into? Pets are just as important these days as children are. So— But they are treated [emphasized] very differently, uh, in law. You know, children are humans, pets are property. So you just need to be aware of that and any lawyer in town can help you with it.
Lisa [00:13:16] So I’m hearing that the way we think about pets now is different than how we thought about pets, like, a hundred years ago. How much of a shift has it been, or have you noticed a shift, uh, along in your career?
Victoria [00:13:30] I think it’s been quite a shift. It’s— I mean, I wouldn’t say pets weren’t as important back then, but they’re more ubiquitously important now. Aristocrats could afford the horses and stuff. These days, it’s completely common for someone to have a cat or a dog. And they are their fur baby, a hundred percent. And especially in this day and age when maybe kids aren’t on the agenda for a lot of people, they therefore have put all of that love and hope an-and time into their pet. And that’s gotta be protected. It’s an import— important element to the person who’s making the will. So we need, as lawyers, to recognize it’s important and how are we going to ensure that this pet is protected the same way that we ensure children are protected in a will.
Lisa [00:14:22] So our third and final clip is actually from our very own Andrew Paul, um, who is going to be sharing, uh, a bit of a story about his cousin who gave such a wonderful gift to his family in planning how his celebration of life would go. [Victoria: Mm-hmm.] And also getting pretty creative with what to do with his remains. So let me… let me play you this quite a lovely story.
Andrew Paul [00:14:50] So Wallace, I believe, is my second cousin. So he’s my dad’s co— first cousin. And Wallace comes from the Nicholson side of my family. And that is my grandma’s, uh, side. Very Scottish. And that branch of the family owns a very cool property just outside of Fairview on the north bank of the Peace River. And this property has been in that branch of the family for about 90 years or so and has always been a gathering place for our family for, uh, family reunions, uh, you know, little vacations. Go down and stay in the, uh, original, uh, homestead cabin that is still on the property and they have still maintained.
It has very lovely backwater, uh, on the river for swimming. And these great mudflats that are just— were just the best as a kid to just [laughs] make little, like… like, otter slides down the riverbank into the, uh… into the backwater there. And it had this place called The Canyon, which was this old sandstone quarry that was filled with, uh, fossils and quicksand. It was just really the coolest place, uh, t-to grow up and visit as a kid.
[00:16:03] Wallace owned that property. He was also a Vietnam War Vet. So he had been, uh, all over the world, uh, with his military career. He was based out of Okinawa, I believe, during the Vietnam War. And so, he always had a love for travel and, you know, the great outdoors. He was very much a… a woodsman. And he passed away, um, not too long ago. And one of the things that he did that was absolutely amazing for, particularly his immediate family, is he left very specific instructions on what he wanted done with his remains, uh, after he passed away. It turned out to be some pretty interesting things.
[00:16:45] So he asked to be cremated and his remains were kind of portioned out, um, for different things that he wanted done, uh, with… with his ashes. Kind of the main event being having a portion of himself shot out of a homemade cannon [laughs] over th-the family property as, uh, you know, the bagpipes are playing in the hills. And he also had a handful of these small, kind of pocket-sized, handcrafted urns created where, um, smaller portions of, uh, [laughs] his ashes were divvied up into that. And family members are now in the process of taking pieces of, uh, Wallace all over the world to scatter his ashes, uh, including Okinawa. Uh, I believe he’s also going to Mexico, a few places in Europe, and kind of anywhere that people are kind of traveling abroad, um, they’re gonna bring a little bit of Wall— uh, Wallace with them [laughs] an-and make sure that he gets his travel fix. Um, in all these, like, really cool, interesting places around the world. The rest of his ashes were scattered around that very special property, which in the family is known as the River Place.
Victoria [00:17:58] This is fantastic. Wallace has given his family the comfort of, “This is what I want. You don’t need to think about it and you don’t need to fight about it. Just do what I’ve asked.” He’s also made it clear he has no problem with his ashes being split up. Not everyone’s okay with that. And he has done some pretty interesting things. The homemade urns are quite lovely. Um, and there’s… there’s no requirement on what an urn is. It’s just a receptacle. When you get the cremains back from the funeral home, they’re in a plastic bag in a cardboard box. There’s nothing required in that sense. But you can do a lot with ashes. I mean, my… my fiance has asked to be shot into space and part of me says, “Sure,” except I don’t wanna spend $20,000 doing it.
Lisa [00:18:47] Oh, that’s quite a price tag.
Victoria [00:18:49] Yes, there’s a price tag on everything in death. Uh, you know, death and taxes, everything’s gonna cost you. So, that’s a consideration. But there’s lots of other things you can do. There’s the usual urns and they can sit on your mantelpiece or you can, um, inter them depending on what you might want or the deceased wants. You can get swirled into a beautiful glass paperweight, which is what I will be doing with my dog’s ashes. Or you can turn them into a gemstone, $5,000 a gemstone, usually. If the ocean was important to them or a riverway, uh, you can get a special paper urn that it takes about 20 minutes when it touches the water before it soaks up enough water to sink. So you can have a nice little ceremony. You can be put, um, with a tree in you. If you’re in Saskatchewan, they can— they have a chemical compound that they put with you— your body in a bathtub, essentially, and you go down the drain. Uh, hard if your family wants to do anything with your remains but terribly environmentally-friendly. So there’s lots of options to be done.
[00:19:59] An-and if you want something specific, write it down. That’s the only way that your family will know and be able to do it. But do note it does cost something. So you want to, in making your estate plan, think about, “Oh, okay. This is what… what it might cost.” And it comes out of the estate first. The very first thing— charge on your estate is your funeral.
So, you know, we… we had a file where the man had a [emphasized] huge beautiful car collection and before he died, he bought six grave plots and had them lined with concrete and bought a headstone on which his picture and his Rolls-Royce’s picture was on it because he has been buried in his Rolls-Royce. [Lisa: Wow!] So his executor had to get the Rolls, uh, modified inside to fit the coffin, and then hire a crane to put the Rolls and the deceased in it— in the, uh, grave.
Lisa [00:20:58] I— For those who can’t see us in the room, my face is one of shock and amazement. My eyebrows are very high on my forehead ’cause I’m just trying to imagine navigating the logistics of this. Wow!
Victoria [00:21:12] Yeah! So that’s a thing. There’s lots of people, uh, dying these days whose grandparents or something have a family plot, but no one ever dealt with the title to the plot. And so, I actually do a number of applications to the court to be allowed to put this newly dead person in the grave with their grandparent. Because at City of Edmonton graves, you can put a casket at nine feet, a casket at six feet, and then six sets of ashes at three feet. So if there’s room in the grave, as long as you have the rights to, uh, put someone in, the City of Edmonton will put them in. So we do a lot of that. But your funeral directions, we do them as a separate document in my office. Not everyone does. A lot of people put them in their will, but we find people can’t get access to the will, often, before they have to make funeral decisions. So, uh, we do them separately because of that. And if you just tell people, “I wanna be cremated or buried,” that’s a really big choice for people. And it often has a religious element to it. So that’s an important thing to communicate. I want a service. My personal funeral directions, no one is allowed to wear black and everyone must wear a hat. I really like fa— British fascinators. The fun, crazy things they wear to the horse races.
Lisa [00:22:29] I love it for my mom, too. She used to love wearing stiletto high heels when she could. So one of her instructions is, “If you can wear ’em, bring your best shoes.”
Victoria [00:22:38] Oh my God, I might have to change mine. That’s amazing. You know, so put it in. My father’s funeral directions tell me exactly what hymns we are playing, which is great. I just have to hand that to the church organist and say, “This is what you’re doing.” So, you can be as creative and as descriptive as you want. And frankly, it’s helpful because then… in the event some beneficiary decides, “I don’t like how much money you spent on the funeral…” You can say, “But here’s the deceased’s wishes.” Because in Alberta, the deceased’s wishes are paramount. And if they’re written down and they’re very clear, you can rely on them. So do what you want and look around. There’s lots of interesting things to do. Uh, the one sort of caveat is you do have to have the landowner’s permission in order to place any sort of remains on the property. Um, that’s in Alberta. Uh, waterways are federal. Good luck getting the federal government to give you permission to put remains in there. However, [whispers] sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness. And then I just made my face real big. [Lisa: Yes.]
[Victoria and Lisa laugh]
Victoria [00:23:45] Yeah. So funerals, the— there’s so many more interesting things that are happening, but remember, people are weird on death. And so, the more information and the more detail you can give them, the more likely your wishes are to be followed.
Lisa [00:24:01] Well, um, Victoria, we only had just three examples today. Each one of them had a rabbit hole, not only into family considerations, um, and the kind of conversations to have, but, of course, into very niche aspects of law. [Victoria: Very, yes.] And that’s just three. [Lisa and Victoria laugh] So we can see that when it comes to wills and estates, the… the possibilities are many, um, but also how the law comes in. Very important. Can get very complex.
So… we are encouraging everyone, [emphasized] please check out Wills Week. [Victoria: Yep.] It’s all free [Victoria: Yes.] seminars on how to think about estate planning, um, where we can get into even more details.
Victoria [00:24:44] Yeah. And there’s the basic Estate Planning 101, and then there’s some more specific sessions so you can sort of look at the specific sessions to see which one’s relevant to your circumstances an-and see what’s there. Uh, I am doing Estate Planning 101 on October 2nd in the afternoon, in person.
[The Well Endowed Podcast jingle plays in background]
So if you wanna come, I highly recommend. And everything’s on the ECF website for what sessions are where and how to access them.
Shereen [00:25:11] Thank you so much to our guests, Denise Beaupré, Amanda Mccloy, and Andrew Paul for sharing their wishes and their stories. And thanks to Victoria Jones for sharing her insights.
Graeme [00:25:21] Wills Week runs from October 2nd until October 6th and there are many free sessions to help you think about your will and other important planning documents.
Shereen [00:25:29] Some sessions will be in person and others will be virtual. You can find the full program at ecfoundation.org/wills-week. And we’ll have the link in our show notes too, of course.
Graeme [00:25:39] We’ll also have links to ECF’s grants and upcoming student awards, and also to our blog for even more great community stories.
[The Well Endowed Podcast music plays in background of outro]
Shereen [00:25:44] Well, that brings us to the end of the show. Thank you, as always, for sharing your time with us.
Graeme [00:25:49] Yeah, thank you so much. If you enjoyed it, please share it with everyone you know.
Shereen [00:25:53] And if you have time, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts—
Graeme [00:25:56] And come visit us on Facebook where you can share your thoughts and even see some pictures.
Shereen [00:26:00] Thanks again for tuning in. We’ve been your hosts, Shereen Zink—
Graeme [00:26:03] And Graeme Lummer.
Shereen and Graeme [00:26:04] Until next time!
Andrew [00:26:07] The Well Endowed Podcast is produced by Edmonton Community Foundation—
Lisa [00:26:12] And is an affiliate member of the Alberta Podcast Network.
Andrew [00:26:14] This episode was edited by Lisa Pruden.
Lisa [00:26:16] You can visit our website at TheWellEndowedPodcast.com.
Andrew [00:26:20] Subscribe to us on iTunes—
Lisa [00:26:22] And follow us on Twitter at @theECF.
Andrew [00:26:25] Our theme music is by Octavo Productions.
Lisa [00:26:27] And as always, don’t forget to visit Edmonton Community Foundation at ecfoundation.org.
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