• Every family is complicated (and that's okay!).
  • Stressful experiences like the death of a loved one can cause old tensions to flare up, or exacerbate differences in values or communication styles.
  • When planning for your Aging & End of Life process, it's key to consider the unique relationships & dynamics that your family members have with each other, and be proactive about planning around potential sources of conflict.

In Ontario, we’re lucky if we get 4–6 weeks of proper summer weather. This month, August, is usually our best bet for consistent sunshine, so a lot of families end up booking their summer vacations around this time of year. They head up to their cottages. They book campsites in our province’s beautiful, sprawling parks. They invite the family over for a grill-out, where the name of the game is to consume more alcohol, s’mores, and hotdogs than you can count. 

There are any number of places you could choose to spend your lazy summer days. At the end of the day, where you are and what you’re doing isn't really important. What is important: passing the time with people you care about. 

Family is complicated (and that’s okay)

Canadian actor and health activist Michael J. Fox once said, “Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” The time that we spend with our family is crucial to both our and their mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

But don’t get me wrong: family isn’t always fun. Sometimes it can be exhausting, annoying, and a logistical nightmare. And no matter what your family looks like — whether you’re part of a teensy nuclear family or a sprawling blended one — family is complicated. 

Because our society is so centred on family, I think a lot of people feel uncomfortable acknowledging or addressing sources of tension in their familial relationships. After all, family is everything. It’s supposed to come so so easily! We’re all supposed to get along perfectly at all times! 

To that, I say: as if. No family is “perfect,” and that’s okay. But when it comes to Aging & End of Life Planning, we have to be ready to deal with that complexity. We need to look it in the face and deal with it head on, while we still can. 

Because when we choose to look the other way, that’s when things can really get messy. If you’re creating an Aging & End of Life Plan without having an honest look at your family’s relationships with each other, you might as well be leaving your loved ones with a giant powder keg and handing them a match. 

Families are changing

It’s more important than ever to be upfront with your family about these things. With each generation, families are getting more complex. Divorce and remarriage are becoming more common, as are alternative co-parenting arrangements and family structures. 

According to Statistics Canada, stepfamilies now account for more than 1 in 10 families with children. And of all the people in Canada who are coupled up, more than a quarter are in their second (or third, or fourth…) marriage or common-law partnership.   

I myself come from a blended family. In my immediate family alone, there are 12 people from 3 generations, plus 2 dogs (hi Thomas & Braxton 🐶). As you can see, there’s a lot going on here!  

This complexity isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t mean that we fight more often than a nuclear family. It just means that we have a lot of complicated dynamics to consider when we make decisions as a family. We’re talking about 12 individual people who all have rich relationships with one another, not to mention everything they have going on outside the family. 

My family has to work hard to make sure that everyone is communicating well and on the same page about our plans — and that’s just for relatively straightforward things like organizing a family trip. Now just imagine how complicated things get when it comes to Aging & End of Life Planning. 

Planning for complexity 

At the end of the day, our work here at Viive is about helping people live the healthiest, happiest lives possible. We mostly do that by assisting them in the Aging & End of Life Planning process. But by taking care of yourself while you’re young and healthy, you’re also setting yourself up for a smoother transition into retirement and your later years. 

So how do you make sure your family will be truly taken care of by your Aging & End of Life Plan? As a first step, you can just start with a little casual observation. 

This summer, when you head on out for the big family camping trip, sit back by the fire with your wine in your YETI (I am loving the Cosmic Lilac one right now!) and watch how your family interacts. Try to tune into the dynamic that exists between each pair of people, and notice how each party treats the other. 

For example: 

  • How does your son-in-law talk to your husband? How does your daughter react to your son-in-law talking to your husband? 
  • Is your daughter-in-law helping out at all or just enjoying some edibles down by the beach? 
  • Did you plan all the meals (and pay for them too!), or did your kids and their families help out as well? 

When you’re really paying attention, and deliberately trying to notice how your family interacts, odds are a lot of details will jump out at you that you normally overlook. 

True, the way that your family behaves while doing something enjoyable (like a big family camping trip) is going to be very different from the way they behave while doing something stressful (like grieving a departed loved one and trying to understand how their assets will be divided). 

But this observation will help you clue into the fundamentals of how your family interacts, and notice where there are risks of conflict in more stressful situations. In other words, you’re gaining insight into how these people might behave when shit hits the fan (e.g. you have a stroke or develop early-onset Alzheimer’s). 

If you don’t like what you are seeing, have another swig outta that YETI and then do something about it. Bring it up with your Legacy Coordinator or financial professional, and see what you can do to safeguard your estate from conflict. 

Even more importantly, talk to your family about what you see. Explain to them how you want to improve as a family so that you can have many more enjoyable times in the future. 

Final thoughts 

Just because you are family, doesn’t automatically mean that things should be easy. ALL relationships are difficult and take work. Just because you have to work at a relationship, does not mean it's a bad one. It means that you care enough to try and to improve as everyone in your family evolves. 

Plan for Peace of Mind

Aging & End of Life Planning helps ensure that your loved ones won't have to face any unnecessary stress after your passing. It's a way of making sure that they'll be taken care of — even after you're gone.

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About the Author

Mallory McGrath is the Founder & CEO of Viive Planning. Mallory is a wife, daughter, mother, sister, and friend. She advocates for Aging & End of Life Planning to help families to create open lines of communication and avoid tensions as they all continue on their journeys through life.

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