Love, death, and money: how couples tackle taboo topics in Canada

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    “Open communication is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship.” It’s a phrase many of us have heard before, and so many of us have put it into practice. After all, communication is essential for any relationship, romantic, personal, business, or otherwise. 

    But how much do Canadian couples communicate with their partners when it involves difficult but important subjects, like finances, prenups, medical wishes, guardianship of children, and end-of-life plans? 

    A recent Angus Reid survey of 1,300+ Canadians, commissioned by Willful and the Canada Will Registry, explores how couples in Canada are planning – and communicating – with each other about important life topics. 

    It underscores a significant trend: even as they recognize the importance of important documents like prenups and wills, couples aren’t taking the next step to finalize them, and they’re not speaking to their significant others about their wishes. 

    Our research explores why Canadian couples are experiencing this important document gap, and what can be done to help.

    Donut graph: 61% of Canadians think prenups are a smart idea, but only 35% of Canadians have or want one.

    Two-thirds of Canadians think prenups are a smart idea

    Definition
    Prenuptial agreements are made before marriage and outline how a couple will divide their assets if their marriage dissolves

    61% of Canadians think having a prenup in place before getting married is a smart financial decision. This suggests that we understand the value of the assets we bring into a relationship, and the need to protect them – especially in cases where prenups would be prudent, such as when individuals are wealthy, own many assets, or have children from previous relationships. 

    Despite almost two-thirds of respondents agreeing that prenups are a good idea, only 35% answered that they have or would want a prenup themselves. Of the 77% of respondents who are in a relationship, the largest portion of participants (47%) were legally married versus those in a common law or dating relationship, suggesting this discrepancy might have something to do with folks who now believe a prenup would have been a good idea, but they didn't get one before marriage. It may also suggest that bringing up the topic of a prenup is uncomfortable, so even though we may think it's a good idea, we're hesitant to discuss it with our partners. 

    Bar chart: Who are Canadians telling about the location of their will? Partners= 88%. The will registry = 54%.

    Most couples aren’t preparing for life after death

    Of the over 1,000 people surveyed who are in a relationship, only 55% of them have a will. While the majority (88%) of those with a will are confident their spouse knows where it is, only 54% of them have registered it with the Canada Will Registry or their provincial registry. 

    That means that despite 53% of them taking the precaution to put their documents in a safe and accessible place, if their partner forgets where their will is, their will could be lost forever. 

    A similar disconnect between expectations and planning is reflected when it comes to finances. 

    77% of Canadians responded that they were confident their significant other could manage finances without them, confidence strengthened by the fact that the majority of Canadians with joint assets (55%) own them with their partner. 

    Still, only half are confident their significant other has the passwords to their accounts, which could make accessing, managing, and closing accounts challenging. 

    This may be because while only 7% of couples have avoided discussing their finances with their partner, 1 in 3 (30%) people have never discussed estate planning. Of those couples who have discussed estate planning, many only did so after two years of dating.

    Bar graph: The most difficult topics to discuss with a partner: Trauma (32%), Money (20%), Sex (17%), Death/estate planning (12%), Politics, children/family, and religion (each under 10%) 

    5 of the hardest things for couples to talk about

    It's not always easy to bring up important topics like money in the early stages of a relationship, but discussing tough topics can be crucial to setting up a successful long-term partnership.

    When asked about the most difficult topics to discuss with their partner, Canadians responded as follows:

    1. Trauma (32%)
    2. Money (20%)
    3. Sex (17%)
    4. Death/estate planning (12%)
    5. Politics, children/family, and religion (each under 10%) 

    In fact, 35% of Canadians said they felt or will feel nervous discussing estate planning with their partner for the first time. 

    This begs the question: how can we make it easier to discuss topics like our finances and end-of-life wishes with a partner as early as possible in the relationship?  Let’s break down the various reasons why couples may not be having these important conversations with their partners.

    Why it’s important for couples to put estate plans in place

    Donut graph: 57% of Canadians believe their spouse automatically inherits everything.

    1.  Protect your partner from inheritance laws

    Our study found that 57% of Canadians believe their estate automatically goes to their spouse if they pass away without a will. This isn’t necessarily true, especially if you and your spouse share children together – for example, in Ontario, if you pass away without a will and have minor children, your spouse and children would split your assets, and the assets for the children would be held in trust until they turn 18.

    In most places in Canada, if you pass away without a will and you have no children, your legal spouse inherits your entire estate. 

    But the same is not true for common law partners. Common-law spouses are not treated the same way as married spouses, and in many cases, a common-law spouse receives nothing if their partner dies without a will. For example, Quebec has the highest proportion of common-law marriages in Canada (26% of Quebec residents are in a common-law relationship), but common-law spouses aren’t entitled to anything if their common-law spouse passes away in Quebec, even if they’ve been together for decades. 

    Bar graph: Relationship types by province, divided based on legally married or common law.

    By creating your will, you are in charge of who receives your assets, instead of leaving it up to a government formula in your province. You can also leave things to common-law spouses, friends, or charities who are not covered by the government formula. 

    2. Make sure your wishes are honoured

    81% of participants said their significant other knows what their wishes would be if they suddenly passed away. But is that really true? After all, 30% of respondents haven’t discussed their estate plans with their partner, and only 55% of them actually have wills.

    Make a will

    Without a will, your estate is settled based on provincial laws. This means your estate’s executor or the guardian for your child(ren) may not be the person you would have chosen. It also means the gifts you may have wanted to give to loved ones, friends, or charities will not be passed along, and your final burial wishes may not be communicated.

    While it’s important to convey wishes, it’s doubly important to put those wishes in writing. Writing a will is the first step. Letting your partner and/or executor know where it’s located is the next step. Finally, registering it with the Canada Will Registry is the last step, so that after you pass away, your loved ones can confirm you made one and find out where it is even if the location is forgotten. 

    Make power of attorney documents

    Making your power of attorney documents (names vary by province) also allows you to appoint someone you trust to make decisions on your behalf if you cannot; for example if you are incapacitated due to illness or injury. This person is often your partner or a close family member. 

    By appointing your partner as your attorney for personal health and/or property, you give them the power to manage your finances, take care of your day-to-day needs, and make healthcare decisions on your behalf. If your spouse is appointed your attorney for property and has permission to do so, they are also better protected if they ever need to access your accounts.

    3. Understand your partner better 

    Breaking the taboo about estate planning and discussing your wishes with your significant other gives you the ability to learn what matters to them. It doesn’t have to be a morbid or depressing topic; really it’s about asking: What do they want their legacy to be? What type of celebration of life would they want? Who do they trust with their children or their house or their investments? 

    Death and taxes are the two inevitable aspects of life, and being able to plan for them both with your spouse will give you peace of mind in a completely new way.

    How to talk to your family about your end-of-life wishes →

    Summing it all up 

    The findings of this survey underscore a gap between what Canadian couples believe they know about their partner, and the actual steps they’ve taken to plan together. Bridging this gap in legal documents like prenups, wills, power of attorney documents, and more can be done through transparency, open communication, and accessible estate planning tools like Willful, Canada’s leading online will platform. 

    Our mission at Willful is to raise awareness about estate planning and the importance of documenting your wishes and protecting your loved ones. With this report, we hope we’re one step further in our goal to help more Canadians get their estate planning documents in place.

    Begin your estate planning journey today →

    About Willful
    Willful makes it affordable, convenient, and easy for Canadians to create a legal will and other estate planning documents online. Willful’s platform was developed in collaboration with leading estate lawyers and has pricing plans starting at $99. Willful is based in Toronto, and it is currently available to residents of Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and Manitoba. Willful is the only online will platform to be vetted and approved by the Law Society of Ontario, and has been used by more than 150,000 Canadians to create their legal wills online.

    About Canada Will Registry

    The Canada Will Registry was created by NoticeConnect® in 2019 to revolutionize how wills are being stored. Law firms and individuals can register wills and other important estate planning documents in a single, online database, and the Canada Will Registry also offers a free virtual vault to manage these documents on the go. When someone is searching for a registered will, they send an alert so the owner can contact the searcher directly.

    Methodology

    These are the findings of a survey conducted by Willful and the Canada Will Registry from February 1st to 5th, 2024, among a representative sample of 1,533 online Canadians who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. The survey was conducted in English and French. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/-2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

    About the Angus Reid Forum:

    The Angus Reid Forum is Canada’s most well-known and trusted online public opinion community, consisting of engaged residents across the country who answer surveys on topical issues that matter to all Canadians.

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    Love, death, and money: how couples tackle taboo topics in Canada
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