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Embracing Change - A Postscript

The STEP (Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners) Global Congress held in Vancouver in September, 2018, attracted delegates from over 37 countries and six continents. It was a truly global think tank in which we explored, probed, deconstructed and debated some of the most important changes that are, or will in future, shape and impact the world of family inheritance and succession planning.

As Chair of the Program Panel Committee, it was particularly exciting for me to see how the two-dimensional communication of countless emails and international conference calls to develop the Congress became a three-dimensional reality of speakers and delegates from around the world who convened for this biennial event to learn about strategies, new developments, ways of thinking and approaches in family succession.

In this blog, I provide a few takeaways and highlights of the Global Congress, which I hope you will find interesting and insightful.

In the opening keynote address on how each of us can embrace change, Dr. Liane Davey kicked-off by acknowledging that we are living in "crazy times", and we need to lean-in, build resilience, take control - and take care of ourselves. So don't answer those last five emails when you need to get a good night's sleep!

Australian human rights lawyer Bill Mitchell thoughtfully provided the historical progression of the proposed U.N. Convention on the Rights of Older Persons, which he forecasts will become a reality within the next several years. It will be much needed, given demographic change and an increasingly aging population, with many now living into their nineties. The concentration of wealth and resources that older people have is breeding increasing tensions, including pressures by younger generations to "cede" them - witness the tragedy of the growing menace of elder financial abuse.

A fascinating presentation by psychologists Dr. James Grubman and Dr. Dennis Jaffe addressed the need to be "culturally intelligent". Those in Western societies (Canada, U.S., Northern Europe, Australia and New Zealand) have an individualistic approach which may not be helpful in successfully dealing with those from "honour" cultures- Southern Europe, Middle East, Africa, India and Latin America, and "harmony" cultures - East Asia and Japan. We can be too direct and not allow enough time to develop trust, or not recognize that many attributes are not generational, but cultural. They also described the emergence of a Fourth Culture which is truly global, a cultural blend of all three that has emerged and which is breaking-down longstanding barriers among many ethnic cultures and creating a new global hybrid.

The role of advisers in wealth succession was the focus of lawyer Philip Marcovici's presentation on strategies to successfully guide families in a world of constant legal and tax change. The too short-term thinking of the 80's and 90's often resulted in aggressive tax-motivated planning which was not aligned with long-term objectives and values and often not sustainable. It has caused a huge fall out for families - and the advisors and institutions that promoted and implemented such planning. He countenanced the importance of taking the "long view".

So much food for thought was packed into the 25 sessions of this event and the broad range of subjects addressed.

The objective of the Congress was to be transformative and a crucible to forge new thinking. Based on the enthusiastic response of the delegates and the many interchanges on the Congress floor, a lot of that was achieved, creating a useful foundation for moving forward and embracing change in our dynamic times.

-Margaret O'Sullivan

The comments offered in this article are meant to be general in nature, are limited to the law of Ontario, Canada, and are not intended to provide legal or tax advice on any individual situation. In particular, they are not intended to provide U.S. legal or tax advice. Before taking any action involving your individual situation, you should seek legal advice to ensure it is appropriate to your personal circumstances.

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