Thursday, 6 September 2007

Book Review: The Canadian Retirement Guide by O'Donnell, McWaters and Page

The Canadian Retirement Guide, published in 2004, aims to be a comprehensive handbook on aging, retirement, care-giving and health by setting up ''... a process by which we can plan for retirement as a family, taking into consideration the retiree, the spouse and those who depend on them''. The book is like a 298 page checklist of questions to answer, of issues to consider and of situations that may arise as one gets older. The net effect is to raise awareness rather than to offer enough information to develop a solution. Particularly in the legal and financial sections, there is the constant refrain, ''go consult a specialist'', and indeed, there are thirty pages of appendices with checklists of information to prepare to meet with a financial advisor or lawyer and questions to ask of them. There is almost no reference information to specific books or websites that provide further detail on the topics covered. This book is somewhat like the old joke about statistics: statistics are like a bikini - what they reveal is interesting, but what they conceal is vital.

Here is a typical example of the level of depth and manner of treatment of subjects. Regarding sex, ''While sexual activity does tend to decline with age, there are tremendous individual differences. Chronological age isn't the critical factor in sexual activity or physical intimacy. Neither age, nor illness, nor dementia necessarily diminishes or extinguishes sexual desire. It's a normal and healthy part of of being human, at all stages of life.'' That's it - no further references, no further mentions throughout the book. Would that be helpful to you?

The book is written by a team of authors, each evidently handling specific chapters in their area of expertise: Jill O'Donnell, a gerontologist and registered nurse; Graham McWaters, from a major financial institution (un-named); John Page, a financial planning advisor and holder of the Certified Financial Planner certification which I mentioned in my recent post on financial planners in Canada; with contributions from Rev. Dr. George McClintock, a United Church minister who specializes in the pastoral care of elders (I don't know why but that word elder grates on me), Barbro E. Stalbecker-Pountney, a lawyer with special interest in elder issues and estate practice, Philip Crawford, an undertaker, and finally, Rick Page, another financial planner (but minus the CFP).

Subject Matter Covered
  • growing older and life planning, personal mission statement (yup, they use that corporate jargon)
  • health of body and mind, stress (unfortunately, neither pets, nor sex are prescribed as stress-relievers!)
  • housing situations - house, apartment, retirement homes, living with family
  • relationships with family, second marriages
  • legal - wills, power of attorney, trustees, executors, family law
  • death - funeral, burial, cremation
  • care giving and dementia
  • financial planning (about half the book) - financial plan, investments, diversification, risk, life & disability insurance, taxes, pensions, estate, annuities, reverse mortgages, financial advisers

  • ''... the longer you live, the sooner you are going to die.''
  • ''If a family member's irritating habit is not destructive, try not to worry about it.'' (p.80) (of course, this stress-saving tip only applies to older folks ... ;-)
  • ''A will speaks for you from the grave; powers of attorney speak for you from your hospital bed.''
  • most old, retired people, oops sorry ''elders'', live independently; less than 10% are in care or homes (p.66)
  • a person who is paid to care for someone may not legally have power of attorney for that person (p.86)
  • a guardian outranks someone with power of attorney (p.87)
  • under family law, if you have supported someone, the obligation to continue the support will survive your death ... in other words, your cannot put whatever you please in your will and expect that it will happen, the courts may over-rule what you say (p.93)
  • along the same vein, your executor is not legally bound to dispose of your household and personal assets as per your will (p.91)
My Take Away Action Points
  • pre-pay up to $15k in funeral expenses, known as an eligible funeral arrangement (EFA) in tax-code speak, to a funeral home for funeral expenses; interest on the $15k, which is invested in GIC, is tax-free (p.105)
  • continue writing this blog for mental stimulus, since it is not known if Alzheimer's is caused by genetics or whether deliberate mental activity can stave it off (p.142)
There are certain inaccuracies or mis-wordings in the financial sections that diminish the usefulness of the information, for it does provide a reasonable introductory over-view. For instance, this statement, ''If your portfolio were 100% fixed-income and interest rates dropped, your whole portfolio would suffer. '' Huh? If interest rates drop, then the market value of existing fixed income holdings would RISE and the value of your portfolio would increase, which is the opposite of suffering. Probably, the author means that over time as the fixed income investments matured and needed to be reinvested, the income stream from interest payments would drop and that would cause suffering for a retired person who lives off that income. That's exactly what happened through the 1990s. Unfortunately there are a number of other instances of sloppy language. Was there peer-review prior to publication that might have helped clear these up?

Many thanks to Mike at the publisher Insomniac Press for supplying a copy of the book for review.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

You can buy it at Chapters.

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