Unaddressed Estate Issues Create Problems And Delay


Have you heard the idea –  “When you are dead, you won’t know.  It will be difficult only for the others.” There are many whose estate plans that are based on that belief. It is easy enough to do and says, “I won’t care, so why worry.”

Alternatives

Would the dead make diferent arrangements if they knew what would happen? Probably, if they knew.

As a public service, I have devised a test so that a dead person may find out that they have passed on. It allows them to have insight. There are several questions.  Each should be answered either Yes or No.

  1. Are you wearing your best clothes but have nowhere to go?
  2. Are your children fighting over your property?
  3. Are there people in the room who you know but have not seen for more than five years?
  4. Has your lawyer just ordered a Mercedes?
  5. Has it been more than 12 hours since your last meal?
  6. Is your business out of control?
  7. Are you cold?
  8. Do you owe an exceptional amount of income tax?
  9. Is your blood pressure lower than usual?
  10. Does your bank want its loans and guarantees liquidated?
  11. Are your eyes closed but you aren’t sleeping?

If you have answered “Yes” to more than six questions you are quite likely dead.  Three or fewer, you are probably alive.

Some questions matter more

Go back and look at the even-numbered questions. The even numbered questions are ones you can do something about. Anticipation is the key to cure. If you can anticipate the problem you can reduce or remove the problem while living but not later.

Unless you make the decisions and provide the tools, your executor cannot solve any of them effectively.

The twelfth question. “Would my executors prefer not to be involved?  Executors can withdraw. No one wants unpleasant disputes and unsolvable problems. Would you want to be the executor of an estate like your own.

Things to aim towards

A good estate plan addresses problems in advance and provides:

  • An equitable division of property including a sesntive allocation of heirlooms and family monuments.
  • Minimizes costs and taxes. You probably cannot go to zero without taking unreasonable risks or incurring excessive costs.
  • Provide enough liquid assets to meet unavoidable obligations. The irreducible minimum.
  • Completion of a plan of business ownership and management succession
  • Optimal income and security while you are living
  • Efficient asset growth while living. Growth that does not compound the estate problems.
  • Most estate problems have solutions, but you need to start early.

The bits to takeaway

  1. A good estate plan operates from now until a year or more after the second death of a couple.
  2. Many estate problems are predictable. People who have experience know about them and often how to reduce their effect.
  3. You built your wealth by hard work, planning, and putting off pleasure today for growth tomorrow
  4. It does not make sense to work a lifetime and then give up a large share at death.
  5. Most problems in an estate are about two things – enough money to pay the costs, and an heir gets assets another cares about more. Equitable or fair is good enough. Equal is a fluke in any complex estate.
  6. Fewer problems is a good thing. Speeding up settlement pleases everyone.

Help me please. If you have found this useful, please subscribe and forward it to others.


I build strategy and fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways and alternate timing to achieve both spending and estate distribution goals. In the past I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning, have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email to don@moneyfyi.com

Dealing With Change


I came on this old file last evening. Given the state of the world just now it seemed relevant

Change Seminar Outline

Change is nothing new

Is change inevitable – or is it a passing fad? Has there ever been a time of no change?

Change is always and everywhere.  Stable times just mean that prior changes are understood or the time frame is so short no one sees the changes.

The idea of change is very old. Ancient Chinese (before 221 BCE) book of divination I-Ching  (pronounced Yi Jing) 易经  –  English translation = The Book of Change

Change is usually accompanied by a  “Change Agent”

Someone who created the conditions to permit adjustments in the way society works.

Examples of change agents:  King John and the Magna Carta, American revolution, Jesus, Buddha, Robespierre, Communist revolution, 9/11, Gandhi, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, The Black Panthers, Apple, the feminist movement, environmentalism, Obama’s use of the internet to raise money, credit cards, debit cards, and a thousand more.

We don’t usually notice change until after it happens. That’s because we are not good at extrapolating from a tiny point.  Few people can see a grain of sand and imagine a beach

Why do we care?

Change often turns out badly for us if we do not adapt:

  1. Dinosaurs
  2. Some car companies
  3. Banks
  4. Hereditary monarchs

The theme is adapt or die.

Change is risky

  • Cannot go back
  • Anxiety because you have losses if you can’t adapt to new reality
  • It can turn out well if we do adapt. Change is a crucial element of growth. Old ideas are destroyed and replaced with new and as a result old resource commitments are changed to more productive uses.
  • Adaptability is a hugely valuable life skill. But not easily learned

Problems with Changing

  • Change changes
  • Old ways  of adapting might not work
  • Mistake to look at change out of context
  • Chrysler bankruptcy is not like Studebaker
  • Everyone holds old beliefs that don’t work anymore.
  • Japanese workers don’t believe in lifetime employment any more.
  • Real estate is the best investment. Not so much in 2008 and 2009

People need time to adapt

  • Could you explain the Gay-Pride parade to someone who died in 1969
  • How about the internet or email or
  • How about why the post office flourishes in a time of email

Be suspicious of what you think you know

  • In times of great change, experience will be your worst enemy
  • Adapting is contextual
  • You don’t need to be right about everything, you only need to be right about the things that affect you.
  • Learning is part of adapting, BUT

A difficult change is that we know too much

  • Information is not knowledge
  • Information must fit with other information  to be knowledge
  • Without context  knowing the bank rate will not tell you much about the chance of losing your job
  • Knowledge is not wisdom
  • Knowledge is sterile and impersonal
  • It is consistent and maybe complete but not necessarily meaningful
  • Wisdom is knowledge applied to your own situation in ways that provide an actionable outcome.

For example:

What information and knowledge would I need to make these decisions.

  1. Should I pay the penalty and renew my mortgage now instead of waiting for a year?
  2. Will my employer survive?
  3. Will the civil service be outsourced?
  4. Should I worry about inflation?

The bits to take away

You cannot avoid change but you can change how it affects you.

Change is forever and always and some of it matters to you. Mistrust your experience. It may not help you.

Be curious. Talk to people who already fit in to the new ways. Everyone under about 25 is a digital person. We old guys are all analog. It’s a different way to think.

Anticipate what you can and take action earlier.


Help me please. If you have found this useful, please subscribe and forward it to others.


I build strategy and fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways and alternate timing to achieve both spending and estate distribution goals. In the past I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning, have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email to don@moneyfyi.com

Investments Move In A Narrow Range


Here’s a picture to puzzle over.

  • It is a logarithmic graph. each vertical bar up is 10 times the previous one. That shows rate of return more effectively than dollar accumulation which is nearly flat for many years and then sweeps up very sharply towards the end.
  • The Green Line is the S&P 500 Total return index applied to a $10 investment at the beginning of 1926, when the index started. Over the 97 years, the index has done very well about 135,000 times your money. The compound average rate of return is a bit over 10.3%. None of this reflects fees, trading costs or income taxes.
  • The red line is the result using a rate of return 15 basis points lower and a start point of $8.
  • The blue line uses a rate of return 15 basis points higher than the average and starts at $12.

What can we learn.

  1. When it gets outside the upper bound it falls quickly.
  2. When it gets outside the lower bound it recovers slowly

What we can see

  1. The crash in 1929
  2. The depression
  3. The second world war.
  4. The post war recovery that lasted until about 1968
  5. The Viet Nam war
  6. OPEC and the oil shock of 1973
  7. The Carter administration malaise and the Reagan recovery
  8. 1994 is interesting. The only thing I can see different is the Democrats lost control of congress for the first time since 1952.
  9. Did that lead to irrational exuberance and to the end of the dot.com bubble around 2000 followed by 9/11.
  10. Things recovered fairly quickly and then came 2008 and the debt crisis.
  11. The Obama administration and The Fed seemed to have kept it from getting worse but did not recover. It wasn’t until 2018 when the market showed some enthusiasm.

The question for today.

As the index approaches the upper bound, will it start to move sideways to stay inside or will it break through requiring an adjustment. If an adjustment is needed, how deep will it be?

As we all know, history does not predict the future with any certainty, especially in the short run. However, as Mark Twain claims, “history rhymes.”

The bit to take away.

We seem to be at a time when the stock market is nearing its upper limit. It is time to be vigilant and careful.

It has never been smart to assume this time is different.


Help me please. If you have found this useful, please subscribe and forward it to others.


I build strategy and fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways and alternate timing to achieve both spending and estate distribution goals. In the past I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning, have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email to don@moneyfyi.com

The World Is Not Like You Think


Except in their very localized situation, most people don’t understand much intuitively. Henry Kissinger and others like him have a much broader view. The rest of us are captive to our personal situation.

The world elsewhere is not like here

Once we know that we must make some adjustments. Some obvious ones:

  1. Stock markets outside North America, Europe, Japan, and a few others are not like the ones we know. You and I make a mistake to assume the regulations or the liquidity are similar.
  2. Banks are very dissimilar as you travel around. Canadians are vulnerable. There are tiny banks in other countries. We tend to think about the Royal Bank or TD group when we think banks. Bad mistake sometimes. How much would a million dollar letter of credit be worth if the person who gave it to you owned the bank it is drawn on and the bank  has capital of $40,000. I’ve seen that one. Fortunately the client had his  bank investigate before the deal was done.
  3. The laws are different. sometimes not even existing.
  4. The courts may not be evenhanded. I heard of an oil play in a country where the Canadian investor lost more than $100 million. Their explanation, “We were unaware of the going price for a judge.”

Do you think Chines stocks look cheap?

Maybe they are, but despite appearances, you cannot buy them.

Read this article to have your eyes opened. Don’t buy BABA. It’s not what you think

Knowing more gives you a better chance of success.

The bit to take away

You never know all you need and risk lives in the part you don’t know.


Help me please. If you have found this useful, please subscribe and forward it to others.


I build strategy and fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways and alternate timing to achieve both spending and estate distribution goals. In the past I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning, have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email to don@moneyfyi.com

Learning What You Need To Know Is Not Enough


How we learn is an interesting subject. Will Rogers summed up the techniques 80 years ago.

“There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them who have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

I suspect the third kind has a lesson they don’t easily forget. Maybe that is better in a way.

The efficient way

The first and second ways are both useful and if combined are quite effective. Observe, study, observe some more and notice more. And so it goes on. By doing that you can see order, cause and effect. You learn appropriate responses. Experience by itself is a defective teacher, albeit the lessons are long lasting.

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards” – Vern Law

The idea is that being good at learning from your own mistakes is not enough. You cannot make enough mistakes and you always get the lesson after you needed it.

There is a defect though.

The defect in only using methods one and two is apparent. Some subjects are very complex and take a long time to learn what you need to know about them. You must learn about cost benefit. If you are going to need the skill for only a few decisions, it makes little sense to invest the time, money, and energy in learning the material. Instead, learn how to use a professional who already knows how. Option 4.

Use a professional

There is a technique.

  1. Define the problem as best you can.
  2. Know the resources you can bring to bear once a solution is available
  3. Search for a skilled help
  4. Examine the alternatives given your vision and resources and decide on the approach that suits. best
  5. Understand your part in the defining, selecting methods, and implementing the solution aspects.

Using someone else’s experience is often the least costly and the quickest way to resolve the problem

The bits to take away

No one is good at things they do just a few times

Everything looks easy to do at first. That why do-it-yourself will are popular.

The cost to gain experience by your own mistakes can be far higher than the cost to get help

Learn to use professionals effectively. Sometimes knowhow is not enough. Learn about know who.


Help me please. If you have found this useful, please subscribe and forward it to others.


I build strategy and fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways and alternate timing to achieve both spending and estate distribution goals. In the past I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning, have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email to don@moneyfyi.com

Thinking About Your Estate Plan


Several days ago I recommended changing viewing points to better understand a complicated problem. Estate planning is one such complicated problem. With some preparation and likely some help with the rules and the tax details, you can do it.

You begin by understanding every estate has three sets of participants.

  1. You and your spouse, and your business partners.
  2. Your executors
  3. You heirs

Suppose you decide to see the situation from each of the viewing points. You can create a pro forma probate and gain insights that matter. It is not hard as it sounds.

Viewing point #1 – How you see it

You see many things and most of them have an emotional attachment as well as a dollar number.

The assets you use are valuable and have memories. Your home, your cottage, your hobby collectibles, your heirlooms. Some have a family business and you know what it cost in terms of stress, satisfaction and time. How your children learned to work there. How the family learned to wait for the things they wanted.

Subtract from that any contractual liabilities you have. – Mortgage, bank loan, credit cards.

When you value the pieces you’ll get a number, but it is the number only you will relate to. Call this the maximum estate.

Viewing Point #2 – How the executors will see it.

Their first duty is to take control of the assets. Unless you have been very careful, they may not find everything. How should you deal with that?

Their second duty is to pay the costs of the estate and any liabilities. Some liabilities arise only at the time of death. All those fabulous investments you have made, your cottage probably, or you business, come with a built in tax cost. Count on 25% of the appreciation going to the government.

Add to that 50% of the value of deferred income plans like RRSPs.

Then look for hidden liabilities. Loan guarantees are common. Check with the lender and see if they will carry on as the estate is settled.

It is not so rare for an estate to shrink by a third or more from your idea of its value. The drop will come from hidden liabilities, fees and other costs to the estate (7% to 10% is within reason,) and taxes due. A 25% to 40% overall reduction is not impossible for some estates. You could have your accountant give you a number on the tax side. Your lawyer will know the others better.

Do a quick assessment. Pay how much? Have how much cash to do it with? If the cash assets exceed the liabilities and costs, no great problem yet. If not what to do?

The executors have two choices. Borrow or sell something.

Borrowing involves giving security. Probably the executor could borrow half or so against assets worth twice as much. Any interest paid will not be deductible under the tax act. The bigger question is how long will it be outstanding? The estate will not windup until these debts are cleared and they probably commit $2.00 of estate assets for each dollar of loan. Neither executors not heirs like insurmountable delay. I noticed recently that singer James Brown’s estate finally settled. He died in December 2006.

The loans will only clear when the executors sell something. Have you seen a sign on a property that says “Estate Sale” and you immediately think, “I can buy it cheap.” To the already discovered estate shrink add discounts and fees to sell.

And of course there is always a tax aspect. The Canadian tax act permits a loss incurred in an estate to carry back to the final return of the deceased. There’s a hitch though.

Suppose your business is worth $4 million of which $2 Million is taxable as a capital gain.. You pay tax on that gain when you die. If the estate sells it for $3.2 million you should get tax relief of about $200,000. The estate’s loss reduces your bill. BUT, the hitch is the executor must have the sale closed within one year of your death. (The executor year)

That is where the hurry comes from and where the discount arises. It could easily be four or five months to calculate any shortfall and another month or two to find a buyer. They must do their due diligence and maybe you have an offer by month nine or ten. A very low offer. You kick it around a bit,  but eventually the end of the executor year is on the horizon. You take it and hope there is nothing to prevent closing. More negotiating the price if there is any problem.

It is not so rare to lose 20% of value between fees and discounts. Far more if the deceased is necessary for the management of the ongoing enterprise. The rule of thumb is anyone who has the money to buy and knows how to run the business, is too smart to pay full price.

Eventually everything clears up and the the heirs can take the rest.

Viewing Point #3 – What the heirs will see

Your idealized estate is the beginning, the reductions the executors had to absorb bring the heirs to their result.

What they will see is quite different from what you saw. Sometimes, sales have gutted the estate. Your rule of life has been keep the best, sell the rest. When forced to sell the rule becomes sell the best, keep the rest. What remains may not be attractive.

You can see how the heirs might not agree on the process.

If we suppose a best case, what remains is wonderful. Let’s suppose nothing had to be sold and there is cash left over. Ideal. Then what? The personal conflicts show up here.

Are there any specific gifts to a particular beneficiary. A charity maybe, or a friend, maybe another family member like a brother or sister. These will usually shrink the cash on hand.

The residue will be comprised of physical assets and some “Fungible” assets. Fungible means all assets of the type are the same. No one cares which stack of $50 bills they get if the count is the same. Real estate, heirlooms, businesses, and other family assets tend to be non-fungible. Unique.

You may have specific heirs in mind for some of them. That raises the equalization problem to high. If there is a dominant asset, how will the other heirs fare? Decide what you mean by fair. Equitable and equal are not the same thing.

Some assets have emotional connections for one child and not others. Will they be certain to get Grandma’s piano, or Mom’s jade ring, or the painting in the den? You will see more fights over this sort of thing than over money.

Consider each heir’s position. Should they inherit value now , or have a trust, or after a time passes? Spendthrift, disabled, and highly indebted, must be addressed.

Most estates don’t settle until the second death. Other issues arise on the first death of the couple. There are tax reasons and security for the survivor to defer. Can the survivor manage the assets? Will their tax result when all the income lands on one tax return imperil their lifestyle? Know the answers.

The moral of the story

When you work through a pro forma probate you will find problems of enough money, the right kind of assets, who manages complex assets when you’re gone, the inadequate instruction you left for the executors, the poor expectations the children had, and the time it will take.

“Smart you” sets about solving the problems you can while you have the chance. Some are easy to address while  others are harder and costly. Decide what is worth the price, and decide the cost benefit is worth it or not.

In doing this you are trying to overcome a condition Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard identified two centuries ago. –  “Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.”

A pro forma probate is not as good as living it, but that approach leaves no options. As the kids say, “It’s a hack.” .

The bits to take away

A problem you can anticipate is a problem you can solve or at least minimize.

Estate planning is unlike other planning. You cannot learn from your own mistakes. You must learn for the mistakes of others and those are not always visible.

You will find estate practitioners who know things you would not think of in a hundred years.

Ask about testamentary trusts and their tax advantage for three years. Ask about the effect of multiple wills.

Ask about beneficiary designations and their effect.

Have your lawyer explain why joint ownership with the children is a penny wise pound foolish decision.

If you really want to be an interesting client, ask about “hotchpot.”


Help me please. If you have found this useful, please subscribe and forward it to others.


I build strategy and fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways and alternate timing to achieve both spending and estate distribution goals. In the past I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning, have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email to don@moneyfyi.com

How Much Is Your Net Worth?


People sometimes make weak decisions because they fail to realize how much wealth they control. Keeping things in perspective is an important part of good decisions.

The super wealthy don’t care

If you are Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates or Elon Musk, there are not many decisions that would affect your total net worth. If any of them lost 90% of their fortune they would  live pretty much the way they do now.

It has to do with why you own assets. Their purpose. When you can see the whole picture some decisions will be easier to make.

When your organize things by priority you can estimate the effect of a new decision better..

The layers of assets

Assets we use. That’s the fundamental layer for most of us. Your home, your car, your vacation property, your boat, you golf clubs, and your furniture. It might include other things like jewelry, or your watch. Those may fit in another layer.

Assets we hold to cushion changes in day to day life. Usually a savings account or money market fund. Easily accessible money to deal with a sudden unexpected expense or other needs. Often not a large amount and sometimes a line of credit. It sometimes includes savings for a trip, a car, or something you intend to spend in the next year or two.

Assets we own to provide income. Most people look at their retirement account or maybe the children’s education fund and stop. That’s extremely off the mark. What about the value of your pension plan and government benefits. You probably cannot spend them, but they will provide value to you over time.

Calculated value of income. At 30 and assuming you will work to 65, for each $1,000 of take home pay assuming an after tax investment yield of 4% and inflation of 3%, you have a financial asset worth $360,000. When you are young, your salary will likely grow faster than inflation because of promotions and bonuses. If you assume salary grows at 5% then use $500,000 per thousand dollars of take home pay. Your ability to earn income is your largest asset when you are young.

That’s also a reason why young people can make riskier or less predictable investments. Their potential loss is a smaller share of their implicit net worth. This asset evaporates as you grow older. You could keep track of it as you go and help yourself to see how your net worth is changing and how it is composed.

At 65, a pension of $1,000 per month payable for life, call that 20 years or so, with inflation protections, is worth about $220,000. If it has survivor options it would be more. You can easily have a quarter million of government benefits.

Assets we own for growth. These are the long term money. They include assets we expect to appreciate but not supply spending money while we own them. Some people will own a piece of land they might be able to develop in twenty years, or maybe a speculative stock. Assets fit into this layer when the future income needs are in the process of being looked after. If they turn out well, they could alter lifestyle or allow you to retire sooner.

Things we own because we like them. There are no limits to what might go here. The common ones are collectibles, art, jewelry, antiques, maybe a wine cellar of fine wines. Recently, Nonfungible Tokens (NFTs) have appeared. Maybe crypto currency, although you could make an argument for other layers.

From all that subtract contractual liabilities. Maybe implicit ones like income taxes if you sell.

There you have your financial worth. New decisions should be made in this context.

The bit to take away

Would financial decisions be better if you knew the bigger picture?

You should not make decisions to borrow for assets you use based on this. Those assets produce no income at all and usually add costs. Use cash flow only to make decisions about things you use.

Would you be able to see how much you would be hurt if you lost and how much better off you would be if you were right? Could you afford the loss? That’s ultimately what risk management is about.


Help me please. If you have found this useful, please subscribe and forward it to others.


I build strategy and fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways and alternate timing to achieve both spending and estate distribution goals. In the past I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning, have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email to don@moneyfyi.com

Your Viewing Point Confines Your Thinking


Most decisions in life are not clearly one sided.

We each have a problem with the ones in the space between Clearly “A” and Clearly “B.” People have developed an approach to these that is easy enough to apply and sometimes make the answer you choose easier to see and to explain to others.

Invert! Always Invert!

Carl Gustav Jacobi was a brilliant mathematician who lived in the first half of the 19th century. Among other accomplishments he founded the theory of elliptic functions. A hundred and seventy-five years later these are forming the basis for stronger encryption methods. Ethereum for example, uses them.

The inversion idea leads to new ways to think about things. Daniel Kahneman has said, you cannot study memory, but you can study forgetting. Investor Charlie Munger does it too. His advice, “. “Invert, always invert: Turn a situation or problem upside down. Look at it backward.”

The change in viewing point is usually quite enough to get an inspiration.

How it works in our life.

A psychologist friend and I were discussing the erratic behaviour of a well-known public figure and what we should take from it. His reaction was this. “He’s crazy, but not crazy enough to get him committed. On the other hand, if he was already committed, there isn’t a chance they would let him out.”

Clearly the middle ground exists.

How to use that in making decisions.

Most people have a fear of decisions because they result in commitments. By seeing the problem or opportunity from two directions, they can often find a comfortable place to land. It helps them to understand all of the nuance and come to grips with both  the things that bother them and provide value to them.

The strong favouring of one end when overlaid with the other end finds an overlapping area between. That overlapping area where both ideas have some merit is what causes the problem and informs the solution.

If you don’t look from more viewing points, you cannot make decisions as well when there is a set of conditions you want and understand plus a vague malaise you cannot describe.

Inverting often lifts the foggy part.

The tipping point

Most decisions are never certain. You can examine more options and get more confused. You could make a reversible decision, see how it turns out, and use what you learn to make a better one on the next pass.

The cheapest alternative is to invert and see what you can learn there.

Sometimes you find an enormously creative way to deal with the situation, or a clear indication you have been approaching it wrong.

The bit to take away

A new viewing point that connects to what you already know can provide insight you cannot find any other way.


Help me please. If you have found this useful, please subscribe and forward it to others.


I build strategy and fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways and alternate timing to achieve both spending and estate distribution goals. In the past I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning, have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email to don@moneyfyi.com

Argue For Things That Improve Society


I have noticed that in the United States, there is a considerable outcry about how elections have been stolen. Donald Trump, and not to his credit, is the most recent. His aggressive approach may have done more harm than good even if he was right. We’ll never know about that.

The one I found most interesting was the 2000 election where Florida became the deciding state. It took until mid-December before the legal wrangling ended and George Bush came out as president with Al Gore left at the side. Who recalls “hanging chads” and “dimpled ballots?”

That election arose again recently. Rhetoric mostly

At the time I was comfortable with the outcome and not because of the scholarly legal arguments to the Supreme Court. Rather it was because of the vote in Tennessee. The final Electoral college vote was 271 Bush to 266 Gore. Tennessee has eleven Electoral College votes. Tennessee was the home state of Al Gore. He had represented the state in the senate and his father did so before him. It is reasonable to assume the citizens in Tennessee knew him best.

Nonetheless, their Electoral College votes went to Bush. If the Tennessee votes had gone to Gore instead of Bush, the result would have been Gore 277, Bush 260. Whether the Florida vote was right or not would have not mattered at all. The people who knew him best, supported his opponent.

How arguing works

The last presentations are about arguing not reaching the best solution.

Arguing, particularly political arguing, is aimed at winning. Reducing your clearly wrong opponent to dust. The method is to take all of the points that favour your position and devise defenses to any that might be raised in opposition.

If you are Democrat you only talk about Florida. If a Republican only about Tennessee. There can be no definitive answer. That’s ideal from the political standpoint, it permits division and conflict and both are useful for politicians.

A better way

People want to know what is right instead of who is right. The argument must be different. It must deal with reality instead of talking points. Today, that point is the answer to a question. What must we do to improve election integrity? How will we know that any person entitled to vote can, and can be sure their vote is registered and counted as they wish it to be?

Fighting over election results you don’t agree with is destructive. It enhances the idea that elections don’t matter. That cannot be a positive thing.

It leads people to think like Joseph Stalin. “Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.”

People who value the idea of free and open elections deserve to know elections are honest and any reasonable person can know it to be true. Perception matters too.

The bits to take away

Argue to find a better way and avoid the win at all cost approach.

We are all in this together. Cooperation is a powerful tool to improve society.


Help me please. If you have found this useful, please subscribe and forward it to others.


I build strategy and fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways and alternate timing to achieve both spending and estate distribution goals. In the past I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning, have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email to don@moneyfyi.com

Can You Summarize What You Think?


It is a mistake to make a presentation that relies on bits of data that are not clearly connected to all the others and a reason for studying them at all. It is not persuasive if you do not, and the observer may treat it as a lie or maybe an attempt to mislead.

Strangely, it often doesn’t mean the presenter is lying or trying to mislead. It is more common to find it means the presenter is well-meaning or maybe excited. What it always means is the presenter has not thought it through in terms of the person listening. It often happens when someone knows too much to explain to another. Doctors, tax specialists, and computer architects are always there. To them the details each have importance or nuance and cannot be overlooked. The can’t see the forest for the trees problem.

As one of my partners used to say, “I don’t need to know how a clock works, I just want to know what time it is.”

Every complex thought or observation has a kernel of meaning. That is where you must begin. It need not be complete in the sense that another specialist would accept it as exactly right. Just the idea of the meaning you wish to present..

“If you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Albert Einstein

Perhaps we should treat that as “Cannot explain simply” to anyone. Simply would not include all the proofs and jargon, but it would get the meaning across. Proof to follow if the listener cares.

You can find a presentation like this at The Joe Rogan Experience interview with Dr. Peter McCullough. Episode #1747. The doctor is a highly regarded cardiologist and academic. Maybe the interview format was wrong and an academic would get the meaning easier. Other than to notice there were serious failings in the early and middle of the pandemic and some of them continue for reasons unknown, I got very little from it. The problem for me was I agreed with those thoughts, so automatically mistrusted it.

Joe Rogan is a very talented interviewer. Keep track of how many times he asks for meaning and doesn’t get it.

In every presentation set out the kernel of meaning and expand from there. It is well beyond unlikely a person will take all of your points and convert them into a kernel of meaning on their own People don’t work that way. Even if they did, they would have no conclusion in a month. Too much data to process. They might never get there.

I have the uneasy feeling that there is something important in what Dr. McCullough is saying, but whenever it comes to deriving meaning he throws out another data point. That’s uncomfortable.

I came to say to myself, should I dig through the transcript, find all the references and look at them. Then I thought, what’s missing? How many other scholarly studies are there that might address the question differently? Clearly I cannot do my own research because I don’t know what I don’t have to study.

I thought I was unlikely to derive the kernel of meaning with high accuracy. I might get the inference, but not a lot more. And it would be whatever inference Dr. McCullough wanted me to have.

Explaining it with all the supporting reasoning is not the way. Could Dr. McCullough describe the kernel in 50 words?  Once that was in place, he could support whatever the meaning is with persuasive and objective evidence. Knowing who authored a scholarly paper is not very persuasive. Maybe it’s me, but I like graphs and short summaries.

Be cautious when people seem to be agreeing with you, but cannot or won’t summarize their thinking. Learn to summarize your own thinking. You’ll be amazed how frequently you find holes.


Help me please. If you have found this useful, please subscribe and forward it to others.


I build strategy and fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways and alternate timing to achieve both spending and estate distribution goals. In the past I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning, have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email to don@moneyfyi.com

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