Sheri MacMillan is the Founder of MacMillan Estate Planning, where she currently acts as the President and CEO. When she started the company, which has been in operation since 1996, Sheri’s vision was to deliver a more humanised approach to estate planning. MacMillan Estate planning was founded on this value. In this, and subsequent articles, Sheri will share some challenges and tips to creating a successful estate plan.
Sheri discussed with us MacMillan’s philosophy and the ideals that it lives by in order to offer a truly personal, family-focused service to all of their clients.
What vision or mission does MacMillan Estate Planning live by?
Our purpose is safeguarding significance—what that means to us is that we are safeguarding people’s values and beliefs. Of course, that’s something that grows and changes over one’s lifespan, so we’re constantly adapting their estate plan to meet what they feel their purpose is in life at the time, and carrying that through into their legacy as well. All of their wisdom and values are transferred to the next generation onwards, and we don’t look at this from the eyes of just a tax plan or legal plan: we are looking at it as a plan for the family, and how we can encapsulate their legacy in their design so that it is the driving force of their plan.
What common problems do your clients face as they look to plan their estates and in the management of their finances? What dangers does estate planning guard against?
One of the most common issues is taxation. All of us have concerns in that area, and as governments are consistently changing the tax systems all over the world, it becomes very difficult to stay current for families.
The second issue is that their family unit has become international. Families and children will leave and move to another jurisdiction, or people will retire with second homes, and so we don’t have a simple estate anymore—we have very complex situations with not only many legal jurisdictions, but tax jurisdictions that must be accommodated in our overall estate design. It’s hard for families to understand how all of this comes together in a comprehensible way, and so our approach is to ensure that we’re holistic in the way we design and look at the whole picture.
The real challenge in most families is family dynamics. All of us have an issue or two that occurs in our family unit over time, such as illness, addiction, divorce, or bankruptcy. We all have real lives, and so all kinds of circumstances impact us and create opportunities for our families. Children also have expectations that may not align with their parents’ vision of their legacy. These types of dynamics can cause conflict, and so when we are looking at an estate plan, the objective is to keep harmony in the family and to build bridges if there has been a conflict historically or a conflict might develop through the implementation of an estate plan. You can always replace an asset or buy new stock, but you can’t replace family harmony—that is the main driver and objective of every family we work with, and we always use that as one of their benchmarks in a successful plan.
How would you approach clients that are overwhelmed or dreading the estate planning process?
First of all: it’s normal. Everyone dreads this area because estate planning has traditionally focused only on the passing of assets to the next generation. Our process makes it easy, joyous and educational for families.
If we focus on what you want your estate to accomplish through your lifespan, it’s actually a joyous exercise and not such a dreadful one. The surprise for most of our clients is that they actually have fun doing this work, and they feel liberated because it’s done and out of mind. They also feel like good stewards of their life’s work, because they worked hard to create an estate and want to make sure it’s in order. We do see a lot of beautiful things occur – some families now choose to share their estates during their lifetime, which is a new phenomenon, and it’s lovely because the entire family benefits. The parent groups get to benefit and see how their legacy blesses their family versus waiting until they’re gone, and not having the privilege to enjoy that experience.
How does MacMillan service clients in jurisdictions where it does not have a permanent office?
Servicing clients in jurisdictions where we don’t have a permanent office is a natural extension of the planning work that we do. We have been blessed in the sense that we have had the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs and high-network families, and what that means is that these individuals are not usually in Calgary as their schedule doesn’t perhaps allow for it if they are travelling, vacationing, or out of the country for big blocks of time each year. This means that we often end up virtual planning with these families, by phone or by Skype, and we’ve found that it has been a very natural extension to work with families that are located in other jurisdictions. It is a combination of virtual planning and meeting with those clients when they’re coming through Canada, US or the UK or travelling to meet with clients in their home cities or jurisdictions that allows us to complete the planning portion that does need to be done in person.
Overall, our aim is to have an office in every jurisdiction. We currently have an office in Canada, the US and London, and we’re looking to open up in Hong Kong as well, so we do have the privilege to send our teams in to make it convenient for our families in whatever jurisdiction they live or travel in.
What has been your proudest moment at MacMillan?
My proudest moment involved a family that I worked with—they had been married for over 50 years, and they had created their estate plan to benefit themselves and their children through retirement. This couple had promised each other when they were married that they would die in the same year. About 6 months after the completion of their estate plan, the husband came to us on his own and suggested that he’s not as healthy as his wife, and he wasn’t certain he could keep the promise, but he had an idea: he brought out a shoebox of pre-made anniversary cards, enough until his wife would turn 100, and he asked MacMillan if we would send flowers with those cards to his wife until she passed. To me, that gentleman understood that his life’s work was about love, and he demonstrated it—as, I believe, we all should as well.
What are your current aspirations for MacMillan Estate Planning in the years ahead?
I hope that MacMillan itself becomes a legacy in the community and a pillar that families can rely upon for generations to come. Our goal is to set the standard for estate planning by emphasising that it is not just about minimising tax or creating a will, it is both about seeing that your life plan is fulfilled and that your beliefs and values are passed onto your children.