Death & Incapacity – The Elephant in the Room

Elephant in a grey room

(From the July 2023 Edition of eFORUM)

By Greg Barnsdale


As a long time Advocis member who worked hard to help clients toward a better retirement, I can empathize with each of you who saw the title of this article and were drawn to it. Having been one of the few undertakers who crossed over to financial/retirement planning, I believe I bring a unique perspective to the rather sensitive topic of ‘post-retirement’.

Financial advisors do excellent estate planning work, generally speaking. Some, however, are reluctant to bring up issues surrounding end-of-life planning with their clients. When clients themselves also avoid talking about their own death and incapacity, we continue to witness the same disappointing and frustrating statistics.

Numerous surveys reveal that end-of-life planning is the elephant in the room. Many Canadian adults do not have a current and valid will. Far fewer have a power of attorney in place to properly specify their personal wishes upon incapacity. The financial industry, funeral industry and legal industry have made great strides in motivating Canadians to plan prudently, but there are far too many people who continue to ignore these vitally important issues.

After years of selling mutual funds, health insurance, life insurance (as well as underground furniture), I decided to write and publish a book to help inspire others to put off procrastination around end-of-life planning. I no longer work with clients, as I am quite busy following David Chilton’s masterclass program in creating demand for my recently published book ‘Do Not Ignore Your Mortality – Practical Advice From a Funeral & Financial Insider’.

I strategically created my manuscript by recruiting over twenty five people from my target market to provide input as I wrote it. They were everyday people (not from the financial, funeral or legal industries) who had an interest in the subject matter. They clearly identified the information they felt would be most relevant to the average reader. These beta testers were an integral part of the entire creative process. The result is a well-written, engaging book that inspires readers to take action. Believe it or not, I even added some humour!    

I certainly understand the topic of becoming frail and dying is not a welcoming thought, but the demand for planners who can provide expertise toward planning for this stage of life is increasing. A recent webinar regarding the importance of Advance Care Planning attracted over 900 Canadian financial advisors, with a consensus being established that more and more advisors are frequently being asked about this subject by their clients. My message to those who understand the importance of this has been carefully stressed on my website,       

‘This message is the result of immense frustration. I have worked in and around death a long time. Too many people don’t want to talk about their mortality yet doing so has several significant benefits. I understand it’s a delicate subject, but this desperately needs to be said, and ultimately to improve. Planning ahead properly is not complicated. The hardest part is talking about what you want to happen. Your desire to plan needs to be as strong as your love of family. Plan while you can. You’ll be glad you did. So will those you care about.’

The news of the Titan submersible fatalities is another recent event which is generating strong interest in this theme of death awareness, and how quickly and unexpectedly a life-ending event can occur. Videos relating to it on YouTube and other social media platforms are going viral. I myself posted a brief video on TikTok just prior to my recent brain surgery and it too went viral. Who would have thought that a brief message recorded minutes after telling my wife I had a large brain tumour (assuming it would lead to my death) would generate such vast interest? Shockingly, it has now had well over a million views.

General interest, however, is not enough. Clients (and their financial advisors!) need to be patiently and properly drawn into this subject so that the resulting conversations can lead to prudent engagement with professional advice. Period.

Greg Barnsdale

Greg is an undertaker, Certified Financial Planner, Certified Executor Advisor, ghostwriter and hospice volunteer. He’s published a well-received book to help inspire more people to get their affairs in order. Shortly after publication, Greg was diagnosed with a large brain tumor. Faced with prompt surgery or a death sentence, he has emerged with an even more compelling message. His website address is