The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is bringing the topic of wills and estate planning out of the dark and into the light for some employers.
Mainstream news reports and personal social media feeds often mention daily death counts as the world battles the second wave. In response, some employers are starting to more openly talk about and guide employees through the process of ensuring their affairs are in order during these tumultuous times.
“It wasn’t something people were thinking about,” says Andrea Bartlett, director of human resources at Humi, a Toronto-based human resources technology company. “But with COVID, people have more time on their hands and they’re going through life-changing events, some catastrophic, some par for the course.”
She says Humi has taken a proactive approach in offering these resources. The company recently began holding education sessions for its team through online estate planning platform Willful, which has helped address the importance of planning among employees.
“Our benefits team understands what end-of-life planning is but the greater workforce doesn’t have any daily awareness from a product standpoint. It’s not only a learning opportunity but it’s the ongoing conversation that’s been enabled by these workshops.”
Humi is also including estate planning resources in the benefits programs it offers to clients, part of an ongoing effort to expand its product suite, Bartlett says. This expanded suite will provide clients with resources for financial literacy as well as enhanced mental-health offerings, including support for bereaved employees.
“When we talk about the idea of estate planning and end-of-life benefits, it’s something that’s been received well. They’re not coming to us and asking for it, but with what we know that’s on the market, with respect to different providers offering estate and end-of-life planning, it’s something that hasn’t been a focus for many employers.”
Losel Tethong, co-founder and owner of Toronto’s Propeller Coffee Co., has also recently introduced estate planning for employees by offering a free will through Willful. While the coffee micro roaster had already been considering offering this resource as a result of its recent B Corporation certification (which signifies a company’s dedication to its employees, customers and the environment), the plan was fast-tracked as a result of the pandemic.
A former member of the Canadian Armed Forces, Tethong says he also wanted to ensure that his team enjoyed a similar level of benefits coverage. “I’ve always had extensive health and dental benefits and I found in small businesses, food and beverage especially, people just aren’t as familiar with what’s available and what’s possible. One of the first things you do when you join the military is fill out a will. Once we got the extended health and dental and the insurance in place, we wanted to explore wills.”
While two of Propeller’s 10 employees had previously made a will, he says the rest of the team was more or less unaware of the importance of estate planning but were quick to sign on.
“It’s a little bit of an awkward discussion as an employer to say ‘I’d like to offer you a free will.’ I explained that one of the things that allowed me to do what I have with Propeller is that I’ve been a saver and planner since I was in college. It’s one of those things that’s second nature and if I can help the staff, that’s great. They realized if they don’t have a will in place, those payouts can get stuck and you’re putting an extra burden and cost on your family.”
The pandemic has also emphasized estate planning as a natural extension of a company’s responsibility to its employees, says Tethong. “In this day and age, employers have an obligation at the very minimum to provide both a safe work environment but one that’s also financially supportive of staff. These seem like fairly straightforward steps after safety.”
And while the pandemic has provided its share of challenges, it’s also raised the profile of enhanced benefits offerings beyond basic dental and medical coverage, says Bartlett.
“These different elements traditionally haven’t been included in the employee life cycle because benefits have been more focused on immediate benefits and the time an employee is with the company. The pandemic has really pushed the boundary of what the employee life cycle looks like and what employers need to consider. We’ve had a lot of great conversations in a very positive way.”