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Report finds LGBT people face financial planning barriers

Gaps in provincial financial laws let same-sex couples fall through cracks

A report published by Bank of Montreal June 18 has found that LGBT people face additional barriers when planning their financial futures. Credit: Thinkstock

The LGBT community may face additional barriers when planning their financial future, according to a report released June 18 by the Bank of Montreal.

The report, authored by BMO’s think tank division, the Wealth Institute, found that there are still gaps in the regulation of estate planning and employee benefits that allow some same-sex and common-law couples to fall through the gaps. In some provinces, if a person dies without a will, their estate will automatically go to their blood relatives. Their same-sex or common-law partner isn’t recognized under the law unless they have been named in a will.

And while many companies have altered their employee benefits programs to include same-sex couples, many lag behind when it comes to recognizing common-law couples. Only 62 percent of Fortune 500 companies provide health insurance for an employee’s domestic partner.

Currently, more than 30 percent of the LGBT community has an average annual income of more than $100,000 and contributes 7.2 percent annually to Canada’s GDP, according to the report. But for many people, both in and out of the LGBT community, long-term financial planning isn’t on the radar until they decide to have children, according to Gavin Clark, a wealth advisor at BMO Nesbitt Burns. “It is a bit of an issue that it should be done earlier than it is now,” he adds.

Some segments of the low-income and closeted LGBT community may not be comfortable with the idea of divulging personal information to bank personnel, acknowledges Becky McFarlane, director of community programs and services at the 519 Church Street Community Centre.

“We are all managing wealth,” McFarlane says, encouraging people of all income brackets to consider the potential benefits of financial planning. “Not everyone always remembers that.”

One way of breaking down barriers for LGBT people in finance is to ensure banks are safe spaces. Enza Anderson, a local trans activist and financial service coordinator at BMO, decided to work at the branch in the Church-Wellesley Village because she heard that BMO wanted the employees to reflect the community.

Anderson recalls helping trans people who faced financial hardship because of the costs associated with their transition. “Coming into the branch and knowing someone is there to listen [to] them gives them that sense of security,” Anderson suggests.

But, as McFarlane points out, there is still work to do to ensure that everyone has equal financial opportunities. “Beyond the considerations of good financial planning, we have to think about access,” she says.