– Words by Lauren Kramer Photography by Lia Crowe
It happens to many Okanagan residents. Introduced to the region as visitors, they fall in love and make the move, smitten with the beauty of BC’s wine country. For Judith Charbonneau Kaplan, vice president of advanced wealth planning at Wellington-Altus Private Wealth, that’s precisely how she came to move to Kelowna in 2014.
The Montreal native studied law at L’Université de Montréal and received a master of law degree in taxation. She was working as a tax lawyer at a national law firm in Montreal when her boyfriend, now her spouse, coaxed her west.
“He took me running on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail and swimming in Okanagan Lake,” she says, laughing at the memory. “How could I not move here?”
At Wellington-Altus, the 37-year-old uses her tax law expertise to help ensure her clients are as tax-efficient as possible. That means protecting their assets, assisting with estate planning and helping them understand how to transition their assets in a tax-efficient manner during their lifetimes and after their death.
“I’m passionate about making tax law relevant and accessible to all,” she admits. “I remember being astounded during my first year of law school that what we were learning wasn’t something taught to everyone. I think that a basic understanding of the law and our tax system is ‘table stakes’ to smoothly navigating most aspects of our lives. I love taking those intricate rules, identifying how very tangibly they impact an individual, and then utilizing those same rules to bring about the best possible outcome for a client.”
She works closely with high-net-worth clients to help them establish a wealth plan that is consistent with their needs and life goals.
“Many people don’t have any kind of wealth plan in place and the first step is helping them understand why they need one, regardless of their level of wealth,” she explains.
“We start our wealth-planning discussions with a discovery process, where we ask clients about their assets, liabilities and incomes, but more importantly, about their values, hopes and dreams for themselves, their families and their businesses. By asking hard and sometimes probing questions, we empower clients to think very intentionally about what they want for themselves today and in the years to come. Then, through the wealth planning process, we help them get there.”
The approach at her firm is very holistic.
“Everything we do at Wellington-Altus is to serve our clients in the manner that is best for each particular client, and that can look very different from one client to the next,” she reflects. “We have the freedom and support to try things at this firm, which is a very dynamic and entrepreneurial workplace. What I love about working at Wellington-Altus is that everyone here has chosen to be here, and we’ve chosen it because we are empowered to do what’s right for our clients, always. It’s really energizing.”
These days, Judith is doing a lot of running around. She’s running after a busy toddler, but she’s also lacing up her running shoes several times a week. In her 25 years as an athlete, she’s completed many marathons and triathlons, and with a front door located five minutes from a trail run, she’s out on trails a few times a week. And when she’s not running, she’s cycling.
But catch her tearing down a trail, she says, and there’s a good chance she’s thinking about tax law.
“I love the challenge of it, the fact that you could read the same provision of the tax act every day, and a new fact pattern will force you to view that provision in a new light and bring a different approach to how you solve your clients’ problems,” she says.
“It’s never dull and the law is always evolving, so it forces you to be on top of changes to find the best opportunities for clients. The other amazing thing about tax is that it allows me to meet people who’ve built up significant wealth and to hear their approaches on life, business, work and wealth. Everyone has a great story with a different trajectory, and it’s really fun and fascinating to get to know my clients.”
Judith is also passionate about literacy and began tutoring adult literacy programs as a student at McGill. Since moving to Kelowna, she’s tutored with Project Literacy, helping students learn English as a second language. “The ability to read is critical to one’s day-to-day, but it also opens up new worlds of possibility and adventure,” she reflects.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without having been given the tools for success, and that starts with reading. So I’ve tried, where I can, to impart that love of learning onto others who haven’t had the same opportunities as I’ve had.”