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Civil Litigation

Online will service useful in simple scenarios: Miller

A new online service should appeal to people who want simple wills at a low cost, but there is still a potential for misuse, says Toronto civil litigator Jonathan Miller.

“This generation spends so much time online, so this is the next logical next step,” says Miller, associate with the Toronto office of Shibley Righton LLP.

He cites an online article about a Toronto-based startup that indicates its programs can help people create three types of wills without utilizing the services of a lawyer.

According to the article, users fill in information about their beneficiaries, how they want to divide up their estate, and who will be the executor.

A basic will can be drawn up for $99, or users can designate a power of attorney for $150, or they can do both for $250, says the article.

“For many people, this service provides a simple way to go about creating a will, especially for those who don’t have complex families,” Miller tells AdvocateDaily.com.

In the past, he says people could attempt to do the same sort of thing by ordering a home will kit in the mail.

“This is the next step in that evolution, but this utilizes online technology.”

Miller says the service is not currently a threat to traditional estate lawyers since the website is only able to handle very basic wills, such as those where everything goes to the surviving spouse, or where certain gifts are given to specific people.

“Those wanting to do something a little bit more complicated should still see a lawyer,” he says, giving the example of a will that spells out the care and funding for dependent children.

According to the story, the startup “worked with estate lawyers to help create all the legal content and flow of the documents,” and instructions are included “for how to make it legally valid.”

Miller says the Succession Law Reform Act states that wills do not require a lawyer’s signature, but they still need to be witnessed by two people who are not listed as beneficiaries.

His main concern with this service is that it could potentially be misused by those making a will on someone else’s behalf.

“Someone could create a will for mom and dad, and have them sign it without them really knowing where the money is going after they die.”

Miller says preventing that form of financial impropriety is one of the pivotal roles a lawyer plays when drawing up a will in person.

“They make sure the testator’s intentions are truly expressed in their will,” he says.

“Because of the lack of complexity in the wills this service can prepare, at least at this point, I can see the potential for abuse, but it’s not necessarily very high.”

Miller says people intimidated by the idea of going to a lawyer may be drawn to this service, as well as those not willing to pay for regular legal service.

“In simple scenarios, perhaps this is a good way for them to get started, but once the estate starts evolving to include care of dependent children and more complex ways of distributing assets, people will need to get a lawyer involved,” he says.

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