Estates & Wills & Trusts

Online will kits better than nothing: Urback

By Paul Russell, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor

Online will kits are affordable and easy to use, but they deny the testator the opportunity to have meaningful discussions with a professional about individual circumstances and wishes, says Toronto wills and estates lawyer Matthew Urback.

“The problem with these kits is that they are really just importing your financial data and your primary wishes about your estate, without giving you any opportunity to get legal advice,” says Urback, partner with Shibley Righton LLP.

“For lawyers working in this field, part of the will-drafting and estate-planning process is taking stock of an individual’s particular circumstances and making recommendations based on what would work for them,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

According to an article in Betakit, one particular online platform “aims to simplify the process of estate preparation by getting more Canadians to create a will.”

Urback agrees that is an admirable goal, citing a 2018 Angus Reid poll showing 51 per cent of Canadian adults don’t have a will, while another 15 per cent have out-of-date wills.

“Put that together, and you see that 66 per cent, or two-thirds of adults, don’t have a proper will, which is shocking,” he says.

Urback says he can understand how online services will appeal to millennials who may not have assets or dependents.

“Online kits are better than nothing, but much of the detail and intricacy that a human lawyer can bring to the estate-planning process will be lost,” he says.

Some of these services claim that users can create a will in 20 minutes, Urback says, adding that a lawyer may spend at least that long just explaining the legal implications of the document to clients.

“If you go online to make a will, I think you’re flying blind,” he says.

According to the Betakit article, the Toronto-based will-creation company wants to build “a suite of products that not only help consumers prepare for death through a will but also through other arrangements that are often overlooked, like wrapping up debt and online and social media accounts.”

Urback wonders how the company will tackle the issue of wrapping up social media accounts since there are so many types, and each has unique policies.

“Social media accounts all have different terms of service, and various rules about what happens when a subscriber dies,” he says, giving the example of Facebook, which allows the estate to either take down the deceaseds page or turn it into a legacy page, similar to a guest book in a funeral home, where people can leave comments.

“I don’t know how they can claim it will be painting with such a broad brush, as social media accounts are all so different,” he says.

At the same time, Urback agrees that people need to think about making provisions in their will as to what should be done with their social media accounts.

“In the future, I can envision people appointing a digital estate trustee, who would have to be very familiar with social media,” he says. “That person would be tasked with carrying out your wishes concerning online accounts, recognizing that you are leaving a footprint.”

Urback asks clients if they want to address their social media accounts in their wills, but he says most don’t think it’s necessary.

“I’m not really sure why that is,” he says. “I think it would be different when you combine a social media account with something that has monetary value, such as Bitcoin or Air Miles. When you put those together, people will look at it a bit more closely, but right now, it’s not at the forefront of people’s minds.”

When dealing with a lawyer to create a will, Urback says people can learn about various options for leaving their estate to others, such as staggering the gifts, giving the example of a quarter of the estate being handed over when a child turns 18, another quarter at 21 and the remaining half at 25.

“You may not be offered that flexibility with online will kits,” he says. “And since you are dealing with a computer, it will never have the personal touch a human can offer.”

Urback says another drawback, at least in Ontario, is that people can’t digitally sign a will, meaning they still have to be printed off and signed in front of two witnesses.

“Online will programs are better than nothing,” he says, “though users will lose much of the detail and finesse that legal professionals can offer, due to the inherent limitations of the program.”

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