Writing your Will isn’t about you…

We occasionally hear people explain that they haven’t prepared a Will because they don’t really care what happens after they have died – they’ll be dead. This attitude always dismays me a little because writing a Will isn’t about you – your Will is for your loved ones. The excuse is often followed up with “I don’t need a Will, it’s obvious what will happen to my things”. A recent news article highlighted why these approaches are so disrespectful to one’s family.

In Canada, you can claim a tax free spousal rollover from retirement savings, as long as it is all completed within a year. A 54 year old widower lost his wife to cancer, and was the Executor of the estate. According to the rules, he has to submit the paperwork with the bank; including the death certificate, Will and probably probate documents. In this case, the bank lost everything and he was supposed to follow up. But guess what; he has 3 children from 5 years old to 16 and he had just lost his wife. In his words “I was overwhelmed with worry, and the priorities were always the kids. I was reading up on what happens with kids after they lose their mom….Oh, God. There were too many emotions and too many other things happening with the kids.” In this unfortunate case, he simply lost track and was expected to pay tax on the $80,000 savings (the bank has since stepped in and offered to pay).

This expression of being overwhelmed is very common for loved ones when a family member passes away. Throughout these emotionally desperate times there is a funeral to arrange, banking, taxation, care for the family, the list is endless. Many people have a hard time filing their taxes at the best of times, so imagine trying to do it shortly after your partner has passed away.

There are two key points to understand. Firstly, taking care of the bureaucracy is usually much easier with a Will in place. Furthermore, the Will  allows you to choose an Executor for your estate, and given the emotional toll on your spouse, it may make sense to appoint another family member or trusted friend to take care of the paperwork.

I find it odd that people care so much for their loved ones while they are alive, but leave them with a legacy of problems by dying without a Will. It only takes about 20 minutes to write a Will at legalwills.ca, legalwills.co.uk and uslegalwills.com and costs less than dinner and a movie.

Writing a Will isn’t for your benefit, it is for your loved ones.

The high cost of law

My situation is simple, but I know I need a Will. I just phoned a lawyer and they said it would cost $900. I’m a senior, I can’t afford that

We received this call into our customer service group yesterday and it got me thinking about the true cost of the law. Why would a lawyer feel that an appropriate charge for a Will in this situation would be $900? after all, they will almost certainly put some basic information into a software package and generate a simple Will for an individual. They might even try and persuade the senior to name the law firm as the Executor of the Will.

What is a person supposed to do if they can’t afford $900?

Every jurisdiction has seen cuts in affordable law. In Canada the The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C., Chief Justice of Canada has been a tireless campaigner of affordable law, claiming that the legal system has failed the middle classes by over-charging for simple services. We have recently seen protests in the UK over the plans to cut £220M from legal aid. The protests were made up primarily of our most vulnerable in society. In the US Jim Silkenat, who has just been elected president of the American Bar Association (ABA), warned that there is an enormous unmet legal need among those who cannot afford it, even though there are well over 1 Million lawyers in the US !! Unfortunately, no lawyer in the US is required to offer affordable or pro-bono work.

So the top lawyers in the countries serviced by LegalWills all agree that their legal system is broken. And I would say that trying to charge $900 to write a Will for a senior is symptomatic not only of a broken legal system, but also of a sense of entitlement felt by many people serving in the legal profession. That’s how we end up with situations like this one where “A solicitor has been jailed for stealing more than £200,000 from clients including one who had received compensation for brain damage…..and spent money on luxury cars and cosmetic surgery for his partner.”

This is why so many people are turning to services like those offered by LegalWills.ca, LegalWills.co.uk and USLegalWills.com. For $34.95 in the US and Canada and £24.95 in the UK, you can create your Will in about 20 minutes; using the same software that will probably be used by the lawyers charging hundreds. But with the added advantages of unlimited updates, convenience, and the chance to learn a little bit about the process while you are creating your Will, so you will really understand the contents.

Everybody needs a Will, and it should never be made unaffordable. That’s just not fair.

Should Will Kits be banned?

You will often hear legal professionals talking about the dangers of writing your own Will, and we regularly defend an individual’s right to prepare their own legal documents if they are given the right tools to do so. But we mustn’t confuse the right to prepare one’s Will, with the use of a blank-form, do-it-yourself kit. We firmly believe that using a downloadable blank form is dangerous, and we would even go as far as to say, it should be illegal.

We have previously discussed our concern with Will kits; the form-based, downloadable, fill-in-the-blanks type kits. Our main reservations with these kits include;

  1. They place too much onus on the end user to put in the correct information
  2. They are not customized to local jurisdictions
  3. There is no check to ensure that everything written in the blank spaces is legal
  4. There is no check that all scenarios and all alternate plans are include
  5. There is no way for the end user to know if they have a legal Will once the form has been completed
blank form

Blank form kit…good luck!

We recently received an email from a prospective customer asking us why our service cost money, when they could download a free kit from the internet, so we took a look specifically at the kit they were considering; it shocked us.

The kit had a banner at the top calling it “Legal Canadian Will Kit documents” . The user was then prompted to enter their name, the name of their Executor, Alternate Executor, and Guardians for children. It was followed by a blank page, with the subheading “I REQUEST that my Guardian(s)…”, with a signature page stating that the Will is on this page and the preceding pages. A little odd, because the signature page was then followed by a page describing the distribution of assets. This means that the distribution of the assets was not even in the Will !!

To top it off, the page after that was blank with the subheading “I give my Executor the following powers…”

I defy any member of the general public to correctly express a number of clauses for Executor powers – really, what on earth is a person supposed to include here? To give you some context, a Will created using our service includes thirteen clauses outlining the Executor powers and some are complicated.

The concern here is that this blank form would not be admissible in a court of law. It simply would not work. Presumably, the document is being downloaded on a regular basis by unwitting customers who are trying to save some legal fees. But surely there needs to be some level of accreditation or governance before a website can mislead so many people, so dangerously.

At LegalWills.ca, LegalWills.co.uk and USLegalWills.com we have to somehow differentiate our service from the cheap or free downloadable kits. Our services are fully interactive, developed by estate planning lawyers in each jurisdiction and provide help every step of the way. For example, if you have minor children (the definition of which varies across jurisdictions), our services will prompt you to set up a trust for those children (a section completely missing from the kit we sampled). In our 13 years of service we have had countless Wills pass through the probate process, and never once has one of our Wills had an issue.

We believe that most people do not have to pay expensive legal fees to prepare their own Will, but we also believe that the downloadable blank forms need to be regulated or banned outright. We would recommend that people try our service, and compare it to a blank kit, then decide.

Why can’t most people afford a Will?

We know that every adult should have a Will. There is never an appropriate situation to die intestate; it leaves a mess for your loved ones, and key appointments like those of the Trustee or the guardians for children are left up to the courts. However, lawyers continue to charge several hundreds of dollars or pounds to prepare what is often a very simple document.

Canada’s top judge once again berated the legal profession for making themselves inaccessible to the majority of citizens. It’s nothing new, she said the same thing a year and a half ago. She made the point that writing a Will is a basic right, and everybody needs one, but how many people can afford $600, and why would a lawyer charge this much for a Will that could be generated by an intern by using Will creation software.

If we look at the average pay of “the 90%”, in the US, they are making about $36k a year. After paying bills, it doesn’t leave much for a discretionary spend of $600 for a Will. Particularly, if the Will might only have a useful lifespan of a few months or a year. Does this mean that 90% of the population have to just do without?

One of the comments under this article summed it up beautifully

When you have to work a week to pay one hour of legal fees, the system is broken.

Other options are available, like the blank form Will kit, but as we’ve written in the past, they are terrible, and it’s not fair that people on a tight budget should have to make do with a solution that is inherently problematic.

Yesterday we received a wonderful letter from a customer;

I have just completed an on-line Will for my 82 year old mother-in-law who is about to have a hip replacement operation, not serious but made her think about her Will. She has no property and her estate is worth less that £10,000 enough for her funeral and a few Premium bonds left to the children. She is currently living off a state pension so £200 solicitors fees for a Will would have meant hardship. Your software was easy to use and took up very little of my time.   The price of £25 was excellent value for money and affordable for a person on a state pension….You should be very proud of your Company and I wish you every success

We are indeed very proud of our company and what we are able to do. Through the services at LegalWills.caUSLegalWills.com and LegalWills.co.uk we have been able to help tens of thousands of people prepare their own Will, every bit as solid as a Will created by a professional, but at an affordable price. We do feel that writing a high quality, legal Will is a basic human right and that legal professionals are too expensive for the vast majority. We also feel that lawyers and solicitors charge too much for what is often a very simple service.

Unfortunately today, this is a conversation you will rarely hear

Client: “I want a simple Will, everything I own to go to my spouse, and if something happens to both of us, to be shared equally between my two adult children”.
Lawyer: “You know, that will only take about 10 minutes, and I can get a legal clerk to put it together – let’s call it $25”.

Can you break the service at LegalWills?

It is not surprising that we have critics of our service; after all, we are offering a convenient, educational tool, that allows you to write a Will, Power of Attorney and Living Will. We allow you to make unlimited updates to your documents for a tiny fraction of the cost of going to a legal professional and in most cases, the final document looks identical to one costing ten times as much. One of the criticisms of the service is that you can go wrong and create a Will that doesn’t make sense. I would like to address this criticism head-0n.

We actually raise the very same concern with the blank form kits that you can buy from a bookstore. These kits consist of blank pieces of paper, with a guidebook that tells you how to write a Will. We’ve addressed the issue of these blank form kits in a previous blog post, and they are a terrible idea. It is almost impossible to write a well drafted Will using a kit; you have to cover alternate scenarios, include appropriate Executor clauses, only doing things that are legally permitted, and the kit must be tailored to your local jurisdiction. Our service on the other hand, interactively guides you through the process, offering help along the way, and restricts inputs based on your family situation, legal jurisdiction, and the law.

I had a conversation recently with somebody who was concerned that they were permitted to put bad answers in for questions; for example, they named a charity that did not have charitable status, but were not given a warning. They also named an Executor who was not living in the same jurisdiction, but were not warned that this was not advisable. Information about both of these issues is actually covered in the online help, but there is no hardcoded restriction in entering poor choices.

I feel it’s worth explaining our position though with respect to allowing people to enter bad answers;

  • The service is available as a tool to prepare one’s own Will. Just like using online tax preparation software, it does rely on you entering the correct information. If you have three children but claim to have two, we do not check that (but neither do most legal professionals).
  • We do provide information in the accompanying pop-up help text, available on every page. We encourage people to read this text, but we do not force people to read it, otherwise the interaction with our service would be painful.
  • We cannot give specific advice for specific individuals; this would be offering legal advice which we are not permitted to do. We can only give general guidance, so we are not allowed to check everybody’s specific answers to every question.
  • Sadly, the vast majority of people do not have a Will. We have created a service that allows people to finally stop procrastinating and make sure that their family and loved ones are taken care of. It does however require some common sense to use it.

It really isn’t difficult to prepare one’s own Will which is why the services at LegalWills.ca, LegalWills.co.uk and USLegalWills.com are becoming increasingly popular. You can create a nonsense Will if that is your intent, however, you can also create a completely legal Last Will and Testament, and learn a little about the process along the way.

5 good reasons to write your own Will rather than see a lawyer

I need to preface this article by clarifying what I mean by writing your own Will. I do not mean sitting down with a blank piece of paper, and I do not mean using a blank form kit that you may buy from a bookstore. Either of these approaches is an absolutely terrible idea. No, I’m talking about using interactive software like the tools offered at LegalWills.ca, USLegalWills.com and LegalWills.co.uk. These services protect you from making the mistakes inherent within a blank form kit – like writing something in your Will that is not permitted by law, or not covering all possible situations. In fact, these services are now so good, that they are not just an option “if you cannot afford a lawyer”. They actually have some significant benefits over using a legal professional to prepare your Will.

You will actually get it done
Over 60% of adults don’t have a Will in place, and many complain that it’s the effort of booking an appointment with a lawyer that presents the most significant barrier. Many of our customers use LegalWills because they have procrastinated and they are leaving on a trip, or going into surgery and explain to us that they need “something” in place, and they’ll then get a “proper Will” written some time in the future. One of two things then happens; they either don’t ever get around to preparing the “proper one”, or alternatively, they eventually make an appointment with their lawyer, pay $600 and then find that their new Will is the same as the one prepared at LegalWills. When I say “the same”, I mean identical, word-for-word, exactly the same. The lawyer uses the same software that we use, so the two documents are indistinguishable from each other.

Another significant barrier to preparing a Will is the notion that you would only write it once in your lifetime. After all, for $600 you’d expect it to be good for at least a few years. Unfortunately though, a Will lasts as long as there are no changes in the circumstance of anybody named in the Will. If your alternate Executor moves abroad, it’s probably a good idea to update your Will. Or supposing a charity comes into your life and you wish to recognize them in a bequest, you may want to update your Will. Unfortunately, with a lawyer it means booking another appointment and paying another $600 each time. With LegalWills you simply login, make the change and print out a new Will. It takes 10 minutes and costs nothing.

You may be the type of person who actually wants to learn about something as important as your Will. Unfortunately most lawyers do not have the time or inclination to step you through every clause in your Will and explain to you the implications of each sentence. Using a service like the one offered at LegalWills you are able to create your Will at your own pace and read as much or as little as you need to in order to educate yourself. Every page and every decision comes with accompanying help text so you will actually understand your Will and the decisions that were made to create your document. Most people who use our service actually feel empowered after preparing their own Will and completely understand the contents.

There may be details to be included in your Will that you may not be willing to share. You may not feel comfortable telling a lawyer that you would like to leave your old school tie to your nephew and a long list of other personal memorabilia. There may be an organization that means a lot to you that you may not wish to share even with a lawyer. Using our service you get to choose exactly what is included in your Will and you needn’t discuss it with anybody if you don’t want to. You can make an update at any time without needing to explain to anybody the trigger for that update. It is truly your own private and personal document.

With all of these advantages you’d almost think that the services at LegalWills would be at least as expensive as going to see a lawyer. But ultimately you are preparing your own documents, and you are not receiving legal advice from us. In North America you can prepare your Will at LegalWills.ca and USLegalWills.com for $34.95, at LegalWills.co.uk it costs £24.95.

Preparing your own document using our services is not an option for people who “can’t afford” legal fees. It is an educated choice for people who need to prepare a Will, who want to make updates whenever they need to, who want to learn a little more about the process, and who protect their privacy. Yes, it’s more affordable, and yes, the final document is identical, but there is so much more that comes with a service like ours.

“How come your Wills are so cheap?”

This is one of the most common questions we are asked; “how is it that if I go to a professional Will writer – a solicitor or lawyer, they will charge me 20 times your price?”. How do we make your service so affordable?

I think the most important factor is our sense of value for money. All too often we see lawyers writing online about a professional estate plan costing “as little as $1,200”. Even the most conservative estimates are in the range of “only $400-600″. To us, that seems like an outrageous amount of money. We’ve seen articles, written by lawyers saying “If you’re using a will kit because you’re too cheap to pay for legal advice”, which I think really demonstrates the disconnect between those paying for the service and those offering the service. It’s not a matter of being too cheap, it’s a matter of simply not being able to afford it.

This is why the Chief Justice of Canada, the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin noted, while addressing a room full of law students;

“the justice system…has failed thousands of Canadians who don’t have a legal will, simply because they do not have the money to hire a lawyer to draft one or are so afraid that what it will cost will bankrupt them”

We think it’s a disgrace that nearly three quarters of adults in the UK, US and Canada do not have a legal Will. This number should not be 70%, it should be nearer to 5%. It doesn’t make sense that a relatively simple document should be the exclusively the purview of legal professionals. Occasionally, a complex estate plan does require legal advice that draws upon the years of training and experience of a legal professional, but the legal profession know that no legal knowledge is required in the drafting of the vast majority of Wills. But this won’t stop them from scaremongering and sharing examples of how it can all go wrong. Take this example;

Many people unfortunately believe they can create their own will based on a legal (service) they located on the Web. These individuals need to realize that their estate probably does not simply consist of a bank account and a home. Many estates today could easily include additional real property (real estate), jewelry, a baseball card collection, first edition Nancy Drew books…

What on earth is this saying? how does a Will written by a legal professional for $600 cover these items any more thoroughly that an online service. In fact, we would argue that if you are including these items in your Will you SHOULD use an online service – it allows you to update your Will free of charge every time a change is made to your inventory. Otherwise you’ll be returning to the lawyer each time you buy a new first edition Nancy Drew book – the cost of an update – $500.

Writing the Will yourself can also protect you against immoral thieves like this woman.

The former solicitor and District Court judge, Heather Perrin, received her second jail sentence for deceiving her clients. Having been found guilty in November of tricking her elderly friend, Thomas Davis, into bequeathing half of his €1m estate to her two adult children, she pleaded guilty to falsifying another client’s account, for her own gain

Our services at LegalWills.ca, USLegalWills.com and LegalWills.co.uk allow you to write your own Will, from home, and guides you through the process. You learn about the contents of your Will, and the things to consider. You can update it at any time, and it will cost you $34.95 in the US or Canada, or £24.95 in the UK.

If it was up to us, the government would offer our website as a public service to ensure that everybody had a Will in place. In the meantime, we cover our costs and hope that we can make the process accessible to as many people as we can.