Will and estate planning in the digital age

Transform It Forward with Julia Staffen Bringing will and estate planning into the digital age_16x9

Planning for death isn’t necessarily everyone’s favorite task, and for many of us, it’s not even on our radar at all. But it’s never too early—or too late—to prepare a will.

The process of will and estate planning has been notoriously complex and burdensome, but companies like Willful are here to change that and bring the process into the modern age.

Transform It Forward with Julia Staffen: Bringing will and estate planning into the digital age

In the latest episode of Transform It Forward, I sat down with Julia Staffen, the Chief Operating Officer of Willful, a company that’s bringing will and estate planning into the digital age through its online platform to ultimately reach their vision of ensuring every Canadian has a legal will. 

During the episode, we discuss how the world of will and estate planning is changing, and how we can help people prepare for the future. We also explore some of the tools and technologies that are transforming will and estate planning today, and strategies for removing the fear and stigma surrounding the process so it becomes more accessible to the average person.

Making will and estate planning accessible

Historically, will and estate planning has been a confusing process involving plenty of red tape, back-and-forth with lawyers, and legal jargon. As our society becomes increasingly reliant on the digital world for everyday tasks and major life events, Willful is on a mission to bring the will and estate planning up to speed.

“It’s really our mission to make it as easy and affordable as we can for people to get these documents. As I mentioned, 57% of people don’t have a will in Canada, and that’s a really, really high number. And there’s lots of reasons as to why that is, but our goal is to make it as easy as possible to get those important documents in place.”

The fact that over half of Canadians don’t have an official will is staggering, and it goes to show that we need to make the process more accessible to the average person. Of course, there are multiple reasons behind this lack of awareness when it comes to will and estate planning, and the issue is complex.

According to Julia, some of the most common barriers standing in the way of will and estate planning today include a lack of time to dedicate to the process, a lack of education, and a taboo surrounding conversations about death. Let’s face it: no one wants to talk about dying, but it’s something that happens to all humans eventually and it’s one of the only true guarantees in life. 

It’s time we start a dialogue around the subject and normalize talking about will and estate planning so we can all prepare for the inevitable. 

“There’s a bit of a stigma around creating a will that it’s this huge impossible task. When it comes down to it, people do tend to put it at the bottom of the to-do list rather than at the top, because they think it’s really expensive, inconvenient and complex.”

Three simple steps

Creating a will may seem like a daunting task, but technology is making it easier to simplify the process and reduce any fear around the subject. On their website, Willful has created a comprehensive learning center featuring checklists, conversation guides and resources detailing all the important steps in the process.

However, when it comes down to the nitty gritty of planning a will, Julia says the process can be distilled down into three simple steps:

“One is you need to choose an executor, so that is ‘who is going to take care of my estate when I pass away?’

The second decision you have to make is, ‘who do I want my stuff to go to? And are there specific items that I want to give to specific people? Do I want to give some of my estate and assets to charity?’ And so on and so forth.

And then the last and final thing is, ‘who do I want to name responsible for my minor children and pets when I pass away?’ And that’s all around guardianship. So if we can boil it down into three simple steps, it actually becomes a much easier conversation to have.”

Of course, these steps may vary slightly depending on the person, and other issues can crop up along the way. As technology evolves, the requirements of will and estate planning will need to change, too. 

Willful’s overarching goal is to ensure all Canadians have legally valid wills, but according to Julia, this is just the tip of the iceberg. She and the team believe will and estate planning is an untapped space with significant potential for disruption and transformation in the coming years.

“We just did a great study with 1Password around digital assets. Are we recording those and who has access to those when we pass away? So, I think as technology expands and access expands to different types of platforms, we’re going to also see the needs and the products and services available from an estate planning perspective grow as well.”

With the ambitious ultimate goal of having one in every 10 wills in Canada written with Willful, the company is currently focused on customer acquisition and raising awareness about the platform. 

However, the company is just getting started. Communicating the value of the option is only the first step in their plan to overhaul the will and estate planning space altogether.

“The will is definitely the carrot, but we have so much opportunity with that. So in the short term, it’s really about getting as many Canadians to get wills as possible and then building out the platform and the products and services from there.”

Key takeaways:

  1. The process of drafting a will can seem overwhelming, to say the least. But as Julia mentioned, distilling the process down to a few simple steps can make it much easier and less intimidating. Despite the strong taboo that’s often still associated with conversations about death and estate planning, the process doesn’t need to be scary or complex in reality.
  2. One of the most common misconceptions about estate planning is that it’s something that should be reserved for people who are ill or have reached an advanced age, later in life. However, Willful’s clients come to them at various life stages whether they’re buying a house or having a child, so it’s never a bad idea to get your affairs in order before it’s too late. 
  3. Ultimately, Willful’s goal is to become the brand that’s synonymous with estate planning in Canada. To create this end-to-end solution, the company is making use of new and emerging technologies to streamline the process and bring estate planning into the 21st Century. Julia says she and the team at Willful hope the rest of the country will follow suit and ultimately jump on the digital bandwagon, too, to make the process easier for all Canadians.
  4. As more companies like Apple begin to address the topic of estate planning, more members of the younger generations will understand the importance of making it a focus. Companies like Willful are modernizing and digitizing estate planning to act as a bridge between generations. This will be even more crucial in the near future, as younger people’s parents continue to age and appoint them as executors in their wills.
  5. Instead of viewing lawyers as their competition, Julia and the team at Willful understand that estate planning is a nuanced process, which is why they tend to target people who don’t necessarily need to speak with a lawyer to plan their will. To accommodate this kind of client, Willful offers a hands-off, manual experience, but the company has also prioritized educating their customer service department to ensure there’s a supportive, human-to-human interaction available if needed. 

Listen to the full podcast episode here.

And if you missed previous episodes, catch up here.

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EVP - CMO - Paul French has 20+ years of successful experience in direct sales, front-line sales & marketing management, product marketing, and business & product strategy. Success in executive management in sales, marketing and operations in roles at companies that range from angel-funded start-ups, to Global, Public Companies. Entrepreneurial, with experience with Public and Private company strategy and M&A, Innovation, Business model changes, P&L ownership, building and leading teams, and delivering measurable results.

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