The Digital Journey of the Estate Planning Sector

26/02/2021

The Digital Journey of the Estate Planning Sector

Over the last 20 years, the estate planning sector has changed. Technology plays a more prominent role in modern businesses and those who don’t integrate or incorporate technology into their working practices are left behind.

The introduction of the internet has transformed how we access legal services. We’re now better able to find legal services providers, to assess their suitability to help us, to assess their credentials, and make contact with them. From a business viewpoint, a website becomes a shop window.

Many modern websites lead the way with interaction, allowing mobile friendly websites, centralising information capture and in some cases, an online customer journey, without the need for face to face interaction. This makes our journey (the legal process) much more akin to that of the life insurance industry for example, where a service can be purchased without the need to speak to someone. Expect more of a shift in the legal sector in the coming months.

In more recent years, work has been done to raise professional standards. Being in a litigious society these institutions are concerned about ensuring that their members adhere to best practice when it comes to keeping comprehensive and detailed case files. The emergence of technology has changed the way that files are stored/maintained/recorded. Client relationship management systems (CRMs) help solicitor practices and estate planning businesses keep in touch with clients, as well as enabling them to provide regular updates and building relationships A process which was predominantly manual 20 years ago but is now more automated, saving businesses both time and money.

2006 prompted a significant advancement in technology and how Estate Planners work together within the sector with the launch of Certainty – The National Will Register. Fast forward 14 years, the register now stores the location of over 8.4 million Wills. This was a great step forward and enabled probate practitioners and lay executors to ensure they were dealing with the Last Will and Testament.
One of the most significant technological advancements in recent years is the emergence of new and revolutionary challenger banks and cryptocurrencies. Whilst cryptocurrencies haven’t become a mainstream payment method, the hype surrounding them certainly increased awareness about digital assets which have changed the make-up of our estate, the way we access money and even how we pay for things.

These digital assets make for additional challenges when considering estate planning and provision for estate administration. However, software solutions like WillSuite now enable testators the choice to appoint different executors to deal with digital assets and this is something that would never have been considered previously.

Additionally, the introduction of social media platforms like Facebook or has presented further complexities when it comes to estate administration. The closing of these accounts, the ability for our loved ones to be able to access the photos or memories held in the accounts and having nominated individuals all require consideration.

There have also been cases where people have attempted to leave what they believed to be their digital assets to loved ones but turned out that these assets didn’t fall under the deceased’s estate and examples include their digital music library. It is expected that as subscription services like Spotify continue to grow, the issues surrounding who owns the music paid for in digital libraries will decrease. Nonetheless, these assets still have to be dealt with and our estate planning should encompass or give access for our executors to be able to deal with these assets or at least close the accounts.

Back in 2017 the HM Courts and Tribunal Services made a significant technological stride when they launched the online digital service enabling people to apply for the grant of probate however, at first this was only available to lay executors.

Back in 2015, around the same time of the launch of WillSuite, the digital doors opened for online Will service Farewill. Paving the way for clients to be able to access a digital Will solution, something Fare Will expanded since, prompting several businesses to offer a digital and ‘hands free’ online service to their clients from their website. The cost of developing technological solutions such as this has been prohibitive for smaller firms meaning that larger firms have been able to dominate in the online space. Nevertheless, Love Legal – a tech firm powered by the developers behind WillSuite launched a plug and play online Will Writing offering, making the service available to law firms and estate planning practices without the heavy costs of development. The expectation is that the development behind online platforms such as these will continue to grow and following the effects of COVID-19, many businesses will look for further digital solutions enabling them to continue those touch points with clients or prospective clients.

There have been major strides made in the last 30 years and like it or lump it, practitioners have had to roll with the times. Perhaps what is more important is what will be happening over the next few years and what steps can be taken now to ensure that law firms and estate planning practices aren’t left behind. With that in mind, we believe that AI will play an even greater part in our estate planning and in the production of legal documents.

If asked right now what you could do to build a successful legal business which will be future proof, or at least stand up to the challenges we could be presented with, I would say, without hesitation, that you should automate as much of the client journey as possible. This might include automating clients journeys and client communication, where possible – instruction taking, or document production, but do consider that automation will save time and resources meaning you can build a more scalable business in a short period of time.