You're likely using the Internet for online shopping and online banking, so why not online will creation?
Perhaps not surprisingly, there are a few services that offer it today, including Will-O-Matic, a Toronto-based do-it-yourself Internet service from a company called Dynamic Lawyers.
Given the fact Canada's population is aging and we're turning to the Internet more than ever for various services, I thought I'd devote a blog post to online will creation.
I caught up with lawyer Michael Carabash, founder of Dynamic Lawyers, about the product -- including who it's for, how it works and the benefits and drawbacks compared to an in-person visit to a lawyer.
Yahoo!: OK, so what is Will-O-Matic, exactly?
Michael Carabash: In a nutshell, it's Turbo Tax for creating a will. The online product takes users through a series of questions and as they fill out the answers, it helps them make decisions about their last will and testament. At the end, you download, print and sign a custom-tailored will.
Yahoo!: What are some of the decisions you need to make along the way?
MC: It's fairly comprehensive, but some common ones are who do you want to be responsible for administering your estate when you pass away (commonly referred to as an "executor")? Who you want to take care of your children under 18 years of age? You can also specify funeral arrangements, and of course, beneficiaries for all of your assets, such as RRSPs, RRIFs, life insurance, real estate, money and personal property. You can also include a mediation clause, so disputes are resolved in an informal, quick and inexpensive manner -- and add other clauses, too. There are many options you can choose from, but the typical process takes about 15 to 30 minutes.
Yahoo!: After you print it out, what else do you need to do for this will be valid?
MC: You need to review it, sign it in front of two witnesses who are age of majority — but it has to be people who are not a beneficiary, or their spouses. Then, you keep the will in a safe place, preferably a fireproof box or safety deposit box, and let your executor know where it is and make sure they have access to it. Or while a lot of people don't do this, you can deposit the will with the court, if you wanted to.
Yahoo!: Can't you just write a will on a piece of paper?
MC: In Ontario, there's something called a "Holograph" will, where someone handwrites the will and has no witnesses. There's a famous case of a farmer, Cecil George Harris, who, in 1948, used a knife to carve these words into the bumper of the tractor he was pinned under: "In case I die in this mess, I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo Harris." He did die, and this "will" held up. But our system is more comprehensive, of course, with about 10 to 20 pages in length. The online interview process will show them all the options they might not know about.
Yahoo!: Are people reluctant to fill wills out online?
MC: Some people might feel they need a lawyer to hold their hand and take them through the process — and yes, that's recommended if you can afford them or if you have a complex estate, international property or believe there may be some fighting among loved ones after you leave. Or you should see a lawyer if you feel like you're being pressured into writing someone in your will and you're not entirely comfortable with it. Or if you have issues with mental capacity. In these instances, it's probably better to see a lawyer.
Yahoo!: What about those worried about data breaches?
MC: Good question. Those who are concerned about security should know we encrypt the connection from your computer to our server, we constantly scan our website for malware, we don't store credit card information, and we have back-ups in place. Also, after three unsuccessful login attempts, we notify you.
Yahoo!: What are the advantages to creating a will online?
MC: First of all, about 50 percent of Canadians don't have a will or it hasn't been updated in a long time. As for using will-O-Matic, it's very affordable. We sell it for $110 on our website but we often have group coupon deals, where we offer it for as low as $24. We have sold over 7,000 this year alone. A Canadian lawyer, on the other hand, charges an average of $369 to draft a simple will -- and this is based on 2011 rates. A complex will could cost thousands, but about $1,005, on average.
Yahoo!: You also don't need to leave your house, yes?
MC: That's right. Online will creation is super convenient. You can start and stop when you want and you don't have to take off work to go to see a lawyer. You can also edit your will at any time for free over the course of one year — just log in and make edits. There's a lot of learning along with doing your will, as we provide a 73-page ebook about wills, too.
Yahoo!: Is Will-O-Matic's wills legally binding? You're a lawyer and you created this, yes?
MC: Yes, I'm a lawyer and I created this. But be aware no one can guarantee a will is legally binding — even if it's a traditional will created through a lawyer. That is, a will could be challenged if there's a mistake -- for example, if someone is left out of the will, if the person is of unsound mind, not pressured, and so on. Again, this is true for any will so I cannot tell you with all certainty the product is "legally binding."
Yahoo!: What if you already have a will?
MC: You should be reviewing it every year, make sure you don't have any changes to make. If you already have a will, you can create a new one and it revokes the previous will.
Yahoo!: What about other online will services?
MC: There are alternatives, sure. There are downloadable PDFs, where you fill in the blanks with a pen or use a word processor and fill out a template. Ours is an automated online will creation system, asks questions you can underst and offers more than one or two pages of options. Also, ours is updated as provincial laws change.
Yahoo! readers: Would you use an online product to create a will and testament? If so, at what age do you think you need one?