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Online investing and tax filing have gone mainstream, so why not online estate planning? Way too many people don’t have a will or powers of attorney to designate someone to make decisions about their financial affairs and health care if they’re unable to do so. Can online will kits help fill this gap? For answers, I invited Erin Bury to do a newsletter Q&A. Ms. Bury is CEO and co-founder of Willful, an online will platform that competes with others such as Epilogue, Canadian Legal Wills and CanadaWills. Here’s our exchange by e-mail:

Erin, can you tell us a bit about Willful and how you came to start this business?

My husband’s uncle passed away suddenly in 2015 and, while he had a will, he had never discussed other aspects of end-of-life planning with his wife or family. We found ourselves scrambling to find information and answers while grieving, which prompted us to create our own wills. But when we looked into it, we realized there was a big-time commitment and high costs associated with sitting down in a professional’s office to get it done. We admired how Wealthsimple had simplified investing using a beautiful online platform, and wanted to apply that to end-of-life planning.

As long as I’ve been writing about personal finance, there’s been a narrative that too many people don’t have a will. What insights do you have on why so many people let this important matter slide?

That narrative is true. Recent data from Angus Reid shows that half of Canadians don’t have a will, and that percentage jumps to 80 per cent of people under 35. There are a number of reasons why people put it off – many people believe you don’t need a will unless you’re older or wealthy. Others avoid taking action because it’s uncomfortable to think about death, or they feel they can put it off until tomorrow. The reality is: If you have a spouse, pet, child, and/or assets of any size, you should have a will.

What’s the average age of your clients?

Most of our customers are between 30 and 55 and they’re going through major life changes like getting married or divorced, having children, or going through the loss of a loved one. I’m really our average customer – I’m 37, married, I own a home, and I have a young daughter. But we have a growing audience of people 55-plus who are either updating outdated wills, or are finally getting around to creating one.

Can you allay my concerns that a will kit isn’t as thorough, personalized and definitive as a will drafted by a lawyer who specializes in estates?

Think of Willful like TurboTax – we are ideal for Canadians with simple situations who don’t want or need customized legal advice, and who don’t have complexities that require custom drafting. A lawyer-drafted will is going to be the most customized, but you’re also paying for that customization (upfront fees and an hourly rate for changes). Willful just became the first online will provider to receive a licence from the Law Society of Ontario as part of their Access to Innovation program, so we’re proud to have a stamp of approval from Canada’s largest law society. We’re also proud to be partnered with companies like Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Allstate Canada.

What’s involved in preparing an online will – what info do I need, and how long does the process take?

One of the biggest misconceptions about creating a will is that it takes a long time, and you have to gather documentation like tax returns and financial statements. The reality is that creating a will involves knowing the answers to three key questions. Who do you want to act as your executor (the person who will wrap up your estate)? Who do you want to receive your assets? And who do you want to care for any minor children or pets? If you have the answers to those questions, creating a will can take 15 minutes.

Your costs range from $99 for a basic will for one to $329 for premium family coverage – how does this compare to the cost of hiring a lawyer?

Willful is at least five to 10 times less expensive than a traditional lawyer. At Willful, we also provide additional tools with your purchase including a free registry on the Canada Will Registry, an asset and liability list, and the ability to notify key people named in the will.

How do I know if I should use a lawyer for my will – how complex does my situation need to be?

If you want customized legal advice for your situation, then you may want to visit a lawyer simply to get that advice. The type of situations that add complexity include tax planning, for example dual wills; blended family considerations including spousal trusts and life interest trusts; planning for a dependent with a disability; or planning to disinherit a legal spouse or dependent child.

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Ask Rob

How do I determine whether long-term care insurance or critical illness insurance is a good idea? As the population lives longer, there is a palpable fear of outliving your resources, especially if you contract an expensive disease or dementia and have no children to care for you.

I asked an insurance adviser about long-term care insurance, which can pay benefits to help cover costs if you’re unable to look after yourself. He said it’s a type of insurance that hasn’t taken off in Canada. Sun Life Financial is one company that does offer it. Critical illness, which pays a lump-sum benefit if you’re diagnosed with various conditions and illnesses, seems more important and is available widely. It’s an answer to the question of how you’ll pay your expenses if unable to work.

Do you have a question for me? Send it my way. Sorry I can't answer every one personally. Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

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