Software Applications as Aids to the Estates Advisor
For all of us advisors, there are likely certain types of software applications that we use for our day-to-day tasks: perhaps its Microsoft Outlook for sending emails, or a timekeeping software for recording dockets. And although these programs are leaps and bounds beyond what our advisor ancestors could have imagined for themselves a hundred years ago, as we head deeper into the 21st century, the catalogue and proficiency of such software applications grows at an exponentially faster rate.
This is an important point to grasp as many of us who belong to professional societies may be subject to a certain standard when it comes to understanding technology. For example, with respect to lawyers, the Law Society of Ontario indicates in a Practice Management Guideline that “[l]awyers should have a reasonable understanding of the technologies used in their practice or should have access to someone who has such understanding”. It is also likely that, as a reflection of society’s increased dependence on digital devices and applications, the expectations for advisors to understand the relevant technology will grow even higher in the years to come. As younger generations of more tech-savvy clients get older and begin to think about their estate planning, they too will expect their advisors to keep on top of what the latest software trends are.
I think these concepts are particularly relevant to the estates world, as, up until the last few years, estate planning as a service hadn’t really received the same level of attention from software developers the way mergers & acquisitions or commercial litigation have. And although the common law and statutory concepts governing estates law haven’t changed much over the last century, the methods for advisors to apply the law in this area for the benefit of their clients has.
So, the purpose of this blog post is to highlight some interesting software applications in the estate planning world that I have encountered in my day-to-day life as a lawyer. Although these are all lawyer-focused platforms, I think all advisors in the estate planning space should at least have a baseline understanding of the breadth of software out there.
Here are some interesting software applications being developed or implemented in Ontario:
- eState Planner: This is a tool for estate planning lawyers to collect and store asset and planning information from their clients. eState Planner can generate wills and powers of attorney based on this information, as well as helpful charts that illustrate to clients how their assets are being distributed. The aim of eState Planner is to help make the advisor’s job more efficient while acting as a repository for client information and instructions.
- Canada Will Registry: This is an independent service that allows advisors to securely upload one or more of a client’s estate planning documents (e.g. wills) to a searchable database. Any person can search the database for a document, but will not be notified of any matches unless the advisors who uploaded the matches consent to the disclosure of the document. The idea behind this service is that one may not know if a relative or friend of theirs even had a will (and of course, we have all horror stories of such documents being lost). The Canada Will Registry is facilitated by Notice Connect, which also has a service for informing possible creditors of an estate that such estate is being administered.
- Directive Communication Systems (“DCS”): I have written about DCS before in a blog post about digital asset management strategies. DCS allows users to indicate digital assets stored in association with any one or more online websites, as well as individualized directions for what is to happen to each digital asset after they die. As the world of digital assets is a growing area of importance for advisors to understand, and as the law has not yet been settled on it (at least in Ontario), using a platform like DCS can help clients prepare for certain risk-laden situations.
- Estateably: Estateably is a cloud-based platform that focuses on estate administration. It assists with tasks such as automating the filling of probate court forms and precedent letters, simplifying input of estate inventory and accounting, and enabling one-click reporting to estate stakeholders. The service is also quick to update its court documentation to reflect changes in court procedures (as will be the case in Ontario in January 2022).
These are just some of the products and services out there that aim to help advisors, but I think a common theme among them is that each either makes certain time-heavy and resource-heavy tasks faster and easier to perform, and/or provides a centralized means for storing and managing critical client information.
We, as advisors, have an obligation to deliver quality services to our clients, and, ideally, to do so as efficiently as possible. Technology can help significantly augment our jobs in this regard. Wouldn’t we expect the same thing from our own advisors?