21 January 2019
As the legal industry becomes increasingly digitized, will-writing has emerged as a popular target for disruption. This centuries-old tradition of dictating how estate assets are to be distributed to beneficiaries through careful and bespoke drafting is now giving way to online automated document generation.
This is not a bad thing – many clients have similar desires, such as to gift assets to their spouses and children, and there is no reason why this cannot be done in an efficient, process-driven way.
Nevertheless, there are some risks associated with online will generation. In this article, we look at some of the advantages and risks to creating your will online through a generator.
The primary advantages to online will generation are cost and speed.
Cost: An online will generator can often generate wills at very low cost or even free, because the document can be generated automatically, and it can be done with minimal human input.
Speed: With document automation, an online will generator can create your will instantly, provided you have the relevant information at-hand.
There are a number of risks in using an online generator. A few are listed below:
Limited complexity: Sometimes a testator has complex needs, such as ring-fencing assets from people marrying into the family, ensuring that beneficiaries who lack mental capacity continue to be taken care of, etc. An online will generator is unlikely to be able to prepare a will that adequately caters to such complex needs.
No insight or feedback: Part of a lawyer's job when drafting a will is to consider the testator's testamentary requests and highlight additional concerns or risks that a testator may not have considered. Some examples include regulatory restrictions on ownership of HDB apartments, potential restrictions on transfer of ownership of foreign immovable properties, and more. An online will generator is unable to provide such insight or feedback from context.
Mental capacity and Duress: A testator must have mental capacity in order for his/her will to be valid. Similarly, a will is not valid if it is made arising out of undue influence or duress. An online will generator is unable to assess these matters. Conversely, a law firm or estate planning agency will have (or ought to have) protocols in place to assess these matters and minimize any challenges to the validity of the will on these grounds.
Fraud: Anyone with your name and identification information can generate a will using an online will generator. So long as they execute the fraudulent will with two false witnesses to corroborate their version of the story, they may be able to challenge the real will, as well as cause serious disruption to the probate process and sow division amongst beneficiaries.
Third-party marketing: Free online will generators are often used as data-gathering centres which then sell your data to third-parties. For example, a website may generate a free will for you in order to gather data about the assets you own, and then sell this data to insurance companies or other organizations so they can market products to you. This is why free will generator websites often ask about details of the properties, insurance policies, and bank accounts that you own, even though this information is not always necessary to help you prepare a will.
A will ought to be a reflection of your personal choices – your choices of executors, guardians, beneficiaries, funerary arrangements, final wishes, and more. The importance of will drafting is also often underestimated and undervalued – because unlike contracts, a will cannot be amended once the testator passes away. A will crystalizes upon the testator's death, and any errors or ambiguity in the will cannot be rectified after the testator's death.
If all you need is a very basic distribution of assets, a will generator may suffice. But if you want to be able to ask questions and clarify concerns before you execute your will, or if you need a more complex or sophisticated distribution of your assets, or if you're simply concerned about what these websites are doing with your data, it may be worth investing a few hundred dollars in a professionally-drafted will. This can save you time and worry, and may also save your beneficiaries and executors much higher legal costs down the road.
Associate Director, BR Law Corporation
Post date. Edit this to change the date post was posted. Does not show up on published site. 21/1/2019
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The posts found in this Law Blog are not legal advice, nor are they given for the purpose of providing legal advice.
You should contact your lawyer for legal advice if you need legal assistance.