Tale of A Retired Lawyer Striking Back at Online Will Industry With An Online Will
Updated: Aug 10, 2021
We have all heard of how online wills are disrupting the heavily guarded legal industry when it comes to will making and estate planning. The online will creators are usually young lawyers or people outside the industry. This interview feels more like the legal empire striking back, saying “Hey, we will disrupt you and do a better online will.” We spoke to the co-founder of digital will company ezWills, a retired Wills and Estate lawyer who prefers not to be identified, about the common traps of online wills and why he decided to start ezWills.
Name: Prefers not to be identified (“A”)
Base Country: Singapore
Q: How did ezWills start?
A: EzWills was started following a conversation between my co-founder and I in February 2016.
I am a retired lawyer with over 30 years of experience and spent the last decade doing Wills and Estate matters on a daily basis. My co-founder is a serial entrepreneur who was then running an IT consultancy providing mission critical solutions to major corporations.
Only The Essential
Together, we worked to simplify the will making process and share with people our experience not just in will making, but also in estate litigation. The more experienced one is, the more you’ll know how easy it is to create problems unintentionally when making a Will that’s complex.
For this reason, ezWills doesn’t aim to create a Will that does anything and everything. We want to help people create a Will that does what is needed and is correct. We leave out all that’s not essential or critical. If you need a simple Will and cannot afford the fees for a lawyer, we’re here to help. For complicated and complex matters, please go to a law firm. Seriously.
Q: Can you tell me more about your history?
A: There’s not a lot that I can say. When your batch of NUS Law School graduates produced several High Court and State Court judges, several Senior Counsels and several with doctorates, what can anyone say that won’t pale in comparison? Going to a class reunion is especially hazardous – think about whose car you might knock in the car park!
Besides advising and helping clients create their Wills, I have acted as executor of clients’ estates a fair bit over the years. As an executor, I have had to defend against claims made on the estate. I have also acted for estates in challenges to Wills made by deceased clients.
Q: What made you want to do a digital will?
A: Over the years of helping clients make their Wills, I could see certain “patterns”. For instance, the circumstances that prompted people to make or update their Wills, the standard types of Wills made by people with young children and etc.
I could also see that many young people who have a lot to lose were not taking any steps to make their Wills. I even had staff who had young children who still didn’t make their Wills until I asked them “If something happened to you and your spouse, who is going to raise your kid/s?”. Given that legal staff get to do their Will for free, there’s really no excuse but this situation is more common than people realize.
Few & No Excuse
Creating ezWills was about pushing out the message and making it so easy and convenient that there really are very few excuses for anyone not to make their Will. Rather than a website that asks for a form to be filled and making you wait days before sending the draft Will, we set out to develop a platform that would allow a user to get the Will immediately.
Immediate delivery of a Will is especially important if you need it urgently. We’ve already had one ezWills user tell us she needed a Will as she was terminally ill.
(Read here to find out how Covid-19 restrictions mean some terminally ill patients can't get a lawyer to do their will)
Q: What kind of people will be most suitable to use your product?
A: Someone needing to make a Will urgently will find that there’s no waiting and no ‘office closed’ to worry about with ezWills. EzWills fills that gap for people wishing to make a simple, uncomplicated Will and cannot afford to pay the fees charged by law firms.
EzWills is ‘anonymous’. So the LGBT+ community can use it freely and very discretely plus we have attempted to be gender neutral in our Wills.
We’ve also had expats using ezWills to make a Will for their assets in Singapore only and thus, preserving their Wills made in other countries.
Q: I noticed that too. One of the factors that piqued my interest about ezWills is the International Will component and the unconventional tools tips such as the one on the need for family provision. These are the sort of things that comes up in my conversations with lawyers but I don’t see it in digital wills at all. Is that your differentiating factor? Why did you decide to include those?
A: No, we weren’t trying to differentiate from anyone else.
Singapore is an international city and not only are there many foreigners living in Singapore, there are also many Singaporeans who own assets overseas.
There are people who may want to make a Will for all their assets world-wide, but there are also people who may want to make a Will for their Singapore assets only. This is so that their overseas Will can remain in force and not be revoked when making a new Will in Singapore.
Making a Will in each country where you have significant assets means probate can be obtained quickly. Instead of waiting for probate to be granted in the first country, then applying in the next country to get the probate re-sealed, you can apply for a probate in more than one country at the same time. This is much faster.
Legal Obligation to Provide
As for family provision, we mentioned the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act because that’s the responsible thing to do. It’s possible for someone who is married to leave everything to a child and nothing for the spouse and have no idea that he/she has overlooked the legal requirement to provide for the spouse.
Our questions are designed differently. From what I know, most sites are doing the equivalent of ‘Let’s start with a blank sheet of paper and what would you like to put in it?’
Deviation From Norm
We’ve started with the sort of ‘standard’ will most people make and our questions basically find out how different from such a standard will the user wants to be.
All the tips we offer are drawn from experience as well as an understanding of the things people get wrong, for example, making a specific gift of a specific bank account and the funds in it.
It’s not what I think is right but what I know is right as I’ve seen what happens when these simple tips aren’t followed.
Q: What's the downside of using your product directly? Compared to going to a law firm or will writing firms?
A: EzWills is not for everyone. EzWills is not competing with law firms. Even though we have the know how to create complicated Wills with testamentary trusts, we say you should go to a law firm if you need such Wills.
The more complex a Will is, the more likely you may misunderstand something important so you need to sit down and have everything explained to you thoroughly rather than attempt to do it online just to save money.
Ideally, use a law firm for a complex Will as experienced lawyers know what and where the ‘traps’ are. Non-lawyer will writing firms may not have the knowledge or experience when you have a complex family situation.
EzWills also displays a clear disclaimer that it is not for use by Muslims. Islamic inheritance law is complicated. EzWills has no desire to be irresponsible by claiming our site can be used to make a Wasiat when we have such limited knowledge in that area.
One “downside” with ezWills is that we refuse to be distracted by the ‘fancy’ stuff and our Wills do not cater for the unimportant and inconsequential.
For a Will to be valid you don’t need to say where your ashes should be kept or who you want to take care of your pet dog. Having these sorts of matter in a Will means you need to continually change your Will (eg if your dog dies). Instead of having non-critical stuff in your Will, you should put it in a Letter of Wishes. All our Wills come with a complimentary Letter of Wishes template at no extra charge.
Q: Is there any new or potentially new trend in this space that may be why people will need your product?
A: So far the main factor that pushes a person into making a Will is a realization that one may pass away unexpectedly. COVID-19 is another reminder.
EzWills supports what Immortalize is aiming to do. There is a need for people to have a conversation about death including what may happen if someone dies unexpectedly. The sooner people realize this the better.
Hopefully there doesn’t have to be a plane crash or a pandemic for people to understand that the outcome of not planning for an unexpected death can be really bad.
Unfortunate Turn of Events
If we can start a trend of people asking ‘What would happen if I die suddenly?’ it would result in better planning for most people as opposed to most people having no plan at all other than having bought life insurance.
How unexpected can death be? After ezWills went live, I was in discussions with one of my ex-partners about starting a similar site in England where he was practicing. One moment, we were exchanging emails and the next moment, I found out that he had died! I was shocked. He was 59. People who haven’t made their Will shouldn’t delay.
Q: What are your hobbies? Anything interesting and personal about you to add? Since you are retired now, what do you do on most days besides attending to ezWills matters?
A: When I first started work, the other law graduate who shared a room with me made an observation. She mentioned that I was quite incapable of sitting idle and always coming up with some new idea. I guess time hasn’t changed me much.
I had another internet start-up from about 4 years ago and also a bricks and mortar business. COVID-19 made both meaningless to continue and they have now been terminated. No doubt it’s a matter of time before I venture into yet another project. For now, COVID-19 developments dictate what activities are possible and what are not.
This interview has been edited for length.
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