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The Top 3 Digitization Trends Shaping the Estate Planning Industry Today

There has been a lot of innovation in the digital space including the estate planning industry. Keep reading to find out the top three trends shaping it today.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

As we cautiously and optimistically begin to reclaim some normalcy in a post-pandemic world, it’s starting to feel safe to look toward the future again. During the pandemic, much of our focus went inward. We were figuring out how to transition our teams and businesses in such a way that they would survive. Some of us were lucky and thrived. 

Now, business leaders are assessing the new environment and evaluating what the next steps might be. As it turns out, innovation never ceased, even while we were sheltering in place. To the contrary, we witnessed a lot of progress, especially in the digital space. I’m excited to share the top 3 trends that are currently shaping the estate planning industry: 

1. The Digitization of the Estate Planning Industry

I have confidence that we’ll see everything in the estate planning industry go digital in the near future. There’s no way in which paper estate plans are the proper way to move forward, whether you work with an attorney or with an online services company like Trust & Will. As the industry goes digital, security and transparency will improve. The industry is ready and making disruptions, but a big piece of this is waiting for estate planning laws to catch up as well. So far, we’ve already seen 6 states go live with digital estate planning offerings. We’re expecting to see another 8 states go live this year and next year. 

Ultimately, this shift will be wonderful for families. Dealing with the death of a loved one and transitioning an estate is a very difficult experience. There are so many families I’ve met through my estate planning career whose members don’t speak to one another anymore. The ambiguity caused by an outdated or nonexistent estate plan can create a lot of friction. To add to this stress, the settlement process can take years. 

My question is, how can we get that process down to just months or weeks? How can we get people to establish estate plans, and keep them up-to-date? Digitization is the answer. Here are some of the major pain points the industry is chipping away at:

  • The emotional toll of losing a loved one.

  • The financial toll of probate court and settling an estate.

  • The toll caused by an outdated or nonexistent estate plan.

By digitizing the process, our hope is to make estate planning as transparent, secure, and seamless for families as possible. There’s absolutely no need to add to the burden of losing a loved one, and we’re excited that we’re starting to offer end-to-end digital products as soon as they’re allowed in each state. 

2. Digital Notarization

You might be wondering how the digitization of documents will be possible, especially those that require identity verification. This brings me to the second digitization trend that we’ve already taken advantage of at Trust & Will: digital notarization.

Notarization is the process through which you sign a document that is assured to be authentic. Traditionally, this is done by providing a wet signature on an original document in the presence of a notary. The notary verifies your identity using government identification, so that they can then certify that both the document and your signature are valid and authentic. This is an important and valued process that ensures the security and transparency of legal documents. As you might imagine, it’s an integral part of estate planning.

What’s exciting here is that we’re beginning to see the notary industry being disrupted by digital notarization services. At Trust & Will, we’ve partnered with Notarize, a trusted platform for getting your documents legally signed and notarized online. This has made it possible for us to offer estate planning products that are digital from end-to-end. In fact, we made history by delivering the first-ever eWill in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

Again, although industries have disrupted the landscape, we still have a little ways to go as we wait for relevant laws to catch up. Currently, we are waiting until state laws recognize electronic signatures, digital notarization, and digital estate planning documents. We are seeing progress, and we’ve already been able to offer end-to-end digital documents in some states, including Nevada, Florida, Indiana, and Arizona.

3. The Future of Digital Assets

Last but not least, we can’t have a conversation about digitization without talking about assets. Right now, we have a clear distinction between traditional and digital assets. Traditional assets allude to everything we own physically, while digital assets include things such as cryptocurrency, social media, cloud storage, usernames, and passwords. 

In the future, however, we’ll likely drop the “digital” moniker and just have “assets.” Every asset will have a digital identity that’s linked to an owner, through a record of ownership that’s protected by blockchain technology. 

That means that everything we own —  whether it be your remote control, your laptop, or even a family heirloom — will have the same digital identity that digital assets currently have. Right now, we have to manually catalogue everything we own, whether it be a traditional or digital asset. The idea is that one day, our digital identity will be connected to our estate plans. By linking everything to our financial and estate plans, everything will be automatically catalogued. For example, if you were to buy a piece of jewelry, the purchase would be assigned to your digital identity and would automatically transact a connection to your estate plan itself. We won’t have catalogue assets manually anymore, and our experience will be seamless. 

Looking Toward A Digital Future

Some processes are severely outdated, with so much room for improvement when it comes to privacy and security. The pandemic served as a forcing function by which companies had to figure out how to digitize their processes. It was a wake up call that told us we need more secure infrastructure. 

It’s exciting to see how quickly we’re seeing digitization happening. The technologies supporting digital estate planning and legal notarization already exist. We’ve already been able to deliver eWills in a few states, including Nevada and Florida. Now, it’s just a waiting game to see when all 50 states make them legal.

We’ll really start feeling like the future is here when all of our assets become digitized. There will come a day when we won’t have to go and update our estate plan just because we bought a new car. All of our purchases will be tied to our digital identities, which will be linked to our estate plans. Our data will be protected by blockchain, the technology that’s known for securing cryptocurrency. 

Right now, more than half of Americans don’t have an estate plan. Some of this is because we need more education on why estate planning can benefit everyone. However, a large part of this is because estate planning can be expensive and inaccessible. At Trust & Will, our goal is to help every single person get at least a basic estate plan in place. That way, they can have peace of mind knowing that they’re protected. 

I’m proud to be part of the movement that’s pushing estate planning into the digital age. Not only does digitization make services more accessible, it also helps make them more affordable. After all, families deserve to be able to access services in a way that is safe, secure, and convenient, whether there’s an ongoing pandemic or not.