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Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    Will software meets many people's estate needs

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #716 July 15-21, 2003 High Tech Office  column

    Considering how many deaths we see in a week on TV (to say nothing of in computer games), it surprising how many of us remain so squeamish of contemplating the consequences our demise may have on our families. Far too many of us either have never made a will at all, or have one that’s been outdated by years and changes in our financial circumstances.

    Intuit Canada hopes to change that, with its new made-in-Canada WillExpert software ($50; Windows-only). The product builds on the skills and knowledge of a team of experts inCanadian will and estate law and walks a user through a virtual-interview. Right off the bat, it helps determine whether you fit the large majority of users who can be served by this product or whether your needs are too specialized. In nearly all cases, the process leads you through a series of reasonably straightforward questions about your family, property and other assets and preferences about guardianship and disposition of property.

    Intuit has done a good job of keeping the interview process jargon-free, providing everyday language definitions of legal terms and answers to legal questions. Help and supplementary information is always on-hand, including both text and videos. The company’s expertise with tax and financial planning software lets it offer on-screen tax and retirement planning information where appropriate. You can stop and save the process at any point letting you pause to consider your options, resuming it when you’ve made up your mind. Or you can try out different scenarios to decide what would be your optimum asset distribution. The program alerts you to the tax implications of your decisions, helping you maximize the amount of your estate that will be given out to your beneficiaries.

    A copy of WillExpert can be used to create wills for two people; these can be updated or changed as needed. Along with the wills, the software can be used to create supplementary forms such as personal care directives, paperwork to set up enduring powers of attorney, letters to designated executors and guardians, and lists of special assets for distribution. Optionally, owners of property outside Canada can create international wills.

    Once the interview process is ended, the software creates a will and other forms; these can be signed and witnessed. The program walks you through these steps as well, and even gives advice on safekeeping these important documents. These documents are valid in all provinces except Quebec.

    WillExpert is not for everyone; special circumstances will require some to get real, as opposed to virtual legal advice. The software knows its limitations well enough to point most such users in that direction. And some may simply prefer discussing such matters with their lawyer rather than with a computer.

    The opposite is also the case, however; many may prefer the anonymity and privacy of using software, along with its ability to be accessed at any time of day or night. (And of course, a $49 software package is a lot cheaper than legal fees, especially if you need to revise your will over time).

    Because wills and other similar documents tend to be built on standardized boilerplate text, simple template-based books and software has been available from a number of sources, including North Vancouver’s Self-Counsel Press. These will do the trick for many people with basic needs. But kudos to Intuit Canada for taking the process several steps further, making WillMaker an affordable virtual expert which provides users more of the information and hand-holding needed to make informed decisions about how to take care of children and other family members in the event of their deaths.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan