The outbreak of coronavirus has prompted a surge in Australians wanting to create or make changes to wills, which – according to a handful of practitioners – are readily accessible thanks to technology.
At a time when lawyers need to be working from home as per governmental instructions, it is critical that they are able to service clients in new and adaptable ways.
This is especially pertinent given the rise in enquiries about wills – according to Australian Unity Trustees national manager of estate planning Anna Hacker, early warnings about COVID-19 have led to a 20 per cent spike in queries.
Less than half of Australian adults have a current will, but this may soon change, said Moores practice leader Jennifer Dixon.
“As the realities set in, we anticipate that more and more Australians will seek peace of mind. A considered estate plan, including a valid will and powers of attorney, can ensure your wishes will be met regarding your medical treatment, care for your children, and distribution of your estate,” she explained.
A.B. Natoli Lawyers and Notaries associate Thomas Natoli added: “It seems that many more Australians will become hospitalised, and some will require critical care. Now is the time for all Australians, particularly those in older demographics and those with children, to turn their minds to who they want to have making decisions about their medical treatment, and how they can ensure their loved ones are provided for.”
“People with existing wills are now seeking to update them. Estate plans are tailored on the basis of anticipated asset values, and family circumstances. Where shares and superannuation in particular have taken huge hits, of up to 15 per cent in some cases, people are readjusting their wills to achieve a fair and balanced outcome.”
Those who are “creatively embracing” technology in these difficult times will come out on top, mused KHQ Lawyers principal Ines Kallweit.
“With most of us working from home now, we quickly need to develop ways of communicating with our clients remotely and getting documents signed and witnessed even when there is no printer available and people are urged not to leave the house,” she said.
As a result, wills and estates lawyers will be “serving a critical public need” in the coming period, argued Settify CEO Max Paterson, whose Australian legal tech company offers an interactive system for clients and uses AI to interview clients online and prompts them to consider their estate planning decisions, and compiling a brief of information for lawyers, who can then prepare a draft will before the first conversation with the client.
“They’ll need the right mix of technology if they’re to serve our population whilst adhering to self-isolation.”
McManus & Co Lawyers principal Gabrielle McManus agreed, saying she had seen a “marked increase” in demand for wills just in the past fortnight.
“Thankfully, with the aid of Settify and videoconferencing we are able to meet the demand and take our clients’ estate planning instructions in a way that is not only convenient to our clients, but safe for all,” she said.
Kalus Kenny Intelex senior associate Kimi Shah backed this, saying: “Settify has proved to be an excellent adjunct to our wills and estate practice. It enables clients to provide us with relevant information concerning their circumstances which then streamlines and makes very cost-effective the provision of our services to them.”
“We are seeing increased volumes of clients visiting law firms’ websites, and Settify is there to make it easy and efficient for them to instruct lawyers from their homes, at any time” concluded Mr Paterson.