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Are online will makers and similar services making an impact yet?

Will creation is hardly a fashionable subject, but it became increasingly common for younger people to talk about over the past few years. The reason for this may appear obvious given that the Covid-19 outbreak threatened all of us, particularly pre-vaccine, but it actually goes beyond an increased desire for a will: it’s simply easier and cheaper than ever before.

This was hardly a gradual change, either. Traditional willmakers cost around $300, and it’s always been around this (adjusted for inflation. After all, wages in the legal sector are expected to rise in 2022 around the world, as they often have done during periods of high demand.

Online wills are a new service that are an immediate alternative to traditional will creation - around 18 online willmakers are now recognized as leading the way, many of which have only been around for under a decade. Essentially, online willmakers offer an automated way of creating a will by leveraging technology and careful design, with question-and-answer forms filled in by customers for the will to then be automatically produced.

The customer signs up to the website in a matter of minutes and using one of the many payment solutions offered, pays between $20 and $120 for their online will. The will creation process differs from platform to platform, but many aim for a process under 15 minutes. Clearly, we are seeing why will creation is more common amongst young people, because they can do it from their phone in a matter of minutes for under half the traditional cost.

One of the main drawbacks of online willmakers is that they lack personalization in which an attorney can proofread and verify the document. However, this is where the distinction between a tech start-up and an online legal firm is needed. In the lower price range, we often see the speedy, slick web process refined by a tech start-up - but they lack credibility and their founders often have no background in law. Whilst the wills are legitimate in theory, they’re not going to hold up in court in the event of a dispute as well as a traditionally created will.

This is where online legal firms accommodate a middle ground. The will creation process can be completed online (and fast!), but there is often an option to speak to an attorney for a short session or to answer any issues you have. This is an improvement on the chatbots or outsourced customer service often received by the tech firms.

Of course, this middle ground service comes with a middle ground price, as they do not fully mitigate the labor costs. But, overheads are still reduced, and with the help of the initial online process, will creation can often be under $100.

Holistic Legal Services Provided by AI

Online willmakers are where it started, but AI and automation are fiercely exploring other areas of law in which they can offer a reliable service. At the moment, this is mostly within document creation. Wills are far from the only legal document that can be created through online questionnaires, as seen with online firms offering bills of sale, power of attorney, name change, warranty deed, and many other documents.

More interestingly, AI has a place in which it can work alongside legal professionals, thus leveraging what it’s good at whilst the human takes care of the rest. Given the vast amounts of data that need to be analyzed, AI could help digest long forms of text or search for keywords through natural language processing techniques. Ironically, AI may have a larger place within legal analysis than it does within composing and creation, despite the latter being adopted first.

Flaws and Limitations of AI in Law

There are some potential flaws with automation in the legal industry that can be best explained through willmakers. Despite the prowess of technological power, human decision-making is still far superior in certain instances. Ultimately, customers and others in the legal profession have more confidence in a will (or another document) that was created by an expert in the field as opposed to an algorithm. This is important in the event of great complexity or disputes - for example, judging whether the person in question was of sound mind when creating the will or articulating novel and complex details around an international business.

Humans can capture the motivation behind other humans better than AI can - currently, at least. Like self-driving cars, they’re only better than humans during routine, repetitive environments, as well as searching for patterns when the stakes are low. Once the environment becomes unique and fragile, like a small bendy British road with parked cars besides some roadworks, suddenly you would opt for a professional driver to better make sense of the situation. Plus, even if the AI could outperform for legal document creation, it must be seen that way by a judge in the event of a dispute.

This means that it’s up to the customer to decide whether they require the more personalized and credible services of a traditional law firm. Fortunately, there’s a correlation that often makes the decision easier: those with complex situations and high stakes often have more money and are thus more willing and capable of paying more for a traditional service. For someone in their 30s who is taking a precautionary step with their early will creation, spending $300+ to declare where their limited possessions will go in the event of an unlikely death seems overkill. This is perhaps why AI and online willmakers are an addition to the legal industry as opposed to a threat.

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