Comprehensive approach not only fosters relationships, but it's also just good business
This article was produced in partnership with Estateably.
Mallory Hendry of Canadian Lawyer sat down with Ari Brojde, founder and CEO of Estateably, to discuss why lawyers who offer a more holistic approach, enabled by technology, often find themselves ahead of the game.
Today, most lawyers are reluctant to offer complete estate administration services to their executor clients. Instead, they opt for a more commoditized approach whereby they provide a specialized service to clients – for example, helping the executor through the probate process or performing estate accounting – and then the retainer is complete. But there are hundreds of other tasks an executor must perform to settle an estate properly, says Ari Brojde, founder and CEO of Estateably, and almost as many ways for lawyers to add value to their services.
Industry statistics show that depending on complexity, there can be anywhere from 70 tasks to 250 tasks to settle an estate in a compliant manner, taking an executor anywhere from 400-500 hours to complete. Typically, the executor is a family member doing this daunting work for the first time, and often they don't know where to start. The first thing a lawyer can do to provide value is to give clients the benefit of their expertise by sitting down with them for a discovery session. Once the lawyer understands the complexities of the estate, they can work with the client to create a customized list of tasks for the executor to follow.
"That list alone goes a long way in helping an executor who doesn't do this day-in and day-out to navigate the role," Brojde says. "And often after such a roadmap is generated, it becomes clear there are many tasks a lawyer can help with that aren't as labour intensive for them as they would be for the executor because modern software automates much of it."
One example is sending notices to service providers. Research suggests that an individual passes away with an average of 150 different online accounts tied to their email that needs to be closed or transferred. Through automation that's available through software like Estateably, once there's an inventory of those online assets, the lawyer can generate closing letters with the click of a button – saving an executor who doesn't have access to those types of tools a tremendous amount of time.
"Contacting service providers to get rid of cable, internet or cell phones, or government agencies to cancel passports and drivers' licenses – that's labour-intensive work typically done by the executor, whereas lawyers empowered with automation tools can do it quickly," Brojde notes.
Performing will searches, dealing with insurance proceeds and communicating with financial institutions are other examples of things executors don't typically know how to do on their own. Lawyers are also better positioned to interpret directives and other provisions found in typical wills. Many wills, especially ones written long ago, are full of legalese. Executors who don't grasp the language can misinterpret the directions of the will and could be held liable for errors made in the distribution phase. Walking clients through the will and answering questions about the distribution schemas therein can go a long way to ensuring distributions get done in the manner the testator intended - one of the most important duties the executor must perform during their appointment. Additionally, lawyers can also craft well-drafted releases to accompany those distributions, which can potentially absolve the executor of future liabilities pertaining to the estate.
Providing more value-add services also helps change the business model lawyers use when helping to administer an estate, which can be a differentiator. Estateably commonly hears – especially from younger lawyers – that they want to charge for the value provided to clients instead of an hourly or billable rate. By offering a more comprehensive service around the estate administration, they can offer to help with a certain number of tasks – which is much more palatable to customers than paying hourly for however long it takes, says Brojde.
"With tools that help automate a lot of the process, lawyers can pass cost savings on to the end client," he says. "Clients get their work done cheaper, but the law firm's profit margin can remain quite wide because automation does a lot of the manual tasks."
While sometimes lawyers will do some or all of this work on behalf of their client, it should be routine during the administration process to have the conversation, provide a task list and show where they can add value by cutting time from menial and mundane tasks.
Brojde recommends that lawyers remember that executors are quite often beneficiaries of the estate and, as such, may be going through a period of mourning and grief. Up against their grief and the administration, bureaucracy, and red tape that comes with getting an estate settled, extra assistance at this time is priceless – and that's something Brojde knows from experience. Brojde recalls the organizations that stepped up to the plate when he lost his parents and was navigating the estate administration process, and he was touched by those who went above and beyond to assist him. You notice who comes through for you during a time like that, Brojde says, and you tend to want to give business back as a result.
"The more a lawyer can step in and help with some of the tasks, the better position the lawyer is in to retain the executor and beneficiaries as future clients," Brojde says. "It's not only good from an interpersonal relationship perspective, but it's just good business."
Ari Brojde spent more than a decade working as a private wealth manager for two of Canada’s largest financial institutions before founding Onist, the world’s first virtual family office platform, followed by Estateably. Ari is an integrated wealth management SME, a CIO-Certified Blockchain Professional and a Certified Executor Advisor.