We’re disrupting estate planning: Here’s how and what’s next

We're Disrupting Estate Planning Here's How and What's Next

There are no do-overs when a person needs their estate planning to go into effect. Sure, financial advisors and attorneys can help them plan ahead of time, but when they need their estate plan to kick in, there’s no opportunity for revisions and no last-minute chance for planning.

Knowing the impact that a lack of planning can have on a family is why I joined the team that, in 2019, created Vanilla. Vanilla started as a client project at our design studio and has since transformed into a company that makes estate planning more efficient, easier to understand, and accessible to more people. Even with a design background, I saw that the estate planning experience was more neglected than any other surrounding financial services. Utterly broken client experiences and high entry barriers have locked most families out of a process that will transform their families for generations to come.

Old-fashioned estate planning failed us

Some things never really change, but the dated estate planning process hasn’t changed much since its inception. People use computers now instead of paper documents, but that’s basically the only thing that’s changed.

It’s no wonder only 32% of people have a will. People still have to take time to drive to a lawyer’s office repeatedly, sit through uncomfortable conversations, and sign documents they don’t understand. Even with basic planning in place, most people have no idea what it means and what will actually happen when they die.

After getting through such a painful process, some people may breathe a sigh of relief. Their plan is done, right? They’ll probably never update it from there on out, regardless of how their life changes. There is no incentive to remain engaged in the process because of the cost and hassle.

People don’t want to do this in the first place. They are paying a lot of money for a poor experience to create something they have little to no understanding of. For many attorneys, making the process more efficient is a conflict of interest and threatens their business model–an hour billed is an hour billed.

Steve Lockshin, Vanilla’s founder, helped guide countless people through the estate planning process as a financial advisor and identified its many blind spots. He realized that people had a lot of the same questions. For example:

  • What happens when I die?

  • What happens when my spouse dies?

  • Where does my money go?

  • Will my loved ones being taken care of? Am I leaving them in a secure spot?

Even after going through the estate planning process, many people still didn’t feel like they had answers to these fundamental questions.

It’s tough to understand estate planning, generally speaking. You have to trust that your lawyer has done a good job, but most clients have no idea what’s going on. You just have to take people’s word for it.

We had an opportunity to bring clarity and transparency to the process so clients could understand and feel secure about their decisions and give them the experience they wanted and deserved.

Using design thinking to modernize estate planning

After identifying the many ways old-fashioned estate planning failed customers, the Vanilla team approached the process with fresh eyes and rebuilt it from the ground up. Because most of us don’t have a legal background, this was primarily an exercise in design thinking and collaboration with experts in the field, which allowed us to be innovative in such a nuanced space.

We identified many of the opportunities in the process being related to communication and experience, not just technology. One of the biggest hurdles for clients and advisors is to simply understand what they are doing and what their plan means. In a time with lots of talk about what “AI” may do to re-shape the industry, we have taken a very back-to-basics approach to Vanilla as a product. It has been an exercise in design thinking—asking some of the simplest questions to guide our decision-making and re-imagine what we see as a broken process.

What we have learned so far?

When we launched Vanilla, we knew that while our document generation service would be valuable, it wouldn’t impact an advisor’s entire client roster. As more advisors join the platform, the feedback has been clear–we needed to find a way to serve all of an advisor’s clients, not just those that need documents.

With that feedback in mind, we are launching a new initiative that allows an advisor to add all of their clients to Vanilla. Once they add their clients, the advisor is able to transform their client’s current plan into a visual, easy-to-understand format that is ready to share with the client. Once the client is in Vanilla, it will allow us to monitor the estate continually and report quarterly to keep the client engaged. Our early adopters have used this as a tool for existing clients and prospects alike, both as a way to build trust and first impressions.

Even with great documents, clients wonder what they actually mean. By moving existing planning into Vanilla, we allow advisors to fill a critical role in helping clients understand some of the most crucial planning they will ever do.

Let Vanilla help you

We created Vanilla so you can help your clients feel confident that their families are cared for when your clients can no longer care for them. Let us help you better serve your clients, create more vital first impressions with prospects, and differentiate your services with the power of estate planning. Get in touch to learn more.

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This article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. If you feel that the information in this article is pertinent to your situation, you may wish to consult a qualified attorney for advice tailored to your circumstances.

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