Announcing Forward Estate Planning: 80% DIY, 20% lawyer

Nearly one year ago, I began working on an idea. My goal was to find a better way to do estate planning. A way to make estate planning faster, cheaper, and more convenient. A way to get more people the legal documents and knowledge everyone should have. My idea was to do simple estate planning in groups.

Lawyers traditionally work with clients one-on-one. This makes lawyers expensive. If the lawyer has two clients with similar situations, he has to repeat the same work for both. He has to explain the same things, answer the same questions, give the same advice, and draft the same documents. With estate planning, these things take a lot of time.

When I started my practice, I was determined to be different. I didn’t want to do estate planning the same way it had always been done. I started by keeping my estate planning documents short and simple; not boilerplate, but not stuffed full of legalese. I kept my overhead low; I didn’t lease a fancy office or hire an employee. I charged only flat fees and kept them as low as I could. But in the end, I found myself following the same basic process of one-on-one meetings with clients over several weeks. My fees were quite reasonable compared to other lawyers, but still out of reach for the kind of clients I’d like to serve most. I found there was a floor to how low my fees could go.

Not long after starting my practice, I volunteered at a local Wills for Heroes event. The Wills for Heroes program gives estate plans to first responders. It also happens in groups. Each event takes place over just one day. The first responders read educational material and fill out a questionnaire beforehand. On the day of the event they watch an educational video in a big group. Only then do they each have a short one-on-one session with an attorney, who reviews their questionnaire, answers their questions, generates their documents, and makes sure any issues are identified. After that the first responders sign their documents. It’s incredibly efficient, which is why it works.

I remember talking to another attorney at the time, someone who didn’t practice estate planning. He thought Wills for Heroes was great—but why not Wills for Teachers, or Nurses, or Everyone? That stuck with me. It’s true that estate planning is not accessible for most people. It’s either too expensive and inconvenient to work with a lawyer or too uncertain and risky to do it yourself. That’s why so many people don’t have one.

Wills for Heroes showed me that group estate planning can work. Since then, I’ve been slowly working on my idea. When my practice got busy, I had to put it on hold. When I found some time, I would work on it some more. I decided to make it an online program. I decided to use an app for guiding participants through the process. I decided to make it a month-long program, with each week focusing on a different aspect of estate planning. And so on.

Now, finally, I’m ready to pilot this program. I’m announcing Forward Estate Planning, a new way to get your Wisconsin will and powers of attorney online and with confidence. I’m looking for a small group of 10 first adopters to start August 3. More than that, though, I’m looking for feedback.

If you’re interested, please read about Forward Estate Planning at forwardep.com. Then let me know what you think. Can you imagine yourself or someone you know paying for this program? Do you think the price is appropriate? What concerns or questions do you have?

Whatever your thoughts, send them to ben@bswright.com. I think I’m onto something here, and I’m excited for where it might lead. I’d love to know what you think.

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