Pierre Balmain, the French fashion designer, said that ‘good fashion is evolution, not revolution’ and it seems that the same applies to good charitable wills.

Our Charitable Wills in the 21st Century project explored will-making and charitable legacies – both now and into the future – considering the implications for legacy fundraisers and managers. The project was funded by a consortium of 30 leading charities, who have generously agreed to share key findings with the wider sector.

We started the project with heads buzzing about the prospect of blockchain (the cryptocurrency technology) wills, the growth of digital assets and the raft of new companies entering the online will-making market. COVID-19 forced relaxation of the rules surrounding the making and witnessing of wills and propelled more people towards online wills. We started to imagine a new landscape that would look very different from today.

Cautious use of tech

It was clear from our research that consumers were innately conservative when it came to their wills. They wanted to trust in a document they felt should be given due thought, taken seriously and made securely. Technology did not always reassure them, and if they had concerns, they tended to default back to old-fashioned methods.

The legal profession appeared to be equally cautious. The experts we spoke to didn’t expect an overhaul of our 19th century will-making laws, and it was clear that the temporary relaxations during the pandemic were just that. While the door might be open to digital signatures and fully digital wills, the technology will need to prove itself first and be widely applicable. As one of the solicitors we interviewed put it:

“I think it will take a long time for technology to play a key and important role in a will. I don’t think that will happen in five years, maybe 10 to 20”

What is changing, though, is the structure of the legal sector, consolidating into the hands of larger players. The sector has been forced to embrace technology – ‘Lawtech’ – for practical and cost purposes. Lawtech drives behind the scenes processes, quality standards and the provision of remote services.

Online wills here to stay

Although fully digital wills are some way off, online wills are undoubtedly here to stay. They’re seen as a lucrative market, and the pandemic has accelerated usage and acceptance. There will be a push factor from suppliers who see considerable value in upselling services, rich digital data and charity partnerships. Over the next five years, we are likely to see a shakeout, as brands jostle for position in a sector that has attracted many new entrants.

We think that Millennials will be the first generation to make a significant change to the way wills are made. They have grown up with digital technology and in any context, expect and accept a range of technical solutions. 19% of Millennials with a will currently wrote them online – compared to 8% of all adults – and a similar proportion plan to write their will online the next time around. What’s harder to predict is whether they will become more conservative as they age, but we suspect not.

Charities: a powerful player

It was great to see that charity wills have hit the mainstream, with implications for the impact of charities on this market in the future. According to our survey, 12% of all current wills were made using a charity scheme. Taken together, charities are a significant player within the will-making sector – they are the largest ‘buyers’ of wills, with the clout to call the shots if they choose to. Collectively, charities could impose codes of conduct on suppliers and guarantee exemplary customer service. They could also own the data that is so lucrative to will writing organisations. One online will-provider made the case very convincingly:

“When someone writes their will online you get a real insight into where they are in their life. The data is commercially important – what are the new opportunities that can be generated?”

For six key findings from the Charitable Wills in the 21st Century project, download the briefing report here.

Charitable wills after the pandemic?

Given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding this year’s project, we are planning further research in late Spring 2021.

Once the immediate crisis is over, we want to explore the burning questions that came up during this project but could not be answered. The pandemic has accelerated important trends, and we want to explore how the will-making industry and legacy donors’ needs will change in its aftermath, and what this will mean for legacy fundraisers. We hope that you will join us in our explorations.

For more information about this new project contact Caroline Waters.