In the startup world it seems like there’s a niche for every industry - insurtech, legal tech, fintech, and the list goes on. One emerging space is being coined “death tech” because it tackles how to ease planning for and dealing with end-of-life. This is becoming an increasingly important topic in Canada - COVID-19 highlighted how important emergency planning can be, and we’re in the middle of the largest wealth transfer in history between the boomers and the next generation, with trillions of dollars expected to change hands in the coming decades.
Estate planning has typically been an offline, paper-based process, but as technology has been adopted in other traditional industries like banking and insurance, estate planning is starting to catch up. Innovative companies are popping up to tackle various aspects of the process, with an ultimate goal of reducing the burden on Canadians who are dealing with losing a loved one, and empowering people to use digital tools to put their own plans in place. Here are eight of the most innovative companies in the space.
- Afterword - Canadians who lost loved ones during COVID-19 weren’t able to gather for traditional large funerals, which has meant a shift to virtual services. Afterword founder and former Shopify employee Effie Anolik was inspired to start the company after losing her father and seeing how difficult it is to plan a celebration of life, and her platform helps people easily and affordably plan a virtual or hybrid celebration. Even after COVID-19, it’s likely that we’ll add virtual components to these events to allow friends and family from anywhere in the world to join.
- Willful - I would be remiss not to include my company, which helps Canadians create wills and power of attorney documents online. COVID-19 highlighted how inefficient and inconvenient it can be to visit a lawyer’s office, and Willful removes that burden, giving Canadians an inexpensive way to get their estate planning documents in place online. Since launching in 2017, Willful has raised over $1.6 million in funding, expanded to 8 provinces, and launched partnerships with brands including Allstate insurance and CAA.
- ClearEstate - This Quebec-based company is tackling estate administration, making it easier for executors to navigate that process. Their team helps guide executors through the arduous process of wrapping up an estate, which can take a minimum of 12-18 months, even for the simplest of situations. From applying to probate to liaising with beneficiaries to managing liabilities and assets, this platform is ideal for an individual executor who just needs some handholding through the process after someone passes away.
- Estateably has a similar value proposition to ClearEstate - helping streamline the estate administration process - but it’s focused on helping financial advisors, trust companies, and other professionals rather than individual consumers. Their platform modernizes the antiquated software typically used by these professionals, and it significantly reduces the amount of time involved with filling out paperwork and government forms. Estateably launched in Ontario and Quebec in early 2021, and has since expanded to Alberta.
- PolicyMe - While technically an insurtech company, PolicyMe is a digital life insurance provider, and life insurance is a key component of end-of-life planning. The company started as a way to aggregate life insurance quotes from multiple providers, but has since launched their own life insurance product in partnership with Canadian Premier Life Insurance. The company raised a $3.3 million seed round of funding in March 2020.
- ReadyWhen - A will is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to estate planning, and ReadyWhen is aiming to help Canadians compile all the other information that would be helpful to their executor and family. Launched by notary public Jessie Vaid, this BC-based company works with individuals and professionals to compile documents, wishes, and instructions that will help ensure a smooth transition in case of an emergency.
- NoticeConnect - NoticeConnect takes the antiquated process of advertising for creditors (putting out word that someone has passed in order to allow anyone they owed money to to make a claim) - traditionally done through newspaper classifieds - and brings it online. The company also launched the CanadaWillRegistry as the only national will registry aiming to cut down on lost wills and assist family members with finding a will when someone passes. The company was founded by Patrick Hartford and was acquired by DoProcess in November 2020.
- Eirene - When someone passes away, one of the immediate things families need to think about is burial vs. cremation. As Canadians increasingly favour cremation, we provide a simple and affordable way to arrange a direct cremation. Our platform guides Canadians through the cremation process, working directly with crematoriums and delivering the remains. Our co-founder Mallory Greene was an early employee at Wealthsimple, and after launching in Ontario in 2021, we are looking to expand across Canada.
There are over 200,000 deaths annually in Canada, and this number will only keep increasing as we go through generational shifts. While no one likes to think about their own mortality, Canadians should be creating a will, getting life insurance, completing power of attorney documents, and compiling the key information outside a will - otherwise it can be a mess for family members to clean up after someone passes away. These companies can help put a plan in place, and they can also be a digital resource if a loved one passes away. Expect to see more companies streamlining these processes, all with a goal of providing Canadians with peace of mind.
Erin Bury is the co-founder and CEO at Willful, an online estate planning company based in Toronto. She is also a board members at Save the Children Canada and the co-chair of #Tech4SickKids.