Sep 23, 2022
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Patagonia leveraged a key trust initiative to realize tax breaks and, more importantly, use these advantages to further its vision.
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We are shaped by our experiences, for better or worse. When I lost my mother in 2019, it was a very difficult time made exponentially more frustrating by the red tape of estate settlement.
But it also inspired me to find a better way. No one should have to deal with an administrative process that complex, especially in times of grief. The mourning is difficult enough on its own. How has this process not been automated at all, I asked myself.
Then, an epiphany. It was one of those lightbulb moments, a flash of inspiration that broke through during what was a very dark time: what’s missing is a clear estate settlement solution.
All over internet message boards, I found people asking questions like, “where can I find clear probate instructions,” because there is a strong sense among those who’ve experienced an estate settlement that the system is profoundly unfair and outdated.
Our new polling research from Maru Public Affairs confirms much of what I learned in those first few days mapping out ClearEstate: the vast majority of people who have been named estate executor (74%) describe the experience as among the most difficult tasks of their entire lives, and one that results in significant disruptions for work and home life.
The first step was to make sense of the maelstrom of information. In the hours after that initial shock of losing a parent, I was given a 66-page manual provided by the Quebec government (in retrospect, I am somewhat thankful for that since many executors in North America aren’t even provided a guide book by some governments).
I quickly realized that this wasn’t a checklist — which is what it should have been. It was a seemingly endless list of tasks with little direction.
For instance, for the first time in over a decade, I had to send faxes.
I had to get a checkbook (can you remember the last time you had to write a check?). I hadn’t kept one since my early 20s but now I needed one for managing the estate. I thought to myself at the time, “is this for real?”
I’ve often said it felt like an IRS audit that lasted for 18 months. This was only made worse by the feeling of mistrust at every step of the process. You’re constantly dealing with government or bank employees who are not specialized in these tasks and unaware of the process.
It’s the small indignities that felt painful at the time. I remember going to the bank and asking to open an estate account. The teller looked at me like I was an alien. This lack of competency leads to mistakes, which eats up more time. It’s frustrating, emotionally exhausting and, frankly, unacceptable in the age of fintech and e-signatures, which as we’ve written recently have been widely accepted for over one decade now!
There had to be a better way. So I got to work on a visual representation of my “decision tree”; a sort of optimized checklist of sets of tasks, or a mind map, that would become ClearEstate.
For fans of the sitcom It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia or any admirer of the .gif format, my first draft felt like a digital version of Charlie’s conspiracy board. There was a lot to uncover.
The main cause of all the unnecessary red tape: redundancy, and having to send, resend and send some more documents and forms to various government agencies that should be in communication with each other. It is a huge inefficiency that is made even more complicated the moment any asset or beneficiary is located in any other jurisdiction. Every state and province have their own unique inefficiencies.
This is where ClearEstate’s executor dashboard really shines. If clients enter their social security number, for example, it needn’t be re-entered again for use by different institutions. Under most current systems, you’re made to submit basic information over and over again.
Taking these sets of tasks and making them into a user-friendly platform was the most daunting challenge and required a team of experienced developers. Designing dynamic, “morphable code,” as our co-founder and CTO Pascal Brisset puts it, not only allows ClearEstate to expand into new jurisdictions but also allows us to regularly update the processes in those jurisdictions to avoid hiccups.
Pascal spent many of his formative years in Silicon Valley and brought the tools needed to help take my map to the next level. Security is of course at the forefront of our architecture, and the key to security is compatibility. This includes the seamless integration of an estate’s assets with institutions linked within the ClearEstate platform. It’s a user-friendly interface that virtually anyone can understand, promoting transparency and keeping beneficiaries looped in from A to Z.
On the backend, ClearEstate uses bank-level encryption technology and two-factor authentication to ensure sensitive data is secure and remains secure — certainly more secure and less prone to fraud than the archaic systems that persist to this day.
Believe it or not, as we reported in our manifesto in favour of e-signatures, some institutions are still insisting on signatures with paper and ink! It seems illogical.
But nothing about the process I endured when my mom passed away was logical. It was cruel and left me vulnerable to financial and emotional distress. It’s that experience that shapes every line of code, to ensure that at every step of the process, we are maximizing empathy and reducing pain.
Even if your big idea is a crazy set of scribbled notes, or a bulletin board pointing in many different directions, in those early days, I cannot overemphasize how important it is to be thorough. Armed with information, we’re more likely to get it right the first time, from the start.
Having a dream is amazing but having a plan and precise map to see it through can make a dream a reality.
Alexandre Gauthier is the co-founder and Chief Product Officer at ClearEstate. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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