Online Will Planners: Interview With Viken Mikaelian

Online Will Planner on iPhone Tablet

I recently met with Viken Mikaelian, our CEO, to get his opinions regarding online will planners. This was before his webinar Online Will Planners: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

What made you develop LegacyPlanner™?

After seeing vendors like Freewill, Nonprofit Docs, LegalZoom and others popularize an online will planning module, it just made sense for us to develop our own. After all, we’re in the planned giving marketing business, and this is just one more way we can help our clients succeed. Current studies are showing a big uptick in charitable bequests tied to online will planners. We decided that since we own the name ‘planned giving’ — it’s built right into the address of our clients’ websites to give them an SEO advantage —this product would be a natural tie-in.

So what is so special about online will planners? Is this something new?

Well, one of the pioneers of online will planning was LegalZoom, about 25 years ago. So they are nothing new — it’s a tried and trusted technology, not a trend. Basically an individual has a secure log in, fills out a series of questions, and voila! … the system generates a will.

It’s that simple?

Almost. The quality of the will, of course, is reflected much by how carefully and completely the data is entered.

What makes LegacyPlanner™ different?

Almost nothing. It is similar to all the other products on the marketplace: secure and fully legal in every state.

Wait. You’re the business owner. Aren’t you supposed to sell me on your product?

All these products do basically the same thing. They prepare a legal will. And because they produce a legal document, they all need to work in essentially the same way. It’s like asking, “Which phone system is better, Verizon or AT&T?” They both connect to the cellular network in the same way. The main difference with LegacyPlanner™ is the implementation.

What do you mean?

If you are a client of ours, the LegacyPlanner™ is fully integrated into your planned giving website. It is not an add-on that sits on top of it. It does not take your donors to another vendor’s third-party website, which can feel like a violation of the donor’s trust. Because it’s integrated, LegacyPlanner keeps the donor on that nonprofit’s trusted website.

If it is basically the same product, why does LegacyPlanner™ cost less?

Since we were not the first ones to jump into the market, we cannot command the same price hike. Our competitors created the “shiny star,” so they are able to command what they are asking. Although I hear that level of command has been decreasing lately.

So you are saying it is the same product, but for much less.

Except for the exceptional implementation and integration, yes, it is the same product. And yes, it costs less. Oh, I also forgot to mention that ours is also branded to the nonprofit, while other vendors’ products are not.

OK, let’s get to a sensitive question. Everyone is asking, “Shouldn’t donors use an attorney to draft a will?”

May I be blunt? It is none of our business to decide what donors should do. It’s like telling people not to eat a stack of pancakes and five servings of bacon every morning. That’s their business. We can educate donors on best practices, but in the end, people will do what they want to do — and people overwhelmingly want the simplicity and efficiency of an online will. Besides, no matter how you look at it, an online will is better than no will at all!

“An online will is better than no will at all.” Never thought of it that way.

That’s what we said when we developed something similar 22 years ago.

Wait, I thought you said you just developed the LegacyPlanner™?

About 22 years ago we developed the Will Planning Wizard. We just had not thought of the marketing angle that Freewill used to position the product. We were way ahead of our time, but did not think of marketing it as such.

So are online will planners the shiny bright star everyone seems to be making them out to be?

I am very cautious about shiny stars. I think it is a good product, but it is not magic. It should be carefully evaluated. For example, it makes perfect sense for The Salvation Army, one of our clients. They have a very powerful Legacy program — see the webinar Online Will Planners: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Well, other vendors are pushing it as a shiny star.

Anything can be turned into a shiny star. Remember Gary Dahl? We are in the planned giving marketing  business … not in the will planning business. Will planning is only a very small part of planned giving marketing and the LegacyPlanner™ is just another good tool that we sell. It is NOT our only tool.

Gary Dahl? Remind me.

He created the Pet Rock. And with brilliant marketing, he became a millionaire. I have decided not to go that route.

Not in at least the nonprofit sector, I hope.

Remember Bob Proctor of Proctor and Gamble? It is rumored that he said “anyone can invent a formula for a great soap. It takes a genius to sell one.” Well, that’s what a shiny star is. After a couple of years, the truth comes out and the products occupy the same plane. That is what’s happening to LegacyPlanner™.

What’s the ROI?

Well, several studies, and even some by Freewill, have shown if used properly, the ROI is quite high. Since our product is identical, we expect ours to exceed, especially because of its secure integration into our client’s planned giving websites. That is big.

How popular are bequests?

They make up over 90% of all planned gifts. Considering 68% of our population does not have a will, just imagine how much better our top number would be.

Really? 68%? That’s quite high.

And you’d be surprised at some of the people who did not have a will. Abraham Lincoln, Aretha Franklin, Prince, my dad. Here’s a long list. And here’s a list of surprising wills and estate planning statistics.

Do you have a will?

Yes. Do you?

Over 92.5% of Planned Gifts Are Bequests. Get the LegacyPlanner™.

All of our blogs, products and services are proudly conceived, created, reviewed, and disseminated by real humans — not A.I. (artificial “intelligence.”)

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