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April 15, 2020 Legal Rebels

Online estate planning sees surge during coronavirus crisis

By Lyle Moran

The online estate-planning platform Trust & Will saw at least a 100% increase in business in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Cody Barbo, the company’s CEO and co-founder.

He says the deadly nature of the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus has prompted many Americans to explore establishing wills or trusts online while sheltering in place as required by most state governments.

“I think that everybody has a family member who is elderly or has been affected by this or works in health care, so it definitely hits close to home,” Barbo says.

Other companies offering online estate plans have also seen an uptick in activity, according to news reports.

Trust & Will saw more than 5,000 new registered users in March. And by early April, it was up to nearly 79,000 users overall, according to Barbo. He shares that the majority of users are in the 35 to 55 age range and are married with kids—though 30% of members are older than 55.

Barbo says much of the recent business growth stems from what he called “organic traffic,” referring to people typing certain phrases into search engines, such as “How to set up a will” or “How to set up a trust.”

The San Diego-based company’s previous investments in search engine optimization and creating a smooth customer experience have further fueled the rise in web traffic and sales, Barbo says.

But he highlights that Trust & Will, which helps users create state-specific documents across the United States, has not altered its marketing efforts during the pandemic.

“We are not trying to take advantage of the situation,” Barbo says. “We are selling umbrellas in the rain versus selling umbrellas on a sunny day.”

In response to the uptick in user activity, the company has hired another employee to work on its customer success team. The new staff member will help Trust & Will respond to the increase in online chat messages and phone calls that it is receiving, as well as a rise in orders.

“We are just incredibly fortunate and grateful that our team—all working remotely from home—can still provide a best-in-class modern estate-planning experience for the people of this country during these uncertain times,” Barbo says.

Trust & Will also recently announced that it is providing free online estate-planning solutions to health care professionals across the United States.

The new initiative launched April 1 and will continue until there is greater containment of the coronavirus, according to Barbo.

“The last thing we want weighing down on these heroes is whether they and their families are protected with an estate plan,” Barbo said in a press release. “Our goal is to help alleviate some of that worry.”

Barbo, who is 30, co-founded Trust & Will in 2017 with Daniel Goldstein and Brian Lamb. He says the idea for the company arose at a time in which he and other team members were starting to get married, have kids and also begin thinking about whether they had a will or a trust.

“As a millennial, [for] my entire life, finances and insurance have skewed toward online services, and it wasn’t in my budget to go spend $3,000 to $5,000 on an estate plan,” says Barbo, whose wife is a sonographer. “I really wanted to set out to do something that was easy, affordable, but most importantly online.”

He acknowledges there are other platforms offering similar services, with LegalZoom being an example that is often brought up.

But Barbo says while his platform is geared toward families, LegalZoom’s core customer is a small business owner. Additionally, while LegalZoom has a variety of other offerings, Trust & Will focuses solely on providing estate-planning products.

The company has succeeded in generating interest from investors. Prior to COVID-19 sparking a widespread economic slowdown, Trust & Will announced in December 2019 that it completed a $6 million Series A round of financing. It was led by Link Ventures and brought the company’s total funding to $8 million since its April 2018 launch.

Barbo says the platform has proven to be successful in attracting users who feel comfortable creating trusts and wills without the assistance of an attorney because of its simplicity and affordability.

However, Barbo highlights that some users with millions of dollars in assets have said they would feel more comfortable using the platform in tandem with assistance from an attorney.

One way that Trust & Will is using its new funding is by offering an “attorney tier” option for those crafting a trust and seeking legal guidance on topics such as the tax implications.

The platform charges $399 for individuals or $499 for couples to create a trust, and the attorney tier will cost an additional $300, according to Barbo.

The attorney tier option is currently only available in California, but Trust & Will hopes to roll it out in Texas in the second quarter of this year and in eight other states by the end of 2020.

“As long as our customers are having a good experience and the attorneys we are hiring are having a good experience, we will continue to roll it out to as many states as needed,” Barbo says.

In This Podcast:

Lyle Moran
Cody Barbo is an entrepreneur and two-time founder from San Diego. Barbo is currently the co-founder and CEO of Trust & Will, a modern estate-planning software startup. He also is on San Diego State University’s alumni board of advisers as vice president of partnerships. At his last startup, Barbo was a co-founder and CEO of Industry Careers, a LinkedIn-type company for the service and hospitality industry.