Recent moves by the IRS and the Canada Revenue Agency seeking to
tax owners of the virtual currency Bitcoin have highlighted the
difficulties of reconciling virtual assets with real world legal
constructs. Now, bankers and estate professionals are awakening to
the value such assets may have upon the "owner's"
Most wills today don't address such assets. With many North
Americans accumulating substantial credit in virtual accounts like
Bitcoin, PayPal, Air Miles and other loyalty programs, the
potential for confusion and conflict after death is growing. Even
Twitter accounts are now considered to have actual dollar values,
with websites and apps available to help track and maximize such
More and more, estates lawyers are looking to inform themselves
on these new tech issues. With virtual values continuing to climb,
a complete estate plan should address how these assets are to be
treated upon death or incapacity. Full details, values, website
addresses and passwords will be critical for executors,
beneficiaries and powers of attorney seeking to manage a
Look for more discussion on this topic soon in another issue of
Do more legal apps mean bad news for
In the fall 2013 issue of Lawyers Alert, this column
looked at the emergence of mobile apps designed to assist lawyers
in their practices. But are some apps now seeking to replace
Shake could be the start. The app is available
for free in the Apple App Store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. It
claims to "simplify legal contracts," allowing layperson
users to "create, sign and send documents right from your
phone." Highlighted areas include hiring a freelancer,
purchase and rental agreements, loan agreements, and
Though the app is clearly geared – at least for now
– toward relatively uncomplicated matters, we can likely
expect to see this type of service expand quickly with tech
improvements and user interest. Some lawyers argue that there is a
practical ceiling for the uses of this type of service; once
agreements reach a certain level of complexity and dollar value,
the liabilities and necessary subjective elements dictate that a
flesh-and-bone lawyer will be required.
Finding that point may be the key. For now, Shake appears to be
starting from the bottom and working its way up to that point, with
a 4-star rating from 165 reviews. Though Shake is not yet available
for Android, the Create Contracts Legitimo app
claims to provide many of the same features, with a 4-star rating
from 29 reviews in the Google Play Store.
We'll keep an eye on how this trend progresses.
In fall 2011, we reported on Shpoonkle, a then-new
website that allowed prospective legal clients to post a
description of their legal concerns and then sit back and watch as
lawyers bid for the opportunity to service those problems. The
Shpoonkle site is still active, apparently allowing (registered)
clients to sift through bids to find the one that best suits the
services and fees they desire.
A Canadian lawyer has added a new twist to this concept of
online lawyer-shopping. Addison Cameron-Huff, a technology lawyer
in Toronto, recently founded FlatLaw.ca, a website that allows
lawyers to advertise their flat rate pricing for specific, routine
legal tasks. The site purports to provide clarity, efficiency and
certainty to the prospective client trying to understand what a
particular legal problem will cost. It claims to be "a win-win
for lawyers and clients."
There are lawyers from most of the major city centres in
Ontario, advertising flat rates across most areas of practice.
Advertised rates range from as low as $70 for Consent to Travel
documentation to $3,000 for mediation services.
This is yet another example of the strategies some lawyers are
finding necessary to compete in the progressively more competitive
It is not uncommon for parents to provide monetary gifts to their adult children. Parents may wish to help their child with a down payment on a property, or help pay out their child's existing mortgage.
On March 31, 2014, BC's new Wills, Estates and Succession Act1 ("WESA") will come into force. WESA introduces new protections for beneficiaries of estates that are in danger of being disputed or deemed ineffective by a court.
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