Form filling tool
Dearly.ca believes that legal knowledge is a powerful tool for all.
The business educates users about their situation. This empowers them to make informed decisions about their estate affairs,
possibly saving the users tens of thousands of dollars in fees, expenses, and taxes.
It currently offers the users a beta version of an automated low-cost
Now Dearly.ca is branching out. And that is how this story starts.
In this project, I led the team of two UX Designers and three UI designers to create a self-guided automated product that would be the first-ever online probate application tool that generates documents as if a lawyer drafted them - but for 10x less than what a lawyer costs.
Humanizing a painfully overwhelming bureaucratic process of getting a Grant of Probate.
After a person passes away, all their assets need to be distributed between the beneficiaries. This duty falls on the executor of the deceased’s Will or the administrator of the estate, both of whom are usually close persons to the deceased.
As long as the person who passed away held any assets in their name, an institution like a bank or the ICBC might request a Representation Grant as a proof that the executor/administrator can deal with the deceased’s assets.
This Representation Grant is issued by the court after a successful Probate process; a process which includes sending a notification to all of the beneficiaries, swearing affidavits, supplying all the necessary information and documentation to the court by filling all the necessary court forms, and finally making a payment to the court.
Very few people know how to do this and most people think that only a lawyer can do that.
To support Dearly's business goal of creating a one-stop estate shop for British Columbia, Canada by making the estate process, including the probate grant application affordable and accessible to the low-income population of British Columbia.
Below you can see the steps in the process I was directly working on.
You can click any of the steps and go directly to that part of the process or simply continue reading the whole story in full.
In order to create a simple, informative and comforting experience for our users we needed to dig deeper into the legal jungle of the Probate process.
The official documentation on the matter is gathered in Part 25 — Estates, of the Supreme Court Civil Rules, a lengthy document filled with an overwhelming amount of information and legal jargon.
While both of them proved useful for providing simple-to-understand information on how the Probate process works, neither of them helps the users with the actual form filling.
People know nothing about the probate process, therefore do not trust themselves to go through it and seek legal advice, not seeing other options.
To prove (or disprove) our assumption we have deployed a survey that produced a sample size of
In the first part of the survey, we decided to gauge how familiar and engaged people are with estate-related processes. It was only natural to set the scene by asking if they have a Will and how they made it.
don't have a will
don't know what the next steps are after someone close to them passes away
don't know what the
process of getting
a Grant of Probate is
areas of opportunity
A sample of the various survey questions asked is shared here.
Thanks to these we were able to determine that
that people would be open to going through the probate process online, they also helped us understand what our users would be looking for in the online probate experience and form our MVP decisions.
Findings with the highest opportunity are highlighted in green.
It was important for us to get a deeper understanding of our users’ needs. To help us achieve that we conducted 3 in-depth interviews.
Talking to the interviewees confirmed our assumptions that the probate process is quite straightforward, although it is unnecessarily complicated by the volume of court forms, legal jargon, and contradictory instructions. People who have to go through it feel overwhelmed and lost and don’t trust themselves to interpret the information correctly. The main option they see is to seek lawyer’s advice incurring significant costs at a vulnerable time of their lives.
ideal probate tool
We also asked the interviewees and the survey participants how would they imagine an ideal online probate service.
You can see some of the quotes on the left.
Insights and possible feature options are highlighted in green.
In order to connect better with our users and to make sure we make empathetic design decisions, we summarized all the research findings and created a persona.
Camilla is a nurse and a single mother with two kids. She has a busy life with a tight schedule as well as a tight budget.
Lack of knowledge about the probate process
Lack of time
Overwhelmed with emotions
Doesn’t have extra money to pay lawyers
Receive the Grant of Probate
“Nothing could have prepared me for
the loss of my father. While I knew that
I would have to face it one day, I never really
planned for this.”
Camilla’s father Benjamin has recently passed away.
He had appointed Camilla as an Executor of his will and now she is not only going through hard grieving times in her life but is also facing the process of getting the Grant of Probate from the Court so she can execute her father’s will.
Camilla doesn’t know anything about this process and being a single mom with two kids she is feeling overwhelmed with stress, uncertainty and fear of having to pay thousands of dollars in lawyer’s fees if she decides to use their service to guide her through the process.
With Camilla in mind, we looked at what she would be facing if she decided to save money and apply for the grant of Probate without the help of a lawyer.
We gathered the forms that the courts request for submission and presented them to potential users.
"I wouldn’t want to go through all these papers to fill out these forms, just because it’s very overwhelming and I don’t know where to start. It’s a lot of legal
jargon that I don’t want to go through."
it's not the only problem
Then we decided to examine the forms closer and thought: It probably just looks daunting, surely the smart people in the governmental institutions made sure that the applicant knows how to maneuver through all that paperwork.
Indeed, here are some very “helpful” hints that we’ve found.
Some of the most confusing examples are highlighted in yellow
In understanding the pitfalls but also seeing opportunities, we aimed to simplify Camilla’s journey through the Probate process by using our website.
simplified user flow
We started with rough sketches to understand
the user flow at a high level.
In essence, what Camilla has to do is create an account and answer questions (whether in one go
or over a period of time); wait the required 21 days; then pay and download or receive the documents in the mail.
On the right you can flip between the "work very
much in progress" and a digitized version of the
high level - simplified user flow.
As much as the process itself is quite straightforward, the form filling part can get really complicated, when we take into consideration all the questions that we need to ask the user
in order to successfully fill the application, it becomes really overwhelming, no matter what.
Below you can see the full user flow of the Dearly Probate website.
And just to highlight one area — as you can see below here, the Beneficiaries Information part of the application — things can get really lengthy depending on the deceased family situation. Our task, in this case, was to make sure the user will be only asked the necessary questions.
For example, because Benjamin had children that are still alive, there is no need for Camilla to fill the rest of the Beneficiaries questions. However, if Benjamin didn’t have any close family, we would then guide the user to the questions about the further branches of the family tree including Cousins and Aunts and Uncles.
To summarize, you can see the process is daunting in normal circumstances; and with the added stress of bereavement, it might become too much. To alleviate that feeling we knew that our website should guide, provide information and clarification, and — last but not least — support and comfort the user throughout the process. Therefore our product should:
Guide the user through the form-filling process
Provide useful information and clarify tricky questions
Support and comfort the user at those overwhelming times of grieving, stress, and uncertainty.
low fidelity prototypes and testing
It was time to finally put pen to paper and create paper prototypes.
Paper prototypes (although admittedly ugly) are super helpful when proving or disproving assumptions. They are also easily erasable.
We tested our paper prototypes and made changes based on the feedback.
usability tests tasks
Navigate to the Probate section of the website
Create an account
Go through the first segment of questions
Proceed to the Dashboard
Proceed to the checkout
usability tests changes
We’ve added back buttons in each question to make sure the user can go back to the previous one at any time without the fear of losing progress.
In the welcome message, we made sure to communicate that every question can be skipped and that the user can go back to it later.
Added a “Book A Consultation” button in the navbar so it’s always accessible; serving a double purpose of the user having the option to contact the lawyer at all times, as well as adding credibility to the website. This feature also aligns with the business revenue goals of Dearly.ca.
mid fidelity prototype and testing
Taking the findings from the paper prototype testing further, we created Mid-Fi wireframes that allowed us to test our product as a fully functioning clickable prototype. We asked the testers to go through the entire Probate application — from signing in to payment and download.
Based on the feedback, we made changes that included replacing the numbering of sections with a description to the steps on the progress bar within the questionnaire part of the flow, and changing the wording on the dashboard buttons from “Proceed” to “Pay & Download”.
simplicity and empathy
As you can see below, when filling the official documentation the applicant has to put in the deceased details at least 7! times. Thinking about Camilla and her struggles we knew that asking her to write her father's detail so many times would be greatly inconsiderate. Our commitment to simplicity and empathy towards the user meant we had to make sure that when using Dearly.ca it has to be done
empathy and encouragement
Remembering our commitment to making the user feel safe and comforted, we made sure we used compassionate language: instead of “the deceased” we first referred to them as “the person who passed away” and then referred to them using their first name as soon as that information was put in the form; we introduced the infoboxes to make sure that the user knows what information is required and why we are asking for that information; finally we’ve included simple messages of encouragement like, “You are doing great, Camilla”.
desktop vs mobile
Although it is highly unlikely that a user would attempt to fill the whole questionnaire on their mobile device, we had to make sure that every question was accessible on the mobile, just in case the user found out about a piece of missing information and wanted to add it in on the go. What contributed to this decision was also the fact that the number of people who prefer smartphones over desktop is constantly growing. This is why the mobile version of the Dearly.ca website is virtually a copy of the desktop version with the same functionality — the only difference is that we chose to hide the infobox and the “Book A Consultation” button under a clearly visible info icon which expands into view as needed.
With the testing done it was finally time to pass the wireframes on to the UI team who added the visual elements to the prototype. From the get-go, it was our mutual agreement that the website should be accessible. The UI team did an awesome job of achieving at least the AA standard which assures the designers that the contrast ratio on the website is accessible to users with visual impairments such as colour blindness, raising the font size also meant that the whole site including all those important fillable fields was more legible than on an average site.
with user's needs at heart
Below you can see two hi-fidelity screens featuring some additional considerations we chose to include in our design based on the research, planning and testing.
hi-fidelity testing & future considerations
No design job would be complete without testing. So we concluded this project by presenting it to users to gather their feedback, apart from the comments below we came up with a list of future considerations that we definitely would like to implement.
Make a distinction between a “skipped for the time being” form and an intentionally left out one
Introduce clearer handholding on the dashboard page, to let the user know why the application is not ready yet and what are the next steps needed
Add a re-upload button to the will upload confirmation page, we all make mistakes, so making sure that the user can re-upload a file is vital
Update the infoboxes with real videos featuring a real lawyer — our client, Justin
"The dandelions on the background provide a delicate touch filling up
the space nicely: when you lose someone you feel empty inside"
added extra help and
made me feel comforted"
"It made me feel like I'm filling out something as simple as a gym membership application"
"Overall a calming and friendly experience that I would enjoy. It felt simple, easy and holding my hand along the way"
I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of this project.
I become a UX Designer — to help people — and I truly believe I did so with this project.