The impact of ChatGPT on estate planning | Tolou Mahani

By Tolou Mahani

Law360 Canada (March 28, 2023, 2:27 PM EDT) --
Tolou Mahani
Tolou Mahani
ChatGPT is an artificial chatbot developed by OpenAI and is a text prediction tool that uses a variety of sources on the Internet to provide information to answer the question of a user. It has proven to be a useful tool for answering questions on legal research and to serve as a guide for educational purposes.

New ChatGPT updates have recently been released to deliver more accuracy with the artificial intelligence platform. However, many legal professionals are concerned about the legal industry, and how technology will impact various practice areas in the future. In areas such as education, organizations and educators have come forward to discourage copyrighted material from being used, or improve on plagiarism guidelines within institutions, to discourage misuse of this artificial intelligence tool.

Although often appearing accurate and correct, ChatGPT cannot be completely relied upon as being a trustworthy and reliable source for the information it produces. If asked a question it cannot answer, it may either say it cannot compute, or will attempt to provide a response based on its best ability to do so. It has been said to cause some inaccuracies and misinformation. Many have been using ChatGPT to reduce time-consuming and mundane tasks. However, lawyers should be cautious regarding the extent of how much they are relying on the software’s work, as well as ensuring they conduct due diligence to confirm accuracy.

Currently in Ontario many estate planning lawyers are using software for estate planning services and probate matters; however with the use of these platforms there is still a significant level of human interaction and involvement of the lawyer with data entry, and selection of certain criteria. Although the software assists with the drafting of documents, it does not serve as a substitute for a lawyer’s services and work. Much of the work that is produced by software is still reviewed by legal professionals, to ensure that client instructions have been followed, and that no errors or software malfunctions have affected the estate plan details, as technology does have certain limitations.

With changes in law, some software companies take time to incorporate the updates within their technology, and the lawyers must be kept up to date with legislative changes that impact estate planning and probate applications. The emergence of do-it-yourself will websites and templates has had many lawyers discouraging clients from using these solutions, specifically estate litigators, as they can cause major consequences in future estate litigation. These blank templates or websites for consumers should not replace legal advice from a licensed lawyer. The possibility for mistakes and inadvertent implications on an estate are greater than the benefit and low cost of these fill-in-the-blanks, do-it-yourself options.

As a test, I asked ChatGPT to provide me with a will template that is valid in Ontario, and it provided me with a will with some clauses that had the bare minimum set out in a one-page document. Even the most basic simple will has at least several pages of clauses that are recommended to always have, but the AI produced will did not have these.

AI is not able to take into consideration the intake and consultations that an estate lawyer offers, as there are certain scenarios that a lawyer may predict may be an issue or that they can see might impact the estate plan, that an AI software would not be able to.

At the end of the produced answer, the AI software did provide a disclaimer stating the following: “NOTE: This is a basic will template and may not be suitable for everyone. If you have complex assets or specific requests, you may want to consult with a lawyer to ensure your will reflects your wishes and is in compliance with the laws of your province or territory.”

ChatGPT can be used to answer some basic questions about Ontario estate planning, probate application process, what is involved in a will, and whether a will is considered valid in Ontario.

Although it can be a useful tool for general knowledge, there is a concern regarding the ethics of the use of AI for legal advice, as well as many other industries. Specifically with legal advice, lawyers in provinces such as Ontario are licensed to practise law and give legal advice, and are protected by legal malpractice insurance, as well as being governed by an organization such as the Law Society of Ontario. However, if individuals are relying on advice or information provided by ChatGPT or other AI services, these types of protections and regulatory bodies do not exist.

In the area of estate planning, there is a certain level of sensitivity that many clients expect during the process of getting their estate planning documents drafted by a lawyer. Clients are sharing very personal and detailed information about their lives, families and finances. Human interaction in the context of legal services is not something that can be replaced by artificial intelligence easily, particularly in the realm of estate planning.

With respect to providing ChatGPT with specific personal information, the platform is currently still in a stage where it is being tested out, and there are some privacy concerns as to how this information is being maintained. As ChatGPT updates seem to occur more frequently to strengthen the AI platform, safeguards are slowly being introduced to protect the ethics and to prevent misinformation and misuse.

Most importantly, further safeguards and development must occur to protect users from the usage and risks of relying on this artificial intelligence, specifically in the context of legal advice. Ultimately, lawyers and clients should exercise caution while using these types of artificial intelligence tools.

Tolou Mahani is a Toronto based estate planning lawyer. Her legal practice focuses primarily in the area of wills and estates and she enjoys creating legal marketing content for various organizations.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients, LexisNexis Canada, Law360 Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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