From cremation to a digital vault: Death tech startup Willed raises $6 million

willed

Aaron Zelman (middle), Dave Kaplan (right) and Tim Glasson. Source: supplied.

Australian death tech startup Willed has raised $6 million in Series A funding, with the aim of expanding its team and product range, along with growing its digital vault and partnering with financial services providers. 

The capital raise was led by Bell Potter Securities, and included investors like Paul Dwyer, the founder of PSC Insurance, and institutional investors like Ellerston Capital. 

Co-founder Aaron Zelman told SmartCompany that with this round of funding, Willed will also be looking at advancing its technology. 

Willed was founded in 2020 by Zelman, Dave Kaplan and Tim Glasson and focuses on simplifying the process around wills, probate applications and cremations. Currently users can create legally valid wills in under 20 minutes, while also nominating executors and beneficiaries.

Users can also appoint guardians for their children and divide their assets with ease, as well as arrange for fast-tracked probate at a fixed fee and cremations through the website. Willed also offers chat support and a 24/7 phone line. 

In line with its current cross platform offering, Zelman says Willed was looking at expanding its digital vault and include services that would access various data points, including account information, important documents, management of cryptocurrency and even instructions on what was to be done with social media accounts when the time came. 

With all the relevant information available in a digital vault, Zelman says Willed hopes to create a single platform that would “make the process a lot easier for people”. 

Willed is also aiming to partner with financial service providers, including insurance companies, banks and superfunds that provide estate planning services and advice. 

With all these offerings on one platform, Zelman says it would “provide more value to the customer base, while also reaching broader audiences and adding commercial value to the company”. 

Starting from death

Death tech startups like Willed are disrupting a very traditional space by offering multiple services under one banner, taking the stress out of already stressful decisions and periods. 

For Zelman, a life insurance advisor, it all started with the death, when co-founder Kaplan lost his father interstate. The trauma of having to navigate bureaucracy while grieving prompted Zelman to work with his co-founders on Willed, with the aim of making the process easier and to prompt Australians to start planning better. 

While more than 50% of Australian adults don’t have a will in place, Zelman notes Willed was tapping into an inherent desire people have, but one they may not always look into. 

It has also involved some education, Zelman adds, and dispelling myths people have about the company and industry. 

“Often people think we offer a purely digital will, but it’s actually a service that enables people to create a printed, written document that is legally binding,” he said. 

Encroaching into a traditional space has also meant meeting professionals from other industries, as well as suppliers, which Zelman says was challenging but was a hurdle they’ve managed to overcome. As a result, Willed counts among its staff not just lawyers but also funeral directors. 

On current trends, Zelman says there is an increasing move towards cremations, which is often associated with Eastern religions. 

“I’m from a Jewish background and I knew almost nothing about cremations,” he laughed.

“But there is really strong evidence of the growing popularity for cremations in Australia.” 

He points to several reasons why Australians may be opting for cremations, including cost efficiency, as cremations cost a lot less than traditional funerals. As Willed’s website notes, it can cost people up to $1795 for a cremation in NSW, while funerals featuring burials tend to be much more expensive. 

Zelman says cremations also have a smaller environmental impact, and that secularism may have a role in its growing popularity. 

“It could also be that secularism is also growing, but we also get people from eastern religions who approach us for it,” he said. 

Zelman says users of Willed’s platform came from a broad demographic with varied life cycle events.

“We have people from their 20s to 90s using our platform,” he said. 

With the younger demographic, he says the creation of wills followed large financial purchases such as homes, or when people married and started families. Willed also has a large uptick with people in their 50s who had been meaning to write their wills but never got around to it. Divorces were also popular reasons why people used Willed. 

Since its launch in 2020, Willed has seen its appeal growing by miles — with bequests of more than $100 million made since they launched, and with over hundreds of thousands of users.

But as Zelman says, there was still more work to be done to make it it easier for people and families to approach difficult subjects like death and wills. 

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