Legal Tidbits: Estate Planning – Do it yourself will

You’ve heard the saying that “You get what you pay for.”

Consider this when trying to work up the terms of your will by yourself: You just might miss something and mistakenly leave all your worldly possessions to an unintended beneficiary.

A case out of Florida makes the point.

Ann Aldrich had used an E-Z form to complete her will. It lacked what is called a “residuary clause,” which did not provide for the disposing of property not included in the last will and testament. Two nieces challenged Aunt Ann’s filing of the will and the Florida Supreme Court ruled in their favor.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente said this about the case in a concurring opinion issued by the highest court in Florida, according to the American Bar Association Journal: “While I appreciate that there are many individuals in this state who might have difficulty affording a lawyer, this case does remind me of the old adage ‘penny-wise and pound-foolish. I therefore take this opportunity to highlight a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance. As this case illustrates, that decision can ultimately result in the frustration of the testator’s intent, in addition to the payment of extensive attorney’s fees, the precise results of the testator sought to avoid in the first place.”

(Incidentally, “testator” is defined as someone who has made out a legally binding last will and testament.)

Aldrich had intended to leave her estate to her sister and then to her brother if her sister died first. Her sister died and all her possessions were awarded to her brother. She listed the items that would go to her brother, but absent the residuary clause that is intended to account for those unlisted items, the nieces – who are the daughters of another brother, who had already died – challenged the will.

And they won.

The 2004 case provides an example of how laymen who don’t always know to cross every “t” and dot every “i” can get caught unwittingly in a legal tangle.