Perils of the Do It Yourself Will

Tomorrow

The March 27, 2014 Florida case of Aldrich vs. Basile1 is a good example why you might want to rethink using doit-yourself legal documents, especially when drawing up a Will. Here’s a synopsis of the case:

The decedent in Aldrich wrote her Will using an “E-Z Legal Form.” She left all of the specifically listed assets that she owned at the time of Will execution to her sister as a 100% primary beneficiary and then to her brother as a 100% contingent beneficiary. However, the Will lacked a residuary clause, which is basically a clause that leaves all of a decedent’s remaining assets to a named beneficiary.

Some of her relatives argued that the assets she acquired after executing her Will should pass to them through the laws of intestacy because she didn’t mention how she wanted to dispose of any assets she acquired after executing her Will. The Florida Supreme Court agreed with her relatives because it was clear from the language of the Will that she intended to leave all of the assets listed to her brother in the event her sister predeceased her. The decedent, however, expressed no intent as to any assets that she may have acquired after the execution of her Will, as the document didn’t include a residuary clause, nor did it include any general bequests that could encompass such assets. The court could not infer, without adding words to the Will, that in making provision for the assets she owned on the day she executed her Will that she also intended to make provision for any future assets.

As the concurring judge noted, the decedent wrote her Will using a commercially available form that didn’t adequately address her needs and she didn’t obtain any legal advice. As the old adage goes, “a penny-wise and a pound-foolish.” Using a pre-printed Will is cheaper than hiring a knowledgeable attorney, however, the ultimate cost of using the cheaper pre-printed Will may far surpass the cost of hiring an attorney to write the Will. As in this case, the up-front cost savings of using a pre-printed Will did not outweigh the substantial amount of money and time spent on extensive litigation.

If you’re considering going the DIY route relative to creating a Will, it would behoove you to first consult with an estate planning professional.