Caveat emptor, the Latin phrase for let the buyer beware, is an old saying has stood the test of time. A story in The Florida Bar News confirms the inadequacy and unreliability of do-it-yourself estate planning. To view the full article please click here.
In the article, a woman, Ann Aldrich, used an “E-Z Legal Form” to write her will.
- Aldrich’s form will was properly witnessed and executed.
- Aldrich’s form will specified that her property was to be left to her sister, and if her sister died first, then her property would go to her brother.
- The sister died first and left property and money to Ms. Aldrich.
- Aldrich attached a note to the form will stating that her brother should receive the inherited property, with some funds for a niece. Ms. Aldrich and her daughter signed the note.
The Problem with the Self-Drafted Will
- Aldrich’s form will did not have any general devises or residuary clauses to control how her inheritance should be handled.
- The Court found that the attached note was a legally ineffective testamentary instrument because it did not comply with the Florida Probate Code.
One Consequence of the Self-Drafted Will- Costly Litigation
When Ms. Aldrich passed away, her brother filed an action and claimed that he should get the entire estate, including the inheritance from the sister. He was met with opposition from two nieces. The nieces argued that Florida intestacy laws should apply to the inheritance because the form will did not mention or cover inheritances. Note: Intestate means a person died without a will. Florida intestacy laws determine who will inherit the decedent’s assets.
The Court’s Finding
The Florida Supreme Court found that Ms. Aldrich’s after-acquired property shall pass by intestacy. Applying Florida intestacy law to this case, Ms. Aldrich’s inheritance passes to her two nieces even though her note clearly stated that she wanted all of her “worldly possession” to pass to her brother.
Justice Barbara Pariente wrote a separate opinion to underscore what she saw as problems from using the simple will form. See the Court’s opinion at the following link: sc11-2147.
The Moral of the Story- Caveat Emptor
You are own when you decide to write your own will using online software or pre-printed templates. Ms. Aldrich’s choice to use a commercial will, instead of hiring an attorney, prevented her wishes from being carried out. Her story highlights the dangers of using pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance.
Additionally, her choice sparked litigation that cost many times what she saved by using the generic form. The advice of an attorney may cost more but we advise you on the best way to protect your family and distribute your assets according to your wishes. We do more than just draft the document. As illustrated by this story, the ultimate cost of drafting your own will has the potential to surpass the cost of hiring a lawyer from the beginning. It is not worth it to learn the hard way and cause unnecessary headaches and legal expenses for your family.
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