I have written before about the risks of do-it-yourself estate planning and explained how people who use do-it-yourself solutions end up with a false sense of security. They create documents that they believe will address their needs but wind up being ineffective and ultimately more costly than what an attorney would have charged to draft a simple Will.
A recent case out of Florida illustrates the potential problems that can arise. It involves a Will written by Ann Aldrich, who wrote her final wishes on an “E-Z Legal Form” rather than seeking the assistance of an attorney. The Will directed that the following listed possessions pass to her sister:
- House, contents, lot at 150 SW Garden Street, Keystone Heights FL 32656A;
- Fidelity Rollover IRA 162–583405 (800–544–6565);
- United Defense Life Insurance (800–247–2196);
- Automobile Chevy Tracker, 2CNBE 13c916952909; and
- All bank accounts at M & S Bank 2226448, 264679, 0900020314 (352–473–7275).
It directed that her brother, James Michael Aldrich, should inherit the listed property if her sister predeceased her. The Will did not contain a residuary clause disposing assets not specifically addressed by the Will.
Several years after Ms. Aldrich signed her Will, her sister died, and named Ms. Aldrich as her beneficiary. Ms. Aldrich inherited some land and $122,000 in cash, which she deposited in a new investment account rather than in her existing bank account at M & S Bank; however, Ms. Aldrich never revised her Will to dispose of the property she inherited from her sister.
After Ms. Aldrich died, her brother, James, was appointed as personal representative of her estate and asked the probate court to determine who would inherit the property Ms. Aldrich acquired from her sister. He argued that he should inherit the property; however, Ms. Aldrich’s nieces, the children of a brother who had predeceased her, claimed an interest in it. They argued that the property Ms. Aldrich inherited from her sister should pass according to Florida’s intestacy statutes because they were not specifically addressed in the Will and the Will did not contain a residuary clause.
The case was tried and appealed all the way up to the Florida Supreme Court. After analyzing Florida’s laws, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ms. Aldrich’s nieces and decided that the land and cash Ms. Aldrich had inherited would pass according to the state’s intestacy statutes. This resulted in her nieces inheriting part of her estate even though Ms. Aldrich had made no provisions for them in her Will and had apparently intended for all her worldly possessions to pass to her surviving brother.
Although do-it-yourself Wills are inexpensive, the ultimate cost of this E-Z Legal Form was far greater than any attorney would have charged to advise Ms. Aldrich and draft a simple Will customized to address her specific legal needs. Litigating and appealing the case all the way to the Florida Supreme Court likely cost thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars in legal fees.
What may have been a penny-wise solution, it was ultimately very pound-foolish.