In this case, Ms. Aldrich created her Will using an “E-Z Legal Form”. In her Will, she specifically identified certain property to give to her sister and, if her sister didn’t survive her, to her brother. At the time she executed her Will, these specific gifts covered all of her property. However, the E-Z Legal Form did not have a residuary clause for all other property not specifically gifted (which in Ms. Aldrich’s case was all property acquired after the execution of her Will).

Wills are easy. Anyone can make one, right? Not so fast.

A recent article in Mondaq titled “Another Cautionary Tale About “Do It Yourself” Estate Planning” reported on the problems that can result when you try to be your own estate planning attorney. It seems Ms. Aldrich decided to make her will using an “E-Z Legal Form.” In it, she specifically identified certain property to give to her sister and-if she didn’t survive her-then it would go to her brother. When she executed her will, these specific gifts covered all of her property. Unfortunately, this E-Z Legal Form didn’t have a residuary clause for any property that wasn’t specifically gifted (which here was all property she acquired after the execution of her will).

After Ms. Aldrich executed her will, her sister died. She left Ms. Aldrich some real estate and cash, which weren’t covered under the gift provisions of Ms. Aldrich’s will. As a result, a dispute arose concerning who was to be the rightful owner of this property. The brother argued that he was entitled to the inherited property because he was the one named in Aldrich’s will in the gift provisions if the sister predeceased her. Now enters two of Ms. Aldrich’s nieces (the daughters of a deceased brother). The nieces contended that the inherited property should pass by way of intestacy and, if so, was theirs or at least some of it.

The Florida Supreme Court decided that Aldrich’s intent-by merely examining the language of the will (which is the law in many states)-and held that, because she did not dispose of the remainder of the estate property in the will, it passed by the law of intestacy. So the nieces received a share of the estate, even though Ms. Aldrich never intended to give it to them.

Justice Barbara Pariente noted in her concurring opinion that the cost of litigating the case was much more than the expense of the E-Z Legal Form. The Justice said that “this case does remind me of the old adage ‘penny-wise and pound-foolish.'”

Don’t be foolish. Speak with your estate planning attorney and don’t think that it’s as easy as it was for Ms. Aldrich!

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Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.
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