E-Z doesn’t do it when it comes to DIY wills
The television ads make it look so easy. Why hire an attorney to set up a will when you can just buy the document and do it yourself? Why pay someone hundreds of dollars to write a will when you can get a snazzy, legal-looking document starting at $69 online?
The answer — if we really care about having our client’s last wishes fulfilled — is to tell them that it’s hard — really hard — for a non-attorney to create an effective will or trust. Only an experienced estate planning attorney should draft your client’s document to ensure that they will stand up to scrutiny and challenges.
As documented in the ABAJournal, an April case that made it to the Florida Supreme Court demonstrates the pitfalls of using an “E-Z” legal document instead of hiring an attorney. http://tinyurl.com/o4ugj8n
So easy a caveman could do it
Companies like LegalZoom offers all kinds of documents, from creating a will to incorporating an LLC. Nowhere do their ads mention the clauses and provisions that clients should know about and the states in which they might need them.
It was a do-it-yourself “E-Z Legal Form” that Ann Aldrich used in the Florida case. Her estate came into dispute because it lacked a residuary clause that spelled out how assets Aldrich acquired after the will was made out were to be distributed.
Aldrich created her will in 2004, leaving all to her sister, Mary Eaton. The will said that if Eaton died before Aldrich did, all assets should pass to Aldrich’s brother, James Aldrich. Eaton died in 2007, and she left Ann Aldrich a substantial amount of land and cash, according to Forbes. These assets became the crux of the case before the Florida Supreme Court. http://tinyurl.com/oqtpa37
Two of Ann Aldrich’s nieces contested the will during probate, arguing that they were entitled to part of the estate that was not specifically included in the document. Their legal argument said that because the will didn’t have a residuary clause, the unnamed assets should pass through Florida’s laws of intestacy.
Ann Aldrich had included an addendum to her will in 2008 in which everything was given to her brother, but the Florida court ruled that it was legally ineffective because it was signed by just one witness; Florida law requires two witnesses to a testamentary instrument.
After more than four years of legal wrangling, the court ruled for the nieces — even though they weren’t included in the will. The court found the nieces’ arguments and claim legally valid under the laws of intestacy because the E-Z form didn’t include a residuary clause that would dispose of property not listed in the document.
Although the court seemed sympathetic to James Aldrich’s plight, it ultimately found that he had no legal leg to stand upon. In the opinion by Justice Peggy Quince, she wrote that any other interpretation would require the court to rewrite the will to include provisions that Ann Aldrich did not specify.
Justice Barbara Pariente, in concurring, said the case reminded her of the old adage, “penny wise and pound foolish,” for had Ann Aldrich used an attorney to draw up her will, her brother likely would have wound up with the full estate as Ann intended.
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