A Cautionary Tale of Fill-in-the-Blank Wills: Not So E-Z After All
Online platforms like Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer, as well as form wills marketed by companies like E-Z Legal Forms, are gaining popularity in the estate planning world. However, a recent Florida decision* serves as a fresh reminder that using one of these one-size-fits all approaches to estate planning could land your family in court despite your wishes.**
In a recent case, a Florida woman created a will through E-Z Legal Forms, leaving all of her property to her sister and finally to her brother if her sister predeceased her. The sister died first, so the brother claimed the entire estate. That would have been the result that fit with the deceased woman’s wishes. However, because the document was made without attorney oversight, the document lacked a residuary clause (important in Florida) and opened the door to disagreement over the interpretation of the will. Two of the woman’s nieces sued for a share of the estate.
The nieces, who were born to another brother who had already passed away and who were not mentioned in the will, walked away with a portion of the estate because they argued that they should receive part of any property that the deceased earned after signing the original will. The Florida Supreme Court agreed, determining that all property earned after the will was signed must go through probate and be distributed based upon the State’s intestacy laws. (Intestacy laws govern who will receive property when a person dies without a will). Because she had a will, this was clearly not what the deceased woman intended, and one Justice shared a word of caution:
“I therefore take this opportunity to highlight a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance. As this case illustrates, that decision can ultimately result in the frustration of the testator’s intent, in addition to the payment of extensive attorney’s fees—the precise results the testator sought to avoid in the first place.”
The court also acknowledged that people want to avoid dealing with lawyers and spending additional money, but sometimes making an investment in legal counsel will help the party and their family avoid even greater legal feels and turmoil in the future.
Creating a will doesn’t always have to be complicated. Nevertheless, it is best to create yours with the aid of an experienced estate planning attorney if you wish to avoid probate and future disputes over your estate. If you need estate planning advice, call Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri to schedule a free half-hour consultation. Our attorneys are passionate about estate planning and have decades of experience handling complex estate planning matters, including wills and living trusts. If you need a will or would like to review the will you currently have, contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri for further information.
Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.
*FlascBlog: The Florida Supreme Court Blog reports on the opinion (PDF).
**To see the original article that inspired this post: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/e-z_legal_form_proved_to_be_complicated_in_litigation_over_wills_missing_re/?utm_source=maestro&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly_email