A woman who used a commercial will instead of hiring an attorney apparently thwarted her intent of disposing of some of her property and sparked litigation that cost many times what she saved by using the generic form.
Does the E-Z Legal Form Work?
The woman, Ann Aldrich, had written her will on an “E-Z Legal Form” which was properly witnessed and executed in 2004. In it, she 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 did die first, and left property and money to Ann. The legal form had not contained any language, such as a residuary clause, to cover how that inheritance should be handled. After her sister’s death, Ann attached a signed note to the form will indicating that her brother should get the property, with some funds going to a niece.
The Judge ruled that the note was not valid under the Florida Probate Code because it only had the signature of Ann and one witness, her daughter. Therefore, the original Will, without the note, governed the disposition of Ann’s property.
Under the terms of the legal form Ann used, the brother, as Personal Representative, filed an action saying he should get the entire estate, including the inheritance from the sister. Two nieces contested the will arguing that since the form Will did not mention or make allowances for the inheritance, that part of the estate should be determined by the Florida intestacy laws. (The intestacy laws deal with property when there is no valid will or no will at all)
The Court agreed with the nieces and ruled that state law governs how the property will be handled since the form will did not make mention of how to dispose of the later acquired property.
One of the Supreme Court Justices also wrote a separate opinion commenting on problems from using legal forms typically found on various internet sites. She stated that these forms, intended to save money, instead can wind up in costly litigation.
The lesson here: The decision to use a form without an attorney can ultimately result not only in an unintended results, but payment of extensive attorney’s fees -the precise results that you are seeking to avoid in the first place.