Recently, do-it-yourself wills have caught the attention of the general public. The process of hiring an attorney who will draft your will for you has lost its attraction as people opt for the cheaper option of editing a legal document they can find online.

It seems like an appealing alternative to having a lawyer plan your will for you when one thinks about the time and money they may be able to save. However, the only way to have a proper and thorough will is to have an attorney draw it up. There are several pitfalls to using an “E-Z” document from an online source that will prove detrimental as the time comes for this document to be put into use.

So easy a caveman can do it

Companies like LegalZoom offer 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 a case that went to the Florida Supreme Court. 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.

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 did not 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, as does the State of North Carolina.

After more than four years of legal wrangling, the court ruled for the nieces- even though they were not included in the will. The court found the nieces’ arguments and claim legally valid under the laws of intestacy because the E-Z form did not include a residuary clause that would dispose of property not listed in the document.

Cautionary tale

Although the court seemed sympathetic to James Aldrich’s plight, it ultimately found that he has 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.

Hopefully, this information was helpful to you as you take the steps necessary to planning the rest of your future. Here at Carolina Family Estate Planning, we serve to assist our clients and ensure that we can help them accomplish their goals for planning their future.

To learn more about common estate planning issues, check out our free guide, Estate Planning Pitfalls: The 12 Most Common Threats to Your Estate & Your Family's Future, or to discuss your estate planning concerns, please call our office at 919-443-3035 or use our contact form.

Jackie Bedard
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Attorney, Author, and Founder of Carolina Family Estate Planning