Preprinted or online legal forms are appealing to people who do not wish to pay an attorney for legal services. However, a case out of the Florida Supreme Court, Aldrich v. Basile, is a prime example of why it is not advised to use a preprinted or online form to create an estate plan.
In the case of Aldrich v. Basile, Ms. Aldrich, a Florida resident, used and online E-Z legal form to draft up her Will. She meticulously itemized every asset that she owned at the time, and left all the items listed to her sister. If her sister predeceased her, then everything mentioned in the Will was to go to her brother. Unfortunately for Ms. Aldrich, her sister predeceased her, and the sister left her entire estate to Ms. Aldrich. In light of her sister’s death, Ms. Aldrich hand wrote a codicil (an amendment to her Will) that stated that “all her worldly possessions” were to go to her brother.
There are two errors on Ms. Aldrich’s behalf. First, the online Will did not include a clause that caught any other assets not already itemized in the Will, known as the residuary clause. This “catch all” clause is used to grab any other assets that the testator may not have accounted for, such as inheritances or forgotten accounts. Second, the codicil that Ms. Aldrich hand wrote was not properly executed, and therefore unenforceable.
When Ms. Aldrich passed away, her brother sought guidance from the court on how to treat the inheritance that Ms. Aldrich received from her sister’s death. Was it included in the assets listed in the Will or was it to be treated as an intestate asset (not governed by a Will) and pass to her heirs via the intestacy laws? In the end, the court decided that the Will governed only the listed items, and the inheritance was to pass according to the intestacy laws.
Although the court noted that their decision did not reflect the intent of Ms. Aldrich, they could not “rewrite her will” to correct her errors. Had Ms. Aldrich consulted with an attorney regarding her Will, there would have been a residuary clause in her Will, and this whole case would not have been necessary. The court even used the phrase “penny wise, pound foolish” to express the fact that her use of an online form was far more costly than had Ms. Aldrich consulted with an attorney in the first place.
This is just one example of how a preprinted or online form can fall short of the testator’s intent. There are many other factors that go into drafting a proper estate plan. Please consult with an estate planning attorney to ensure that your wishes and intent are reflected in your estate plan.
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