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The Pitfalls Of DIY Estate Planning

The Pitfalls Of “Do-It-Yourself” Forms And Services

In the information age, web-based legal services and downloadable commercial forms are readily available and popular among those who think they cannot afford an attorney or can do it themselves. While seemingly safe, there are hazards in utilizing such do-it-yourself forms and services that may end up costing more time, effort and money in the long run. The Supreme Court of Florida recently decided a case highlighting these issues in Aldrich v. Basile (SC11-2147).

In this case, a decedent had prepared a will using a commercially available form, devising (bequeathing) her specifically listed property to her sister. The will also instructed that in the event her sister predeceased her, the listed property would go to her brother instead. As it always seems to happen in these cases, the decedent’s sister did indeed die before the decedent, so the decedent’s property should have passed to her brother according to the will. Unfortunately, the decedent’s form will did not provide for what was to be done with property that was not listed in the will, which, in this case, included property the decedent had inherited from her sister when her sister died. Usually, a well-drafted will contains a “residuary clause,” included precisely to deal with scenarios like this. Courts give great respect to the wishes of a decedent in their will, which is called “testamentary intent.” Courts will usually interpret a will so that all of the decedent’s property owned at the time of death passes to the beneficiaries of the will instead of leaving some property to pass through intestacy (being treated as if there was no will).

Nevertheless, the court found that the commercial form will was not written correctly to devise the decedent’s property that was not listed in the will and that property had to pass by intestacy to beneficiaries who were never even mentioned in the decedent’s will. There is little doubt that the use of the commercial form will destroys the decedent’s testamentary intent. To ensure your will properly represents your wishes, contact an experienced probate lawyer. Don’t take shortcuts when it comes to your final wishes in regard to your loved ones and assets, in Florida or internationally.

Don’t Do It Yourself, We Can Help

At Urban Thier & Federer, our representation of heirs includes litigating cases in state court, federal court and arbitration proceedings. We encourage you to become informed of your rights and options. You should also ensure that any law firm you consult with or retain to represent you has the experience, resources and ability to take your case through trial and appellate courts, if necessary.

Start Your Estate Plan Today

Our attorneys want you to have a legal, comprehensive estate plan in place. We want you to feel confident that your legacy is protected and your wishes are in place. Don’t struggle with uncertain online forms. Call our firm at 212-257-0898 or submit the online contact form to schedule a meeting with our team.

“This content is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship.”