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 simply can do it themselves. While seemingly safe, there are hazards in utilizing such do-it-yourself forms and services which may end up costing more time, effort, and money in the long run.
The Florida Supreme Court 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 well-drafted wills contain 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 properly written in order 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 destroyed the decedent’s testamentary intent.
To ensure your will properly represents your wishes, contact an experienced probate lawyer. Don’t take short cuts when it comes to your final wishes in regards to your loved ones and assets, in Florida or internationally.
We encourage you to explore our websites – www.urbanthier.com (United States office) and www.urbanthier.de (German office) to learn more about Urban Thier & Federer, P.A., Urban Thier & Federer, Rechtsanwälte, and their attorneys and practice areas. Urban Thier & Federer, P.A.’s representation of buyers includes litigation of 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 or retain to represent you has the experience, resources and ability to take your case through trial and appellate courts, if necessary.
Please note that Urban Thier & Federer, P.A. does not represent you and cannot take any action on your behalf unless and until you enter into a formal written Legal Representation Agreement.
Christian T. Fahrig; Carl Christian Thier