With the rise of companies such as Legal Zoom, TotalLegal, Law Depot and Do Your Own Will.com, more and more consumers are attempting to create their own estate plans without the assistance of a lawyer. While it is possible to create a Will or other legal documents with the assistance of any of these companies or others, doing so can often lead to unintended results.
An example of the consequences of using do-it-yourself legal documents is a case out of Florida. Ann Aldrich created her own Will in 2004 using an E-Z Legal form preprinted Will. The Will listed all her property including her residence, Fidelity IRA, life insurance policy, car and bank accounts and indicated it was all to go to her sister, Mary Jane Eaton. On the form, she indicated that, should Mary Jane predecease her, the assets designated in the Will should go to her brother, James. She did not indicate her intent regarding the “residuary” estate which would consist of all assets she had not specifically designated, including any assets she might acquire after she executed the Will or any assets she did not list in the Will.
As it happened, Mary Jane predeceased Ann. Mary Jane named Ann as the primary beneficiary of her Will. After Mary Jane’s estate was settled Ann placed the assets she inherited from Mary Jane in new accounts. Ann never updated her Will.
Upon Anne’s death her assets were admitted to probate and her brother, James, asserted that the Will left all the assets to him. However the Court disagreed. The Florida Supreme Court determined that the assets received from Mary Jane’s estate should go partly to James and partly to Ann’s nieces and nephews.
Lawyers are trained to prepare legal documents in order to meet their client wishes. As the judge in this court case stated “don’t be penny wish and pound foolish” when creating legal documents. The ultimate expense of litigation can far outweigh the cost of hiring a knowledgeable attorney to assist with the creation and execution of an estate plan.
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