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DIY Legal Planning? Don’t Try This at Home

The death of a loved one is a life-changing event filled with emotion and can be traumatic.  Is there anything that can help ease the pain and promote the healing process? Absolutely – proper advance legal planning can make all the difference.

Imagine that someone close to you decided to write their own Last Will & Testament rather than seek the advice of a skilled and experience estate planning attorney.  The old adage “penny-wise and pound-foolish” would apply.  Relying on a stationary store form, Legal Zoom or, an internet site frequently results in creating a problem for the beneficiaries.

Look no further than your backyard.  A Florida woman used an E-Z Legal Form to create a Last Will & Testament.  Ms. Aldrich was very specific in identifying the type of assets (i.e. her house, car, life insurance, bank accounts) she wanted distributed to her sister or, if her sister predeceased her then to her brother.  However, her Last Will & Testament failed to contain a paragraph (known as a residuary clause) directing the disposition of all her other property.  Before Ms. Aldrich died, her sister died and left Ms. Aldrich $122,000 in cash and land.  Ms. Aldrich opened a new bank account and deposited the cash into it.  Ms. Aldrich did not revise her Will to include the property she inherited from her sister. Sometime during the last year of her life she wrote a hand-written note stating that all her worldly possessions should pass to her brother. We can see that Ms. Aldrich recognized the need to take action to devise (bequeath) the cash and land. This note did not meet the legal standards to be recognized as a ‘codicil’ to her Will.

The family became divided. Her brother believed that he should inherit all Ms. Aldrich’s assets. Ms. Aldirch’s nieces (children of a deceased brother) argued that they should receive a portion of the cash and land. The case went to the Florida Supreme Court who decided that the property Ms. Aldrich inherited from her sister was to be distributed based on the Florida law of intestacy (dying without a Will). That property would be distributed to her heirs who included both her living brother and nieces. If Ms. Aldrich had taken the time to consult with a lawyer after she inherited from her sister’s estate, a proper Last Will & Testament could have been prepared and signed.  The cost of the ‘form’ Will may have been less expensive than a Will prepared by a qualified attorney, but the long run it cost more due to the legal fees incurred in the litigation as well as the dissension it created in the extended family. This is a real life danger of using a pre-printed form with no legal advice. It is not tailored to each person’s unique situation.

One very important lesson to learn from Ms. Aldrich is to seek the advice of a skilled attorney and update your estate plan when there are major life changes such as:

  1. a marriage
  2. a divorce
  3. a birth
  4. a death
  5. receipt of an inheritance
  6. receipt of a lawsuit settlement

Our firm counsels people of all ages through the aging process. Young people over age 18 are legally adults and should have incapacity and estate planning documents so they and their families may have peace of mind.

We want to be your Trusted Advisor Through Life.