Here’s yet another danger of ‘do-it-yourself’ wills

Some people try to save money by writing their own will using a pre-printed form or an online program, without consulting a qualified attorney. We often advise people that this is a mistake, and that the potential unfortunate consequences of using a homemade will can be far worse than the cost of doing it the right way in the first place.

A recent case from Florida provides yet another example of why this is true. A woman named Ann Aldrich wrote her will on something called an “E-Z Legal Form.” She listed her assets – including a house, a car, and a bank account – and said that they should go to her sister. She also said that if her sister died first, they should go to her brother.

Her sister did die first. As it turned out, her sister bequeathed Ann more than $120,000 and some real estate. But Ann’s “E-Z” will didn’t say what should happen to this additional property that she inherited after the will was written.

When Ann died, her brother went to court and argued that he should get all of Ann’s property, including the sister’s inheritance. But Ann’s nieces complained that this wasn’t fair, and that they should inherit part of the sister’s assets too.

The case went all the way to the Florida Supreme Court – which sided with the nieces. The court said that since Ann never said what should happen to the additional property, it should be divvied up among the various family members exactly as if she hadn’t written a will at all.

Of course, the cost to the family of a protracted lawsuit was far greater than what Ann would have spent to consult an elder law attorney, who would have advised her about the importance of having a clause in her will about assets acquired at a later date.

In fact, one of the Florida Supreme Court justices described the case as “a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance.”