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Wills – Don’t Be “Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish”

Brusco PhotoWe are all self-sufficient and believe we have the answers to everything.  Why hire a lawyer to draft your Will when you can just do it online and save some money?

Oh, the caution from the courts!  A recent decision (just a month ago) from the Florida Supreme Court, Aldrich v. Basile, No. SC11-2147 (Fla., March 27, 2014), tells us all do not do it alone!

In Aldrich, Ms. Ann Aldrich prepared her Will using the “E-Z Legal Form”.  She left a list of belongings to her sister, then to her brother if her sister predeceased her.  Ms. Aldrich’s sister did, in fact, predecease her and left Ms. Aldrich an inheritance of cash and land.  The “uh-oh” moment came because Ms. Aldrich never revised her Will to bequeath this inheritance of cash and land to anyone, even though she had meticulously spelled out what her sister and, subsequently, her brother were to receive.  In addition, there was no clause in the “E-Z” Will to dispose of the “… after-acquired property or any other property not mentioned in the [W]ill…”.  Guess what happened to the inheritance without a “residuary clause” in the Will?  Only after expensive litigation could Ms. Aldrich’s inheritance from her sister and any other unspecified assets pass via Florida’s intestacy statute (the law that says who gets what when you die without a Will).  The Florida Supreme Court wrote:  “Ms. Aldrich expressed no intent as to any property that she may have acquired after the execution of her Will, as the document did not include a residuary clause, nor did it include any general bequests that could encompass the inherited property.”  Aldrich at *10.  As a result, nieces whom she had not included in her “E-Z” Will received all of the “residue” of her estate.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara J. Pariente stated it well in her concurrence:

“… [T]his case does remind me of the old adage ‘penny-wise and pound-foolish.’  Obviously, the cost of drafting a will through the use of a pre-printed form is likely substantially lower than the cost of hiring a knowledgeable lawyer.  However, as illustrated by this case, the ultimate cost of utilizing such a form to draft one’s will has the potential to far surpass the cost of hiring a lawyer at the outset….

I therefore take this opportunity to highlight a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a [W]ill without legal assistance.”  Aldrich at *18.

Do not do the same.  Hire a lawyer so your family is not stuck in a tornado of litigation once you pass.

For more information regarding this or any other estate planning concern, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com, call us at 404-255-7400 or send us an email.

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose. The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only. Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.