The following is from an actual case here in Florida that shows one of the problems that can arise with a “do-it-yourself” Will.
The decedent, Ann Aldrich, wrote her Will on an “E-Z Legal Form” rather than seeking the advice and assistance of an attorney. In Article III, titled “Bequests”, just after the form’s pre-printed language “direct[ing] that after payment of all my just debts, my property be bequeathed in the manner following” she hand wrote instructions directing that all of the following “possessions listed” go to her sister, Mary Jane Eaton:
1. House, contents, lot at 150 SW Garden Street, Keystone Heights FL 32656
2. Fidelity Rollover IRA 1
3. United Defense Life Insurance
4. Automobile Chevy Tracker
5. All bank accounts at M&S Bank
Ms. Aldrich also wrote that if Mary Jane Eaton dies before I do, that I leave all listed to James Michael Aldrich (her brother). There were no other dispositive provisions. There was no residuary clause disposing of assets not specifically addressed in the Will.
A few years after Ms. Aldrich executed her Will, her sister died, and named Ms. Aldrich as her beneficiary. Her sister left her about $122,000 in cash and a piece of real property. The money she deposited into an account at a different institution other than M&S Bank.
Before she died, Ms. Aldrich never updated or changed her Will.
After Ms. Aldrich passed, her brother James, was appointed Personal Representative of her estate and asked the Probate Court to determine who should inherit the assets her sister left her. James argued he should inherit. Ms. Aldrich’s nieces, children from a brother who had predeceased her, also claimed an interest in those assets.
The nieces argued that the money and property should pass in accordance with Florida’s intestacy statute since the money and property were not specifically mentioned in the Will and there was no residuary clause in the Will.
The case was tried, and appealed up to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that the money and property from the sister should pass in accordance with the intestacy statute. So, the money and property would go to both James and the nieces. This resulted in the nieces receiving part of Ms. Aldrich’s estate when she had made no provision for them in her Will. She had no intention of them receiving anything.
While it may seem that “do-it-yourself” Wills are inexpensive, an attorney would only have charged a couple hundred dollars, substantially less than having to deal with a lawsuit, and the attorney’s fees and costs of litigating the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Florida. Not to mention, the intention of Ms. Aldrich wasn’t achieved, her brother received far less than was intended and people not in her Will inherited some of her assets.