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Gainesville Florida Estate Planning & Elder Law Blog

Monday, April 28, 2014

Do-It-Yourself Wills

If you’re considering creating a do-it-yourself will to save a few bucks, please think again. The result may be anguish and conflict for your family. And the money you save may just be gobbled up in lawyer and court fees.

A recent case heard by the Florida Supreme Court, Aldrich v. Basile, demonstrates the disadvantages of do-it-yourself estate planning.

Florida resident Ann Aldrich wrote her will using an E-Z Legal Form in 2004. She wrote in the will that at her death, her possessions were to go to her sister, Mary Jane Eaton. If her sister predeceased her, those assets were to go to her brother, James Michael Aldrich. Her will also had a hand-written list of specific assets – several bank accounts, her home and its contents, an IRA, a vehicle and a life insurance policy. The will was properly signed and witnessed.

But she did not state what should happen to any assets she acquired after the execution of her will. In other words, there was no residuary clause. That’s probably because the form did not have a pre-printed residuary clause or guidance for including one.

Eaton died in 2007, predeceasing Aldrich and leaving her a Fidelity account and property in Putnam County. Since this happened after Aldrich wrote her will, these assets were not included. To try and fix it, Aldrich hand wrote an addendum to her will in 2008 reiterating that all her worldly possessions now go to her brother. Unfortunately the note did not conform to the requirements of Florida law because there were no impartial witnesses. The only witness who signed the note was Sandra Schuh, daughter of James Aldrich.

The result was a family dispute that naturally ended up in court and ultimately making its way to the Florida Supreme Court. James, the brother, argued that all of his late sister's assets should go to him. But two nieces (the daughters of another of Aldrich's deceased siblings) argued that the assets Aldrich inherited from Eaton should pass according to Florida intestacy law since (1) her will neither mentioned those assets nor contained a residuary clause and (2) Aldrich's addendum was legally invalid. Therefore, they argued, as constitutional heirs at law they were entitled to a piece of the assets Aldrich had inherited when Eaton passed away.

Ultimately the court decided in favor of the nieces, concluding that the assets Aldrich inherited from Eaton could not pass under Aldrich's will, although the judges pointed out that it all could have been avoided if the will was done properly and effectively in the first place. Good advice.


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