The Pitfalls of DIY Wills: Lessons Learned from a Probate Case

Online and DIY Wills

DIY wills are becoming more prevalent as legal services can now be accessed easily online. For better or worse, more and more people are turning to online services to meet their legal needs, maybe even you.

Here’s what you need to know before you decide to create your own will, using an online service, or even a cheap lawyer for that matter.

While these online companies are making legal services more accessible, they’re also doing their customers a disservice.  We can clearly see this in the recent probate case of In re: Estate of Aldrich  heard in a Florida appeals court.

Ms. Aldrich created her will using a downloaded template from E-Z Legal Forms without the advice and guidance of an estate lawyer. It appears that she wished to leave specific assets to her sister, and then to her brother, if her sister died before her. Her sister did die, after which Ms. Aldrich did not properly update her will.

The problems of DIY Wills

The assets named in the will went to Ms. Aldrich’s brother, but the template she used did not include a residuary clause, which establishes where unnamed assets should go. There was no way for Ms. Aldrich to know that this was missing from the Will because she was not a lawyer, nor was she truly educated about such matters. Most people are not, nor should they be.

As a result and without a residuary clause, the unnamed assets Ms. Aldrich acquired after the creation of the will passed under Florida’s intestacy laws. The law put her assets into the hands of her nieces, children of another predeceased sibling, instead of to her brother. This was NOT what she wanted.

This, of course, after a long, expensive and unnecessary court battle between the nieces and Ms. Aldrich’s brother.

Services like E-Z Legal Forms do not provide personal legal advice or ongoing legal support. Had Ms. Aldrich worked with an estate lawyer to craft-and then update-her planning, she would have left her brother an inheritance of love.  Instead, she left him a nightmare of time, money and heartache.

This is an important lesson to learn. People too often create their will without having a lawyer review it. Then they forget to update it as loved ones pass on and new assets are acquired. In the end, their wishes aren’t honored because they weren’t clearly defined. This left the matter in the hands of the probate court.

Are you ready to plan?

If you’re ready to develop a estate plan that will leave a legacy of true love, start by sitting down with one of us. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you with your legal planning needs. Our Family Wealth Planning Session guides you to protect and preserve what matters most. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment to complete that will get you thinking about what you own, what’s most important to you, and what you can do to ensure your family is taken care of.

This article is a service of Joel A. Norris , Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™. During which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.