Florida Supreme Court Ruling Illustrates Dangers of Do-It-Yourself Wills
For many people, the prospect of saving time and money by using online legal forms to create a will is tempting. However, opting to craft a will on your own, instead of consulting with a lawyer, creates many potential pitfalls and hazards, as the recent Florida Supreme Court case of Aldrich v. Basile demonstrates.
The basic details of the case, which was ruled upon by the Florida Supreme Court on March 27, 2014, are as follows. Ann Aldrich drafted her will using an “E-Z Legal Form.” In the will, Ms. Aldrich made specific bequests to her sister. She also indicated that if her sister were to die before her, the listed property should pass to Ms. Aldrich’s brother instead. Ms. Aldrich’s sister did indeed die before Ms. Aldrich, and Ms. Aldrich inherited property and money from her sister. She did not revise her will to include the newly acquired property. She did, however, write a note, signed by herself and one other person, indicating that she wanted all of her “worldly possessions” to pass to her brother.
Problems Arose After Death
Ms. Aldrich’s intent might seem clear; nonetheless, when Ms. Aldrich died, a dispute arose between her brother and her nieces regarding the property she had acquired after the execution of her will. Her brother argued that Ms. Aldrich’s intent was clear and that Ms. Aldrich’s entire estate should pass to him. Her nieces insisted that the property in question should pass to them through intestacy laws (which control who inherits property if no will in relation to that property exists), as the property was not specifically listed in or disposed of by the will.
The case worked its way up to the Florida Supreme Court, which ultimately determined that the property Ms. Aldrich acquired after the execution of her will would indeed pass to her nieces instead of to her brother.
In its opinion, the court cited several reasons for its decision. Perhaps most significantly, Ms. Aldrich’s will did not contain a residuary clause, which disposes of all assets not expressly disposed of by the will. In this case, a residuary clause would have covered those assets Ms. Aldrich acquired after the execution of her will. Further, although Ms. Aldrich attempted to draft an addendum to her will, the handwritten note was not enforceable under Florida law, which states that a codicil must be executed with the same formalities as a will (section 732.502(5) of the Florida Statutes) and requires the signature of the testator along with two witnesses (section 732.502(1)(b) of the Florida Statutes). Ms. Aldrich’s note did not meet these requirements. Additionally, as the will was not ambiguous, the court could not look outside the will itself to glean Ms. Aldrich’s intent.
An Attorney Can Help You Draft a Will
Unfortunately, as the court acknowledged in its opinion, the result of this case, though correct under Florida law, is inconsistent with Ms. Aldrich’s intent. This case illustrates the potential dangers of using legal forms, which often do not address specific legal needs, instead of consulting with a lawyer to draft and execute a will. Ultimately, that decision can lead to expensive and time-consuming litigation as well as the frustration of testamentary intent.
Consult with an attorney at the Boca Raton based Law Offices of Larry E. Bray, P.A. for help.