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Using a Last Will and Testament Form May Cost You More in the Long Run

By Howard C. Stross
April 14, 2014

The Florida Supreme Court recently issued an opinion in Aldrich v. Basile, which may make you think twice before you attempt to use a last will and testament form to write your own will. With the proper instruction, you can do some things yourself, such as change your own oil and tile your bathroom. However, sometimes it can save you time and money in the long run if you hire a professional at the onset.

With many do-it-yourself projects, you know almost immediately if your work needs to be corrected. On the other hand, if someone makes a mistake on a last will and testament form, they may never be able to correct a mistake because the document isn’t used until they have passed away.

In the Aldrich v. Basile case, Ann Aldrich attempted to save money and purchased a last will and testament form from E-Z Legal Forms. Ann listed specific items and stated that they should go to her sister. If her sister did not survive her, Ann stated that the items should go to her brother.

Ann’s sister passed away. Afterwards, Ann attempted to amend her last will and testament with a handwritten note. The handwritten note stated that all of her worldly possessions should go to her brother. Unfortunately, she did not execute the note with the proper formalities required under Florida law which requires two attesting witnesses. Therefore, the handwritten note was not enforceable and had to be disregarded.

The items specifically listed in the last will and testament form passed to her brother. However, the last will and testament form did not have a residuary clause. Therefore, her other property passed according to Florida intestacy laws, as if she died without a will for that property. Ultimately, her other property will be inherited by two nieces who were daughters of a different brother who had already passed away.

In the concurring opinion, Florida Supreme Court Justice Pariente stated:

“This unfortunate result stems not from this Court’s interpretation of Florida’s probate law, but from the fact that Ms. Aldrich wrote her will using a commercially available form, an “E-Z Legal Form,” which did not adequately address her specific needs—apparently without obtaining any legal assistance. This form, which is in the record, did not have space to include a residuary clause or pre-printed language that would allow a testator to elect to use such a clause…

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. In a case such as this, which involved a substantial sum of money, the time, effort, and expense of extensive litigation undertaken in order to prove a testator’s true intent after the testator’s death can necessitate the expenditure of much more substantial amounts in attorney’s fees than was avoided during the testator’s life by the use of a pre-printed form.”

Quality estate planning is more than just drafting documents. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you design a plan to meet your goals and work the way you intend it to after you have passed. Call us at 813-852-6500 to schedule a free consultation. We offer reasonable rates on a flat-fee basis.

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