We’ve written about the potential dangers of using DIY estate planning tools in the past, but a new story once again highlights the issue. While there is nothing fundamentally unsound about creating your own estate planning tools, you should only do so with the advice and guidance of an experienced estate planning lawyer. Even if your goal is to save money, creating a tool using DIY products can often end up being far more costly in the end, not to mention the risk of confounding your intentions.
DIY Will Estate
The case involves Ann Aldrich, a Florida woman who used a DIY product to make a last will and testament in 2004. Aldrich decided to leave her entire estate, which included her home, car, and other specific pieces of property, to her sister. She also stated that should her sister not survive her, she would leave her entire estate to her brother.
The problem arose because, in part, in sister died before she did. Her sister left Aldrich part of her estate, but Aldrich did not address that inheritance in her last will and testament. Instead, the will form she used only addressed specific property that she owned at the time she made the will in 2004.
The DIY will that Aldrich used also did not include residuary clause. A residuary clause is a section of a will that gives away the property the other parts of the will have not already covered. In other words, it’s kind of a safety net to ensure that none of your property is left out of your inheritance choices. The DIY document Aldrich purchased didn’t have such a clause, and she didn’t add one.
The case eventually wound up in front of the Florida Supreme Court, with the court determining that Aldrich’s two nieces would inherit a part of her estate. Even though the will that Aldrich made never mentioned her nieces, the court determined that the part of her estate not specifically addressed in the will should pass to those nieces because they stood to inherit under Florida’s pre-existing intestate succession laws.
In other words, the court ruled that the property that Aldrich acquired after she made her will was not covered in the document. Because she failed to amend the document after she acquired new property, and failed to have the safety net of the residuary clause included in the will, the unaddressed property would not pass in accordance with the will terms. Instead, the Florida court applied the inheritance laws that apply to anyone who dies without a will.