Another Cautionary Tale About “Do it Yourself” Estate Planning

May 30, 2014 Estate Planning Blog

Many people who are cost conscious, or don't think that preparing a Will is difficult, use legal form services like LegalZoom or LawDepot. Unfortunately, in many cases, errors are made and, as a result, the testator's intent is not carried out.

Aldrich v. Basile is a good example of why "do it yourself" estate planning is usually a bad idea. In this case, Ms. Aldrich created her Will using an "E-Z Legal Form." In her Will, she specifically identified certain property to give to her sister and, if her sister didn't survive her, to her brother. At the time she executed her Will, these specific gifts covered all of her property. However, the E-Z Legal Form did not have a residuary clause for all other property not specifically gifted (which in Ms. Aldrich's case was all property acquired after the execution of her Will).

After Ms. Aldrich executed her Will, her sister died and left Ms. Aldrich real estate and cash. These items were not covered under the gift provisions of Ms. Aldrich's Will, so a dispute arose concerning who was entitled to this property. Ms. Aldrich's brother claimed he was entitled to the inherited property because he was the one named in Ms. Aldrich's Will in the gift provisions if Ms. Aldrich's sister predeceased her. Two of Ms. Aldrich's nieces (daughters of her deceased brother) contended that the inherited property should pass by way of intestacy and, as such, they were entitled to a portion of it.

In settling this dispute, the Supreme Court of Florida determined Ms. Aldrich's intent solely by looking at the language of the Will (which is the law in most, if not all, states) and held that, because she did not dispose of the remainder of the estate property in the Will, it passed by the law of intestacy. As a result, the nieces received a share of Ms. Aldrich's estate, even though they were not intended to.

In her concurring opinion, Justice Barbara Pariente noted that the cost of litigating this case far outweighed any costs that Ms. Aldrich saved by using a legal form. Justice Pariente further commented that "this case does remind me of the old adage 'penny-wise and pound-foolish.'"