Wednesday, April 23, 2014

DIY Wills - Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later

A Florida woman saved money on will preparation by using a DIY service titled E-Z Legal Form.  Her will left all of her listed property to her brother.  The will did not have a residuary clause which states who receives all non-listed assets.   Inevitably, she later opened a new account that was not addressed by the will.  She left a handwritten note in which she tried to  to bequeath the account and all of her "worldly possessions" to her brother except for several accounts she wanted to leave to his daughter.  The note was only witnessed by her brother's  daughter.  Other nieces claimed that they were entitled to a share of the unlisted account because it was not addressed in the will.  The Florida Supreme Court ruled that they were entitled to a share of the unaddressed account under Florida intestacy laws.

Several points:

1.  All wills need a residuary clause to provide who inherits assets not specifically listed.  In fact, in every will I draft the residuary clause is the most important section.

2.  The decedent would have been better served simply by skipping the listing of specific assets and merely having a residuary clause leaving all of her assets to her brother.

3.  A handwritten note with only one witness who is also a potential beneficiary is invalid on its face and is a worse idea than using a poorly drafted form found on the Internet or purchased at Staples.

4.  As the weary mechanic in the Fram oil filter commercials said after performing an expensive engine repair instead of simply replacing an oil filter, "Pay me now or pay me later."   This decedent would have been better served spending some money on an attorney ($600 is my standard will and power of attorney fee) instead of trying to save a few dollars while incurring thousands of dollars in legal fees in a futile attempt to have her wishes followed.   Plus, I am much more fun to work with than following, perhaps incorrectly, a few prompts in a software program.