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Do-it-yourself wills could be problematic in Florida courts

For many Floridians, saving money can play a huge role in many decisions. We may forego the name-brand item in favor of the generic version in an effort to keep more in the piggy bank. However, in some situations, going with the higher value option may actually be a better decision in the long-run. When it comes to estate planning - and in particular, the drafting of legal documents such as a will that will govern the estate administration process - cheaper, do-it-yourself options could be missing key features that may eviscerate one's intent for the distribution of the estate.

Unfortunately, this was recently the case for a recently deceased woman who chose an online form as the basis for her will. In filling out the form, the woman apparently intended to have all of her assets distributed to her sister, or if the sister passed away, her brother. However, the form she used only mentioned "listed" items in the intended distribution and lacked a residuary clause that would cover the remainder of her estate.

As part of a probate action involving the will, the woman's nieces - not named in the document - asserted their interest in the estate as part of a will contest. In its opinion, the Florida Supreme Court held that the lack of a residuary clause meant all assets not otherwise "listed" in the will were subject to probate. The result of the ruling means the nieces are now eligible to receive a part of the estate as dictated by Florida's probate laws.

In a concurring opinion, one justice was clear that this story might serve as a cautionary tale to those thinking about using such forms. She noted that the decision to save money on the front end could end up costing much more in litigation later, only to have the testator's original intent possibly frustrated due to a poorly drafted form.

The truth is that in some situations, it really does make sense to spend a little more to reduce the possibility of future issues. When it comes to estate planning, the help of an experienced professional can be vital to building a comprehensive, effective estate plan with the purpose of distributing one's estate according to the testator's intent while protecting assets from inappropriate challenges during the probate process.

Source: ABA Journal, "Estate dispute caused by 'E-Z Legal Form' is a 'cautionary tale,' says justice," Debra Cassens Weiss, April 3, 2014

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