– Est. –

“E-Z Legal Form” at Center of Dispute in Florida’s Highest Court

A family in Florida recently took their dirty laundry to the State Supreme Court, after Ann Aldrich died with a poorly-drafted Last Will that she had prepared online. The Last Will included a list of specific gifts of property, including disposition of her home, car, and life insurance proceeds, which were all left to her sister; or in the event her sister did not survive Ann, then to her brother. Unfortunately, Ann Alderich’s sister died before Ann did. The deceased sister left property to Ann, becoming Ann’s benefactor, rather than Ann’s beneficiary.

When Ann died she owned the specific property listed in the “E-Z Legal Last Will” plus the property she received from her sister’s estate (which was not addressed in the “E-Z Last Will”). The will form Ann downloaded did not include a residue clause which would have provided for the disposition of everything in her estate that was not listed as a specific gift in the Last Will.

Ann Aldrich’s brother assumed that all of Ann’s property would pass to him. Ann’s nieces disputed that reading of the Last Will, arguing instead that, since there was no residuary clause, a portion of everything not listed should pass to them under Florida’s intestacy laws (as they would step into the shoes of their deceased mother, Ann’s sister).

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that because Ann Aldrich’s Last Will did not have a residue clause, the nieces were correct and should receive a portion of the assets not specifically listed as going to Mr. Aldrich (Ann’s brother). This case illustrates the importance of seeking a professional’s help when drafting your estate plan. A competent attorney knows the importance of each aspect of a client’s will or trust. He or she creates estate planning documents around the individual client, rather than forcing the client to work within the confines of an inflexible “one-size-fits-all” form downloaded from the cloud.

Ann Aldrich likely used the online form to save money, but ended up costing her family thousands of dollars in attorney fees—a decision which one Justice on the Florida Supreme Court called “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

Our firm is not licensed to practice law in Florida and does not give advice on issues regarding Florida law. We do, however, work with clients in the Pacific Northwest that deal with the issues outlined above. Our firm will be hosting a complementary discussion about some of the online pitfalls our clients regularly fall into later this month. If you are interested in learning about how recent developments in digital currency, privacy and property are affecting families (and their businesses) in Oregon and Washington, you can find the breakfast seminar details here:

SYK Seminar Series: Estate Planning & the Rise of Virtual Currencies and Assets