Friday, April 4, 2014
The Florida Supreme court ruled unanimously in Aldrich v Basile on March 27 that property acquired by a testator after execution of her will was not be controlled by the will, because although she had made bequests, the "E-Z Legal Form" she used did not include a residuary clause to address non-specific bequests. Thus the after-acquired property passed by intestacy laws to family members not mentioned in the will.
The testator has used the "will form" to make specific bequests of several items of valuable property, including her house, vehicle and bank accounts (identified by numbers) to her sister, and provided that if her sister "dies before I do I leave all listed to" her brother. The sister died first, leaving "Putnam County" property to the testator. Two nieces (children of a second brother, also deceased) asserted an interest in the probate action, arguing that "without any general devises and in the absence of a residuary clause," the will "contained no mechanism to dispose of the after-acquired property." They could recover under Florida's intestacy laws.
The court also rejected consideration of a separate hand-written note by the testator as evidence of her "true" intent with regard to the after-acquired property to the named brother, because Florida's law requires "the same formalities" as a will for codicils.
In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Pariente pointed to the pre-printed will form, noting there was no "space to include a residuary clause or pre-printed language that would allow a testator to elect to use such a clause." Justice Pariente described the unfortunate decision by the testator to rely on a form, rather than hire a "knowledgeable lawyer," as an example of the "old adage 'penny-wise and pound-foolish:'"
"I therefore take this opportunity to highlight a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance. As the case demonstrates, that decision can ultimately result in the frustration of the testator's intent, in addition to the payment of extensive attorney's fees -- the precise results the testator sought to avoid in the first place."
For another example of a "penny-wise and pound foolish" outcome from use of commercial estate planning "forms," see our October 2013 post on a Pennsylvania case, see "Do-It-Yourself Wills: Penny Wise & Pound Foolish?"
Thanks to Professor Laurel Terry for pointing to an ABA Journal Blog post on the Florida case.