Sunday, April 6, 2014

A cautionary tale about using DIY legal forms

LegalZoom and similar vendors might be the future of law practice (here, here compare here) but that doesn't mean DIY legal forms are a good idea or that clients should forsake a lawyer in favor of Google to save a few bucks.  This case reported by the Florida Supreme Court Blog involving a form will shows why.  The testator relied on an "E-Z Legal Form" to indicate her wishes that all her property listed therein (including her home, car, bank accounts, and life insurance) go to her sister upon her death and then to her brother should the sister pre-decease the testator.  The sister died first leaving her estate to the testator.  After the testator died and the will was probated, the Florida Supreme Court was eventually asked to conclude that the brother did not take the later acquired portion of the testator's estate because it wasn't among the "listed items" in the E-Z Legal Form will.  This was so even though the testator left a handwritten note explaining that she wanted her entire estate to go to her brother upon her death.  The FSCB explains further:

On appeal, the Supreme Court unanimously held that the property acquired by [the testator] after her will was executed was not subject to the will. The Court noted that the intention of a testator as expressed in the will does control the disposition of the testator’s property, but only to the extent specified in the will. The Court pointed out that section 732.101, Fla. Stat., which provides that any part of an estate that is not disposed of by will is subject to intestacy, was not limited for estates containing after-acquired property. The fact that Ms. Aldrich kept a hand-written note with her will, drafted after the death of Ms. Aldrich’s sister, which would grant all her property to her brother, was not relevant as that note was not executed in accordance with the requirements of the Florida Probate Code.


Justice Pariente filed a concurring opinion, in which she stated that this case reminded her of the phrase “penny-wise and pound-foolish,” and lamented the lack of foresight of Ms. Aldrich in “using a commercially available form, an “E-Z Legal Form,” which did not adequately address her specific needs—apparently without obtaining any legal assistance.” A worthwhile lesson for all.

Continue reading here.

Hat tip to the ABA Journal Blog.


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