A judge reviewing the validity of a will and determining how to distribute a woman’s assets said that the case, which involved a “E-Z Legal Form”, should be a cautionary tale to others. The will in this case was printed using a website selling forms for individuals to fill out themselves, so the woman created her own will. Without the legal expertise or guidance to know she was missing something, she did not include what is known as a residuary clause, which is a line in the will that provides for any leftovers or overlooked assets not specifically mentioned. The form will had instructed the woman to list all of her assets, which she left to her sister or if her sister was not alive, then to her brother.
The will was accompanied by a handwritten note that left the remainder of her possessions to her brother and niece. Unfortunately the note was signed by only one witness (two are required) who was the same person who stood to benefit from the terms of the note. As a result of this the note was invalid did not work to leave the remainder of her assets to the niece who signed it.
Instead, the remainder of the estate passed to the daughters of her other brother who was not mentioned in the will but who was entitled to take under the laws of intestacy which are set by the state.
The case shows the importance of attention to detail when it comes to estate planning. In the end it can wind up costing the estate and family members more in legal fees to resolve an incomplete or invalid will than it would have to engage a lawyer to draft the original version and ensure its effectiveness.
Source: ABA Journal, “Estate dispute caused by ‘E-Z Legal Form’ is a ‘cautionary tale,’ says justice,” Debra Cassens Weiss, April 3, 2014.