Legal Blog

The Weekly Scenario: Drafting Your Own Will Online

Question:

 My mother did not wish to hire a lawyer to draft her Will, instead opting for E-Z Legal forms.  I think she has all of her property covered, but what happens if she misses something?

Answer:

When people attempt to put together legal documents themselves, I have found more often than not, something is bound to go wrong. Perhaps the person fails to execute the document with the proper formalities needed to create a Will in the state or simply omits something important such as the appointment of the executor. A quick search will reveal a number of court cases where the ‘savings’ from hiring an attorney did not come close to the litigation that resulted from the family fighting over the testator’s intentions.

In one recent Florida case, the testator attempted to draw up her own Will.  She listed a number of bequests of property.  I suppose she was under the assumption that she covered everything she needed to, but she actually omitted something commonly found in Wills known as the ‘residuary clause.’  The residuary clause is the part of the Will that comprises essentially everything ‘else’ after certain specific bequests and expenses are paid.  

In this woman’s case, everything ‘else’ ended being a significant amount.  As you might expect, lots of litigation ensued.

After signing her Will, the testator soon after attempted to amend her Will, but the amendment she executed did not have the proper Will formalities as she was likely doing it on the fly.

What ended up happening in this case is after a couple of appeals, the individual beneficiaries who eventually won the case were not the ones who the testator appeared to have wished to inherit the bulk of her estate.  In fact, the judge even noted this to be apparent in his opinion.  

The bottom line in cases like these is simple.  One’s estate planning documents often impact a significant amount of wealth. It is therefore important to enlist the help of expert advisors.  In many cases, there is too much at stake to have the process handled by online forms.

As always, if you have questions or would like to know more about estate tax please contact Steven E. Shane at:

Steve Shane Head Shot for websshane@offitkurman.com | 301.575.0313.

Steve provides strategic counseling to clients in need of estate administration, charitable giving and business continuity planning while minimizing estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax exposure. He offers legal guidance to clients on asset protection and the proper disposition of assets in accordance with the client’s objectives, while employing tax planning techniques such as the use of irrevocable trusts, life insurance planning, lifetime gifts and charitable trust. He is also experienced with drafting documents for business planning, the incorporation and application for exemption for Private Foundations and the administration of decedents’ estates.

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