Everything Today is DIY — What About Wills?
From car batteries to cabinets, nowadays everything is do-it-yourself (DIY). Yet while it may be possible to rely on a few YouTube videos to help you take care of some minor plumbing issues, estate planning is not something you should attempt without professional guidance.
The rightful heir of Ann Aldrich learned this the hard way. The following are the facts of this complicated Florida estate planning case:
- Ann Aldrich wrote her will on an E-Z Legal Form. In handwriting, she instructed that all her possessions — house and contents, a rollover IRA, a life insurance policy, an automobile and certain bank accounts — should go to her sister Mary Jane Eaton. She further noted that should Mary predecease her, all her possessions should pass to her brother, James Michael Aldrich. The will contained no other instructions on the distribution of Ann’s estate and was duly signed and witnessed.
- Unfortunately, Ann’s sister died in 2007 and left all her assets to Ann. In 2008, Ann wrote a note — This is an addendum to my will dated April 5, 2004. Since my sister Mary Jean Eaton has passed away, I reiterate that all my worldly possessions pass to my brother James Michael Aldrich. The note was signed by Ann and one other person and was therefore not enforceable under Florida’s probate laws.
- Ann’s brother argued that he was entitled to Ann’s estate, including the property and assets she inherited from her sister. Ann’s nieces argued that Ann’s will contained no mechanism to dispose of the property she received after the execution of her will in 2004 — the will did not contain a residuary clause. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the intestate heirs, Ann’s nieces.
This is a perfect example of why it is vital that you retain the services of an attorney when planning your estate. Furthermore, you should update your will regularly, particularly after major life decisions and events that affect the composition of your family or beneficiaries. Please realize that the cost of a professionally developed estate plan is far less than the costs your estate will incur due to a vague or improperly self-prepared estate plan. For more information on the estate planning process in Tampa and throughout Florida, consult a knowledgeable attorney.