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Intestacy claim illustrates a danger of drafting wills online

One size may not fit all, at least when it comes to pre-printed legal forms. Unfortunately, the heirs in today’s story learned this lesson the hard way.

Specifically, two heirs claimed that the distribution of property not specifically addressed by their aunt should be distributed to them. Their aunt had prepared her willing using an E-Z Legal Form, and included a clause in that document directing how specifically listed items should be distributed. However, the woman had also acquired some money after she made out that will, and the document hadn’t been updated to address how that money should be distributed. 

When an individual passes away without leaving a valid will, the rules of intestacy provide guidance on how the estate property should be distributed. In this case, the nieces characterized the subsequently acquired money as property beyond the scope of the will’s provisions. Accordingly, they claimed that the money should be distributed to them under the rules of intestacy. 

Unfortunately, the woman’s other heirs did not agree, and the nieces had to bring a costly lawsuit that made it way on appeal to the state’s highest court. Fortunately, the nieces prevailed, but one of the concurring justices observed that the woman’s apparent intent to save money -- and leave a bigger estate -- by using a pre-printed legal form had clearly been frustrated by the document’s shortcoming.

As this post illustrates, the topic of estate planning can be complex. Any will or trust documents should be farsighted enough to account for subsequently acquired property or other changes in an individual’s financial holdings and assets during his or her lifetime. For that reason, it may be wise to consult with an attorney that focuses on estate planning, rather than consulting only the Internet for estate planning forms. 

Source: ABA Journal, “Estate dispute caused by ‘E-Z Legal Form’ is a ‘cautionary tale,’ says justice,” Debra Cassens Weiss, April 3, 2014

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