The Pitfalls of DIY Wills: Lessons Learned from a Florida Probate Case

The Pitfalls of DIY Wills: Lessons Learned from a Florida Probate Case

- in Legal

DIY wills are becoming more prevalent as legal services can now be accessed easily online. For better or worse, more and more people —maybe even yourself — are turning to online services to meet their legal needs.

Here’s what you need to know before you decide to create your own will using an online service, or even an inexpensive lawyer for that matter.

While these online companies are making legal services more accessible, they’re also doing their customers a disservice, as evidenced in the recent case of In re: Estate of Aldrich heard in a Florida appeals court.

Ms. Aldrich created her will using a downloaded template from E-Z Legal Forms without the advice and guidance of an estate lawyer. It appears that she wished to leave specific assets to her sister, and then to her brother, if her sister died before her. Her sister did die, after which Ms. Aldrich did not properly update her will.

The assets named in the will went to Ms. Aldrich’s brother, but the template she used did not include a residuary clause, which establishes where unnamed assets should go. There was no way for Ms. Aldrich to know that this was missing from the will because she was not a lawyer, nor was she truly educated about such matters. Most people are not, nor should they be.

As a result and without a residuary clause, the unnamed assets Ms. Aldrich acquired after the creation of the will passed under Florida’s intestacy laws and into the hands of her nieces, children of another pre-deceased sibling, instead of to her brother, as she seemed to have wanted.

This, of course, was after a long, expensive and unnecessary court battle between the nieces and Ms. Aldrich’s brother.

Services like E-Z Legal Forms do not provide personal legal advice or ongoing legal support. Had Ms. Aldrich worked with an estate lawyer to craft — and then update — her planning, she would have left her brother an inheritance of love, rather than a nightmare of time, money and heartache.

This is an important lesson to learn because people too often create their will without having a lawyer review it and then forget to update it as loved ones pass on and new assets are acquired. In the end, their wishes aren’t honored because they weren’t clearly defined, leaving the matter in the hands of the probate court.

Jeff Berenholz is an estate planning attorney in Beachwood, Ohio. He is a dad and a husband, and is committed to educating families with young children about the importance of proper estate planning. Jeff’s goal is not just to draft documents; he ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. If you’d like more information or you’d like to schedule a complimentary Family Wealth Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love, email [email protected], call 216-766-5766 or visit

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