The “E-Z legal form” a woman downloaded off of the internet to use as her will created a costly headache for her relatives after she passed away, offering what the court called a cautionary tale to others considering the same path.
The problem with the online form was that it did not contain an important element called a residuary clause, which is a catch-all statement about what happens to any assets not listed specifically in the will. Residuary clauses are very important because even the most meticulous person is likely to miss something, and a residuary clause will catch it and designate that asset to the appropriate person. Without a residuary clause, any assets not covered by the will pass by the laws of intestacy, which are a set of default rules determined by the state.
In this case the lack of a residuary clause was made more complex by the fact that the woman did appear to have intended to leave the remainder of her estate to one of her nieces, but she did so through a legally ineffective document. The result was litigation among her family members to determine the rightful owner of the remainder of her estate, a process which likely cost the estate much more than it would have for her to have consulted a lawyer in the first place.
This case shows the importance of consulting with an experienced estate planning professional, since even the most straightforward forms can be missing crucial elements that cannot be detected by an untrained eye.
Source: ABA Journal, “Estate dispute caused by ‘E-Z Legal Form’ is a ‘cautionary tale,’ says justice,” Debra Cassens Weiss, April 3, 2014.