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Online Legal Forms Can Cause Problems in Estate Planning

While online legal forms can seem like an easy way to take care of estate planning, it can cause problems down the road when papers are not properly filled out. One case involving an “E-Z Legal Form” is gaining national attention as a way not to do a will. According to reports, a woman did her will on an online legal form and listed that her possessions — including a house, an IRA, a life insurance policy, a Chevy Tracker and several bank accounts — should go to her sister. The will also stated that if her sister were to precede her in death, the assets would go to the woman’s brother. The papers were duly signed and witnessed.

The woman’s sister did end up dying before her, and the sister left the woman land and cash in her estate. The current dispute is revolving around these assets because the woman did not properly add those items to her will and specify who was to get them. According to reports, there was no residuary clause in the woman’s will that contained language like “remainder of my property” so there are no explicit instructions as to what is to happen to the assets she inherited.

There was a document dated Nov. 18, 2008, found among papers in the woman’s estate, titled “Just a Note” that reportedly does say that all of the woman’s “wordly possessions” should be inherited by her brother. The addendum also names the woman’s niece as her “personal representative” and says that certain bank accounts should pass to the niece upon the woman’s death. The problem is that the addendum is not legally valid because there is only one signature, and the woman’s state requires two.

The brother named as the rightful beneficiary of the listed property argues that the other assets should be his as well, but the woman’s nieces believe that they are entitled to a portion of the assets. A probate court ruled that the assets should go to the brother, but a Court of Appeals disagreed and divided the property between the three of them. Estate planning is not the time to take shortcuts. Ensuring that a person’s will is done properly so that who is to get which assets is clear is vital and requires the expertise of someone familiar with probate and estate administration law in Massachusetts.

Source: Forbes, “Careful, Thoughtful Drafting Essential In Estate Planning” Stephen J. Dunn, Apr. 07, 2014

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