DIY Legal Documents
The legal system can be confusing and it can be complicated but often we, as your attorneys, can make the process more transparent and make sure you understand what the documents you are signing will accomplish. As Estate attorneys we are often called upon to help with collateral legal matters surrounding a loved one’s death, such as final tax returns, appraisal of personal property, transfer of property, and disposition of real estate.

Consider the following case:

Aunt Ann, using an internet “fill in the blanks” document had prepared her own will. Aunt Ann was never married and had no children, but had three siblings. Her only heirs would have been those three siblings, if they had survived her. Her will left some of her assets to her living brother; and left the rest of her estate to her sister. There was no mention in the will of her predeceased brother or his two daughters. The sister, leaving no children, predeceased Aunt Ann. When Aunt Ann died without revising her will, the surviving brother claimed he was entitled to the entire estate. However, with her sister and one brother deceased, her surviving heirs were her living brother and the deceased brother’s two daughters.

So guess what happened…the daughters of the deceased brother claimed his share of the estate! Under the laws of intestacy, the nieces were “collateral heirs” – relatives who are not direct descendants of the deceased person who may receive a portion of that person’s estate if the deceased had no surviving spouse, children, or grandchildren and a portion of the estate is not specifically assigned. Since Aunt Ann’s sister had predeceased her, the sister’s share lapsed. The result was that the will left the specific property to the brother but had no provisions for the distribution of the assets that were supposed to go to her sister. Thus the nieces’ claim!

The will was probated and the court found that the two nieces were entitled to one half of the estate that was left undesignated due to her sister’s death, although it may have seemed apparent that Aunt Ann had not intended that any of her assets should go to her nieces. Result…lots of litigation, lots of legal fees and a result that would have been almost the same as if there had been no will at all.  As the Judge commented, “This case does remind me of the old adage ‘penny-wise and pound-foolish’.”

This case highlights a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance. That decision can ultimately result in the deceased’s will not being carried out as she intended, in addition to the payment of extensive attorney’s fees—the precise results that were trying to be avoided in the first place. Beware of online forms…and be aware of your heirs!

Jack Kennelly

 


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DIY legal documents?

The legal system can be confusing and it can be complicated but often we, as your attorneys, can make the process more transparent and make sure you understand what the documents you are signing will accomplish...

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