unintended consequences of a DIY will

Unintended Consequences: A Well-Known DIY Will Court Case

A do-it-yourself (DIY) will may seem like a good option. It’s a simple template that’s relatively inexpensive to buy — and you might even find it online to download for free. But this easy-to-complete, one-size-fits-all DIY could create complicated issues down the road.

As experienced estate planning attorneys, we know the inherent problems that come with a DIY will and can review and correct a client’s DIY will. But the best fix we know is to not rely on a DIY will in the first place.

DIY Will Court Case

There may be unintended consequences with using a will template you find online or at your neighborhood office supply store. One well-known case that comes to mind, Aldrich v. Basile, should serve as a warning.

Here are highlights from this real-life example that eventually made its way to the Florida Supreme Court:

  • A woman (Ms. Aldrich) created her own will using a pre-printed legal form.
  • She listed her property and financial accounts, leaving each item to her sister, Ms. Eaton.
  • The will stated that if Ms. Eaton didn’t outlive Ms. Aldrich, Aldrich’s brother, James Aldrich, would become the beneficiary instead.

Everything seems to be in order so far, right? Please read on …

  • Wills and trusts should include a residuary clause to properly and thoroughly distribute the testator’s assets. (The testator is the person who executes or signs a will — meaning, it’s that person’s will.) A residuary clause is a “catch-all” provision that helps ensure that any unnamed (i.e., unspecified in the will) assets are gifted as the testator wishes.
  • Ms. Aldrich’s templated DIY will didn’t include a residuary clause.

Due to unforeseen events that would happen in the future, the lack of a residuary clause created problems that undoubtedly caused a rift in the extended family; here’s what happened:

  • Ms. Eaton (the sister) died before Ms. Aldrich. Aldrich was named as a beneficiary, so she inherited her sister’s property.
  • But Ms. Aldrich did not revise her DIY will to include money and property she inherited from Ms. Eaton.
  • When Ms. Aldrich eventually passed away, her brother James Aldrich received only part of her estate. That’s because two of Ms. Aldrich’s nieces went after the remaining assets instead. The Florida Supreme Court agreed with their claim because the original DIY will didn’t include a residual clause that would have made the full estate available to Mr. Aldrich.

What’s Clear: DIY Wills Often Cause Problems

While the situation that occurred and the family members’ names and relationships may be hard to follow, here’s what’s clear: DIY wills aren’t customized enough to work for many situations.

One of the Florida Supreme Court’s justices later commented that the litigation cost to the assorted family members was much higher than any savings Ms. Aldrich realized from using a pre-printed DIY will. Ms. Aldrich’s nieces inherited part of her estate, and they weren’t named in her will. So we could assume Ms. Aldrich did not want her nieces to have any part of her estate. (If a person could actually “roll over in their grave,” surely Ms. Aldrich did some rolling!)

Contact Us for Help With Wills

Are you stuck with a DIY will? We can help. Do you need a will? We can help you with a personalized will, too.

Email Jacob Fleming and Bob Monroe today, or call (480) 534-7355 to schedule a complimentary in-person or virtual meeting. We look forward to talking with you!

Attorney Jacob Fleming with Fleming & Monroe shares highlights from the well-known court case featured in this article.