Online legal form leads to estate dispute

From preparing taxes to paying for driver's license renewals or parking tickets, many consumers prefer to handle their financial affairs using the Internet. However, a recent article suggests that, when it comes to legal affairs regarding wills and trusts, it may be advisable to consult with an attorney.

In this case, a woman used an online, ready-made legal form to help prepare her will. Called an E-Z Legal Form, the document includes many populated field to help an individual with estate planning decisions. However, the document's lack of a residuary clause -- a provision in a will that disposes of any residual estate property that may be left over all other gifts have been made -- led to a legal dispute.

Specifically, two nieces of the woman claimed that money acquired by their aunt subsequent to her execution of the E-Z Legal Form should be distributed to them, under their state's rules of intestacy. Such rules provide guidance on property distribution matters when an individual passes away without a will. In this case, the woman had directed for the disposition of only items that were specifically listed on the E-Z Legal Form.

The state's highest court agreed with nieces' assertion. In addition, one of the concurring justices issued a warning to others who might be tempted to save money by utilizing pre-printed legal forms. While such documents may purport to save attorney's fees, the justice noted that the document's failure to customize its provisions to the specific needs of the woman had resulted in costly court litigation, probably far in excess of what it may have cost the woman to consult with an estate planning attorney in the first place.

Source: ABA Journal, "Estate dispute caused by 'E-Z Legal Form' is a 'cautionary tale,' says justice," Debra Cassens Weiss, April 3, 2014

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