A form that was supposed to be an easy and inexpensive way to create a will turned out to be anything but that, according to a recent state court decision. The court wrote that the case provided a cautionary tale to others about estate planning and noted that some efforts to save costs early in the process could wind up costing much more down the line.
This case started that way, with a woman looking for a simple way to create an estate plan. However, after she passed away issues were discovered with the form she used to create a will and her family ended up in extended litigation that cost the estate significantly.
The problem that was discovered in the online form was that it did not contain a residuary clause, which is an element of a will that scoops up any forgotten assets and allocates them to a person (or persons), a trust, or an organization. Residuary clauses are very important because there is almost always something that is overlooked in a list of specific assets and because people tend to change the configuration of their assets over time, so there may be property in existence at the time of their death that was not owned by them at the time they made the will.
In this case the failure of the residuary clause may have been saved by a handwritten addendum to the will that disposed of the remainder of the woman’s estate. However, that addendum was not properly executed and witnessed, so it was deemed invalid.
Source: ABA Journal, “Estate dispute caused by ‘E-Z Legal Form’ is a ‘cautionary tale,’ says justice,” Debra Cassens Weiss, April 3, 2014.