Sure, you can create a will without a lawyer. There are even a number of downloadable documents online, and software programs available from your nearest electronics store, to help you do it. However, a recent article in the ABA Journal showcases why the do it yourself approach is not such a good idea.
The article discusses the case of Ann Aldrich, a Florida woman who used a downloadable form to make a will in 2004. Her will left her assets to her sister. The will also said that if Ann’s sister died before she did, Ann’s brother should receive her assets. Ann’s sister did indeed predecease her, so one would think that her assets would go to her brother. Pretty simple, right? What could possibly go wrong?
As it turned out, plenty.
It seems that the downloadable form did not include something called a residuary clause. This clause provides for assets not listed specifically in the will. As a result, the Florida Supreme Court decided that the assets Ann acquired after she made the will, in 2004, would have to be distributed according to the laws intestacy. That is, these assets would be distributed as if Ann had never made a will at all!
The end result of this mess was that two of Ann’s nieces cited the will’s lack of a residuary clause in asserting an interest in Ann’s estate. They prevailed. According to Barbara Pariente, one of the concurring justices in the court’s decision, the case highlights the danger of using pre-printed forms rather than seeking legal counsel. She described this approach to estate planning as “penny wise and pound-foolish.”
So, do you need a lawyer to make a will? No. A better question, however, might be “should you consult a lawyer to create your will?”
You be the judge.