Legal fees can be expensive and many people attempt to prepare their own legal documents using forms they find online or purchase pre-printed forms.

This could work in certain circumstances but the recent case of Aldrich v. Basile from the Florida Supreme Court highlights the risks and impact of using the forms.  A copy of the opinion is available here.

In 2004, Ms. Aldrich prepared and signed a will on a “E-Z Legal Form” that (A) required specific property should go to designated people and (B) omitted a clause directing what should happen to any other property which was not listed (called a residuary clause). As a result of the E-Z Legal Form omitting a residuary clause, Ms. Aldrich died (a) partially testate with respect to the property identified in her will and (b) partially intestate with respect to any property she owned that was not listed in her will. Dying intestate means that the decedent’s assets will pass under the default laws not pursuant to any express direction from the decedent. Ms. Aldrich also kept a handwritten note (not executed sufficiently to qualify as a will) indicating her intent was for one of her brothers to receive her assets.

As a result, the decedent’s nieces were entitled to a portion of her assets at death because of the partial intestacy notwithstanding Ms.Aldrich’s intentions (in her handwritten note) saying the property should go to the brother.

Lesson – Using pre-printed legal forms can result in unintended consequences.

The Court’s opinion says it best:

“While I appreciate that there are many individuals in this state who might have difficulty affording a lawyer, this case does remind me of the old adage “penny-wise and pound-foolish.” Obviously, the cost of drafting a will through the use of a pre-printed form is likely substantially lower than the cost of hiring a knowledgeable lawyer. However, as illustrated by this case, the ultimate cost of utilizing such a form to draft one’s will has the potential to far surpass the cost of hiring a lawyer at the outset.”

Would the result be the same in Ohio?

Ohio Revise Code Section 2107.03 (and other sections of Chapter 2107) require that wills are executed using specific requirements including being witnessed by two people. Ms. Aldrich’s hand written note would likely be excluded by the courts in Ohio.

I expect Ohio would reach a similar result in this case.