Sometime before her death, a Florida resident living in Ormond Beach made a will using an “E-Z legal form”. She relied on the form and carefully listed the assets she wanted her sister to receive including her house, her IRA account, her life insurance proceeds and all of her bank accounts. The testator, the lady making the will, included all of her current assets and even included a contingency clause that the listed assets would go to her brother if her sister were to pass first. The will seemed simple enough to create and given her small estate and she had in fact disposed of all of her current assets. The testator thought she took care of unexpected events by naming her brother in the event her sister was not around. The will seemed straightforward and many residents of Miami-Dade, Broward, and West Palm Beach County might feel comfortable creating a similar will. They should not! This will, which seemed straightforward, was not. Sadly, this “E-Z legal form” will created a situation where her family members were forced to spend a lot of time and money to litigate against each other. It created greater headaches and legal fees for her family members after she had passed in 2011. She would have been well-advised hire an attorney to create the will to prevent such an unfortunate situation.
The issue in this recent court case was that the sister named in the will had in fact died first. The deceased sister left cash and land in Putnam County to the living sister. The living sister put the cash in a new bank account. The living sister never revised her original will to reflect this inheritance. As a result, there was a significant question as to whether the brother originally mentioned in the will was supposed to receive the newly inherited land and money or if these new assets should pass by intestate succession to the testator’s nieces. The family members spent a lot of time litigating, the case even reached the First District Court of Appeals in Florida. This court ultimately decided that the inheritance acquired after the will did pass to the nieces and the brother received only the property specifically described in the will.
We will never know whom the testator really wanted the property to go to, an argument can be made that since the nieces were never mentioned in the will that she had in fact wanted her brother to take everything. However, since the will contained no mechanism to dispose of the inheritance or any other property not mentioned in the will, those assets passed according to intestate laws. A good attorney would have included a residuary clause in the original will creating such a mechanism.
If you, or someone you know, live in the West Palm, Fort Lauderdale, or Miami-Dade area and wish to create a will or trust in order to provide for the distribution of your estate, the team at Chepenik Trushin will help you with any such estate planning needs. Please feel free to contact us for an initial first consultation.
District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District, Case No. 1D10-3110 (2011)