DIY will ends up in court

We all like to save money here and there, but a do-it-yourself will is one low-cost option that hardly ever pays off in the long run.  

Will kits have long been a staple at stationers across the country, but they are just as bad an idea in their more modern guise as downloadable online forms.  

The problem is that testators who fill in the blanks without the benefit of legal advice are prone to the kinds of errors and emissions that end up in needing litigation to sort out.  

In one recent case, the surviving family of a Brampton man who died in 2013, several decades after immigrating from South Africa, discovered the hidden cost of a DIY will when a judge was needed to settle a dispute over the interpretation of a key provision written in the flowery language typical of will kits.  

Under a printed clause that read: “I Give Devise and Bequeath all my Real and Personal Estate of which I may die possessed in the manner following, that is to say,” the man wrote that his assets should be distributed to “MY BROTHERS SISTERS LATE BROTHERS SISTERS NEPHEWS NIECES.” 

In the absence of clear punctuation or further explanation, the beneficiaries could not agree exactly how he intended the estate to be split among his 36 nieces and nephews and five surviving siblings – four more siblings had predeceased him. 

In the end, after putting himself in the testator’s shoes, the judge divided the estate into nine equal shares, with five going to the man’s surviving siblings. The remaining shares were then to be divided among the children of each of the man’s four deceased brothers and sisters.  

“He was obviously aware, in 2004, that some of his siblings had already died. It is only, and immediately, after reference in the will is made to the Deceased’s ‘late’ brother and sisters that reference is then made to ‘nephews and nieces’. All of this suggests to me that the Deceased was thinking of his nephews and nieces in the context of the sibling familial units; in other words, ‘not so much as individuals but by households,’” the decision reads. 

It doesn’t seem like things got too nasty between the beneficiaries in this case, but as soon as the court has to get involved, it adds a layer of unnecessary expense and delay that could all have been avoided with a little more clarity in the language of the will. 

It’s always unpleasant to see beneficiaries fighting it out in litigation, but it’s particularly tragic when the issues at the heart of the matter could have been caught up front by a competent lawyer. 

Other common mistakes made by DIYers include the failure to ensure the document is properly signed and witnessed or the appointment of an inappropriate estate trustee. In some cases, the errors could even invalidate the whole document, resulting in intestacy. 

In addition to making sure your will accurately reflects your wishes, lawyers can help to minimize the tax burden on the estate and talk you through the role of executor to ensure you pick the right person for that crucial job. 

The more complicated and valuable your assets are, the more essential it is to obtain sound legal advice before finalizing an estate plan.  

Disclaimer: The content on this website is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice or an opinion of any kind. Users of this website are advised to seek specific legal advice by contacting members of Laredo Law (or their own legal counsel) regarding any specific legal issues.