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E-Z do-it-yourself will form turns out to be anything but easy

You know those pre-printed do-it-yourself forms that apply to all number of legal topics and can be readily purchased at bookstores or online for just a few bucks?

In some instances, that's just about what they're worth. In fact, executing a so-called "boilerplate" form can bring results far removed from what a person ever intended, making the few dollars saved upfront by purchasing a generic document and forgoing legal counsel an ultimately pricey proposition.

Truly, such forms abound on the market, tempting consumers in Texas and elsewhere across the country. Do-it-yourself forms and kits cover a virtual universe of legal topics, including divorce, business formation, intellectual property applications, bankruptcy and many other subjects.

A particular favorite seems to be estate planning-related materials. There are seemingly thousands of marketed products touting the salutary bottom line of drafting your own will, executing a living trust, crafting various elder care documents and otherwise attending to various estate-related functions without the input of an experienced attorney.

It might be a public service to stamp the words “caveat emptor” across the front of such go-it-alone documents, especially in the realm of estate planning, where mistakes can bring extremely dire consequences.

A Supreme Court justice in one state recently weighed in on what she called a “cautionary tale” regarding one testator’s use of a document called the “E-Z Legal Form” used for drafting a will.

The bottom line: It lacked a residuary clause for distributing unlisted property, which allowed the will to be challenged and resulted in money being paid to parties who were not mentioned in the will.

In that Florida matter, the justice cited the adage “penny-wise and pound-foolish,” noting the “dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance.”

With estate planning, a sound strategy that fully takes account of unique circumstances and features relevant and carefully drafted documents requires the careful input of a proven estate planning attorney, not the boilerplate phrasing of a store-bought document.

Source: ABA Journal, "Estate dispute caused by 'E-Z Legal Form' is a 'cautiionary tale,' says justice," Debra Cassens Weiss, April 3, 2014

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