The Perils Of Using Ready-Made Legal Forms

There are many different places to find ready-made legal forms on the web. And it may seem tempting to avoid paying an attorney to draft a proper form when you can pay a nominal fee and fill out a form yourself.

The problem is that ready-made legal forms can cause more trouble and cost more money in the long run. Take for example a recent ABAJournal post about an estate dispute caused by a ready-made form.

"Ann Aldrich used an 'E-Z Legal Form' when she made out her will in 2004, a decision that proved to be a good choice for two nieces who cited the document’s lack of a residuary clause. In a decision issued last week, the Florida Supreme Court ruled for the nieces, though they weren’t mentioned in the will. The court said money acquired by Aldrich after the will was made out should be distributed under the laws of intestacy, which govern distribution of property for those who die without a will. The reason: The E-Z form did not have a residuary clause providing for the disposition of property not listed in the document."

The concurring Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente "saw the ruling as a cautionary tale. '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.’ …. I therefore take this opportunity to highlight a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of utilizing pre-printed forms and drafting a will without legal assistance. As this case illustrates, that decision can ultimately result in the frustration of the testator’s intent, in addition to the payment of extensive attorney’s fees—the precise results the testator sought to avoid in the first place.”

The moral of the story is that you should be careful when utilizing these forms. The forms may not have the legal result you were intending.


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