Anyone can Google “online legal forms” and find different forms covering a variety of issues. From evictions and divorces, to wills and trusts, these forms appear to be an inexpensive way to carry out legal matters. Although constructed to be “one size fits all,” do-it-yourself forms do not always work as planned, as one family of a recently deceased woman learned.

The woman, Ann Aldrich, used a commercial will to specify the disposition of her estate. In the will, which was written on an “E-Z Legal Form,” she stated that her property was to be left to her sister, or her brother if her sister died first. Aldrich's sister died first and left Aldrich an inheritance. Sadly, the “legal form had not contained any general devises or clauses to cover how that inheritance should be handled,” as reported by the Florida Bar News.

Aldrich did attach an addendum that stated her brother was entitled to the inheritance. However, the only signatures on the document were those of Aldrich and her niece. Florida law requires the signature of the testator along with two attesting witnesses. Therefore, the Florida Supreme Court concluded, “the document was not an enforceable testamentary instrument under the Florida Probate Code.”

Ultimately, state law provided that the nieces were entitled to the inherited property. Aldrich had intended to make the distribution of her estate easy and straightforward, but her use of a generic legal form only complicated matters for her family. As this case illustrates, the cost of preparing your will without a lawyer can possibly include expensive and unnecessary litigation between heirs.

Buying a DIY form is not the same as developing a thoughtful estate plan. Consulting with a knowledgeable lawyer before drafting important documents can ensure that the process is smooth and worry-free for all involved.