Online legal forms are an increasingly popular way to draft documents such as wills and separation agreements. However, relying on these forms have drawbacks. A recent Florida case gives some insight on the risk of using these online legal forms.
In Aldrich v. Basile, Ms. Aldrich relied on an online “E-Z Legal Form” to write her will. After Ms. Aldrich passed away, her nieces, who were not mentioned in the will, were able to claim a piece of Ms. Aldrich’s estate because the form did not include an essential. It is implied that Ms. Aldrich did not intend to leave part of her estate to relatives who were not mentioned in her will.
This highlights 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.
People use these forms to avoid paying an attorney to do draft legal documents. But, the initial cost savings can be dwarfed by the attorneys fees that are spent trying to cure the problems that the form created. Attorneys are spending an increasing amount of time — and in turn costing people more money — to fix the problems online forms are creating. The parties in the Aldrich case presumably had to pay attorneys to pursue the case all the way up to the Florida Supreme Court.
Without having an attorney in your state review the form, there is no way to be absolutely certain the form is valid in your state. More importantly, the form may not adequately address all of your issues. Everyone’s legal situation is unique in some way. Although online forms may cover the issue that most people need, a form cannot personally sit down with you thoroughly discuss your personal legal needs. Sitting down with an attorney and discussing your needs will bring to light additional issues that should be addressed in the document.
Online legal forms may be more convenient and cost less in the beginning. But in the end, the document may be invalid, have unintended consequences, and may ultimately cost more than having the document drafted by an attorney. When looking to have a will, separation agreement or any other legal document drafted, it is best to seek legal counsel and professional drafting tailored to your situation.