“Wills in a Box” (or online) and the Problems they Pose in Florida probate

In Wills by Long

I have been working on a probate for a small parcel of land. The decedent evidently found a form for a simple Will (and I do mean simple) and filled in the blanks. This will would be typically found in your local office supply store or perhaps a book store with built in corporate coffee shop.

The main problems with this Will were that it was improperly witnessed/notarized and one of the heirs had predeceased the decedent. That heir had children that according to this will were essentially written out and disinherited (which appears to be unintentional).

This further supports my gripe with a “Will-in-a-box”. There is no guidance. There is no discussion of how the Will shall be “played out” in probate administration. These document companies have sold the document, perhaps written a thick orange book or secured a high profile attorney to endorse the product, but has no intention of helping you or your heirs if things go wrong.

Typical questions:

If the company says that the Will is “state specific”, shouldn’t it be effective?

Perhaps. The number one problem with these forms is that the testator (person executing the Will) typically doesn’t understand the formalities of execution. There are witness requirements and notarized affidavits that should be included to facilitate (and I do mean facilitate) administration in Florida probate.

So if I do my research or the forms give instructions on how to execute them properly, am I in the clear?

Depends. A few other glaring omissions that I’ve seen include:

  1. Waiving bond for the personal representative
  2. Planning for predeceased children or heirs
  3. Contingent trusts in the event that a minor or otherwise incompetent child receives a distribution
  4. Planning for distribution of one’s homestead

Having a Will-in-a-box is better than having no will at all (most of the time), but many lawyers will prepare one properly for a few hundred bucks. Why are you risking thousands, tens of thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash or real estate on a $9.95 form?