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  • Writer's pictureErach Screwvala

DIY can be a DI-saster

Proper estate planning ensures that our stuff goes to the people we want. To accomplish that, we need to leave good instructions for the loved ones we leave behind to sort everything out. We do so many things online these days that it's natural to want to use an online service to prepare an estate plan. But that can lead to some unintended results. Just ask Mary.

Mary owned a house that she wanted to leave to her sister. If her sister died before she did, then she wanted it to go to her brother. So Mary went online and created a Will that did exactly that. But, in life, things change. And Mary sold her house and bought another one. She should have updated her will at the same time, but she didn't. Mary's sister died before she did. But, when Mary died, the new home did not go to her brother as she originally intended.

It would have been easy to update the Will and direct that the new property should go to her brother, but Mary never did that. That mistake could have been remedied, though, through the use of a a catch-all provision that we call a residuary clause. A residuary clause is simply language that says who gets any of your stuff that you haven't given away elsewhere in the Will. If Mary had included a residuary clause naming her brother, the new house would have gone to him.

Because Mary didn't have a residuary clause and didn't update her Will, her brother didn't get the house as Mary intended. Instead, Florida law decided that her children and niece would get the house -- not what Mary intended. And, of course, the dispute had to be resolved by the court, and the brother lost.

To make sure your stuff goes to who you want, it's best to work with someone who knows how to set up your plan to ensure that it will work. And then you have to remember to update your plan from time to time to make sure that it's always up to date.

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