DEAR ABBY: I am a practicing attorney who reads your column daily, as I find your responses to be down-to-earth and based on common-sense reasoning.
However, I think you did your readers a disservice when you instructed them on how to write their own wills. Unfortunately, some people who write their own wills without the advice of an attorney create serious and expensive problems for their survivors.Recently an elderly friend of mine bragged to me about having written his own will. I finally convinced him to let me take a look at it.
In one paragraph, he left all of his personal property to a certain person. Then in the next paragraph, he proceeded to leave his coin collection to "Party A," his gun collection to "Party B," and all of his books to "Party C" - all of which items are personal property that he had disposed of in the previous paragraph.
You can imagine what the judge's decision would have been if that will had been filed for probate. - RAY MATTOX, WINTER HAVEN, FLA.
DEAR MR. MATTOX: Read on for a similar letter from a Texas lawyer. Same song, second verse, only worse:
DEAR ABBY: Would you tell a reader with a broken arm how to set and cast it? If not, why did you instruct your readers on how to prepare their own wills?
I have been practicing law for only four years, and thus far I've come across the following:
1. A prominent Texas physician left handwritten notes all over town detailing how his affairs should be handled after his death. He had separated from his wife 13 years prior to his death, but since they were never legally divorced, she received one-half of his estate. In addition to this community property interest due to Texas law, his will left her one-half of his entire estate. If he had known that she was to receive one-half as her community interest, he would not have given her one-half of his half community interest - or a total of three-fourths of the entire estate!
2. Another client's mother died. Her handwritten will left everything to her husband - my client's father, who died nine months later, leaving everything to my client and his two sisters. The total estate and inheritance tax amounted to more than $100,000. The taxes could have been avoided entirely if either parent had consulted an estate-planning attorney.
3. Another individual, trying to avoid leaving anything to her only daughter (a drug addict), carefully specified each piece of property in her will and which heir was to receive it. However, after writing her will, she received a large inheritance from her father. Because the inheritance was not listed in her will, under the intestacy laws of the state of Texas, the inheritance passed to her only daughter - clearly not her intent!
These are only a few of the horror stories I have come across that could have been prevented if the people involved had consulted an attorney rather than written their wills. - DANIEL PALMER, WACO, TEXAS
DEAR ATTORNEYS PALMER AND MATTOX: Thank you for writing. I'll take my lumps. Instead of telling my readers how to write their own wills, I should have repeated the advice I have so frequently given: "In legal matters, hire a lawyer and pay him (or her) for what he knows." (Case dismissed.)
C) 1989 Universal Press Syndicate